In this series we explore and reveal the critical importance of content engineering to ensuring effective, seamless customer experience (CX.) Here at [A], we are increasingly referring to an ideal goal as Intelligent Customer Experience (ICX.) To provide evidence from multiple viewpoints, we have invited eight guest authors, all thought leaders in their own right, to share their perspectives and experiences. But, let’s start with how we experience friction in CX ourselves. 

We personally experience our organization’s future customer experiences on a daily basis. Those insights come in the interactions we have as consumers ourselves. We see bits of the future when we: 
  • Make purchases on Amazon from personalized suggestions
  • Interact with smart Alexa and Google services via voice
  • Find our room preferences already handled at a hotel
  • Receive flight alerts and gate changes via app push notifications
  • Book and pay for rides or rooms in a couple of quick taps
  • Receive emails with relevant product and media recommendations
  • Digitally, with ease, handle previously-complex personal finances and investments
  • Interact with rich and multisensory games and dialogues
  • Find relevant healthcare answers and recommendations across multiple interfaces
  • Resolve basic service issues within a chatbot on a mobile app.

The price for bad CX

Product and services consumption is becoming easier everywhere we look. But what about customer experiences across the business-to-business (B2B) enterprise? All too often it is still the same old nightmare to use documentation, dig out answers to technical support questions, find and use relevant product specifications, or transfer information from supplier to internal format. Even when consuming marketing material, we find faster loading websites are just as painful to use. 

Bad experiences are not habit-forming. Inflicting pain on customers in their attempts to find information, process transactions, and resolve problems inevitably leads to loss of market share versus easier-to-work-with competitors. 
 
Compared to smoother consumer-like experiences, enterprise digital interactions feel like a productivity drain. Today, old-school websites feel heavy. This heaviness is not only isolated to the B2B enterprise, although the problems are most pronounced there.  Even many large consumer-facing giants suffer from enterprise content malaise, seemingly unable to make even half-hearted attempts to streamline and personalize the customer experience. They remain stuck in archaic content management regimes and processes. According to a 2018 Forrester report, 80% of companies believe content supply chain challenges impede their ability to deliver on business objectives. 

The problem is a content problem. And the answer includes content engineering as a significant ingredient in the formula for success.

Bringing ICX into the enterprise via Content Strategy, Content Engineering and Content Operations

Multiple roles are involved in delivering intelligent customer experiences: Content Strategy, Content Engineering, and Content Operations are three focal practices that enable, facilitate, and orchestrate the supply chain that produces these next-generation interactions. 

The emergence of established Content Strategy functions and the widespread adoption of related roles across enterprises has helped to solve some of these challenges. Content Operations and Content Engineering are just as foundational and distinct as Content Strategy, and all practices need to be represented in organizations striving to meet customers with contextually-relevant content.

For most organizations, there is already some form of content strategy and operations happening – whether those titles are used or not. Although each role is vital, here we will mainly focus on the Content Engineering practice and learning from practitioners that have been incorporating content engineering principles into enterprise content environments. 

Omnichannel content leaders, regardless of department, need to get intentional about incorporating engineering practices into the overall content operating model. Without content engineering disciplines incorporated into content teams, it’s possible to have big painful gaps between strategy and execution.

On the larger wish list is building content strategy, engineering, and operation practices into a chartered orchestration function that gives cross-silo teams a way to share and integrate content. Even without a large portfolio of responsibility, the existence of these practices within any department advances content. Together these practices can form a Content Services Organization (CSO). [A] recently published a whitepaper reviewing the CSO structure and functions in detail, avaiable to members of the Content Order, as well as an introductory article. Suffice to say, the practice of content engineering plays a pivotal role within the CSO.

Solutions covered in the Content Engineering series 

This series addresses seven key solution areas, researched by authors with decades of relevant experience. We list each solution with a glimpse of issues covered in the related article and an introduction to the author.

Content Engineering and the next-generation of Intelligent Customer Experience 

In this article, Cruce Saunders expands on why “to get there we have to engineer here” in “Content Engineering and the Next-Generation of Intelligent Customer Experience.” Cruce maintains that producing and maintaining intelligent content is directly derived from the practice of Content Engineering. The foundation for ICX is people, process, and technology aligned purposely and intentionally utilizing standard content and semantic structures for translation between roles and systems.  Not only is the engineering of intelligent content the key to ICX, but it is also the only sustainable way to effectively, efficiently, and productively scale authoring and publishing operations.

Paying diligent, ongoing, scientific attention to the structure, formation, assembly, and delivery of intelligent content is the domain of the content engineer. Some of the challenges are touched on in this brief excerpt from Cruce’s article: 
 
In the traditional approach employed across many digital experience teams today, content gets crafted as ‘pages’ or ‘interfaces,’ and delivered to a single endpoint. In the new era of ICX, content must work across more than just one page, interface, or customer interaction. We need to craft leverageable systems of content portability so that enterprise leaders can activate many experiences out of one content pool.

To assemble an intelligent customer experience, we bring together modules of structured content into different representations. For example, a product and related descriptions can assemble into many variant outputs. This idea seems old as time by now, but implementations are still too rare today.

First, we need to get to a basic structure for reuse. Then, beyond simpler presentation variation, comes the more advanced contextual personalization of content. Personalization depends on structured content meeting real-time customer context. Let’s look at some common misconceptions about what makes personalization possible…

Cruce Saunders (@mrcruce) is the founder of [A], the Content Intelligence Service. 

Roles and Responsibilities

Ann Rockley’s article, “Content Engineer Roles and Responsibilities,” focuses on defining the role of content engineers and why they are necessary to complement and complete modern content teams. This role is juxtaposed with the content strategist, a more tenured role in the enterprise, but addresses the background, responsibilities, and the path to become a content engineer. Rockley sums up a content engineer’s role succinctly: 

“The role of a content engineer is an exciting and challenging one. In many ways, it’s a lot like a stage manager in a theatre or the flight director at NASA. In each of these roles you’re expected to have a broad understanding of many disciplines, the ability to understand problems, create solutions and work together with others to implement them quickly and efficiently. As a content engineer you may not be at the front of the stage, but you will be in the centre of the action.”
 
Ann Rockley is CEO of The Rockley Group, Inc. She has an international reputation for developing intelligent content strategies. With more than 30 years’ experience as a consultant, she has been instrumental in establishing the field in structured content strategy, content reuse, intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery, and structured content management best practices. Known as the "mother" of content strategy, she introduced the concept of content strategy in her 2002 ground-breaking book, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, now in its second edition. Ann is the founder of the Intelligent Content Conference. Ann has a Master of Information Science from the University of Toronto and is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication. Rockley has written multiple books, is a frequent contributor to trade and industry publications, and is a keynote speaker at numerous conferences in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

Follow Your North Star to a Successful Content Engineering Team

Carolyn Swift-Muschott of Cengage explores when the time is ripe for a formal content engineering team in “Follow Your North Star to a Successful Content Engineering Team.” Outlining the all-too familiar pain points many face in the industry today, Carolyn illustrates the skills content engineers use to orchestrate successful, dependable content delivery. Learn from one of the early leaders who has recruited and integrated a team of content engineers about the profile, mindset, and team composition that produce results. Here is a sneak peak at what the author recommends for a successful team:

Well-engineered content is standard enough to be used programmatically, but flexible enough to be used in multiple ways. Likewise, a high-functioning content engineering team should have a standard but flexible tool kit that can be applied to any project. A content engineer’s tool kit includes:
 
  • Templates that inventory the envisioned content, map metadata to requirements, outline content workflows and define data models. 
  • A problem-solving methodology you can apply at the project level and the individual requirement level. There are numerous problem-solving models: McKinsey, PDCA, DMAIC, 8D, etc. The important thing isn’t which model you use, but rather that your team has a standard approach to problem-solving that can be applied in any context.
  • Structured analysis capabilities that enable a content engineer to propose, define and explain data structure, flow, and data-system interactions. In particular, content engineers will be most successful when literate in data dictionaries, schemas, entity-relationship diagrams, data flow diagrams, and system context.”

Carolyn Swift-Muschott is Director, Content Engineering at Gale, a Cengage company in Farmington Hills, MI. She is privileged to work with a great team of content engineers, analysts, architects and software engineers who cultivate the company’s content and metadata strategy, and develop the workflows and systems that support them. Her favorite aspect of content engineering is collaboration and knowledge sharing across disciplines.

Engineering Content for Superior Search Performance: Introducing Structured Data

Smart search and instantaneous discoverability happen when we structure content to support discovery. In “Engineering Content for Superior Search Performance: Introducing Structured Data,” Electronic Arts’ Aaron Bradley takes readers through why structured data is crucial for relevant usable data, the standards in place today that support machine readability, and how to increase search and discoverability of content. Learn where engineering content for search performance starts. In his article, Bradley summarizes the importance of structured data:

  • Structured data is a method of providing precise, machine-readable information about the structure and meaning of a piece of content.
  • Providing structured data may improve the discoverability of content by the search engines and result in higher visibility in search results, as well as potentially making web page-based content available on other devices.
  • Fundamentally, structured data liberates the meaning of content from its visual presentation, making it easier for search engines to understand, use and transform this content.
Aaron Bradley works as a Knowledge Graph Strategist at Electronic Arts in Vancouver, Canada. As a champion of intelligent content, his days are consumed with ontologies, taxonomies and content models that bring a content graph to life.

Want Personalization? Start with Content Engineering

The article title “Want Personalization? Start with Content Engineering” speaks for itself. Few that confront personalization projects would argue with the need for content engineering. Hear long-time practitioner Lisa Trager share experiences from the deep within silos, and some of the fundamental patterns needed for managing complex, ever-growing content challenges.

Here is a glimpse at how Trager summarizes her lessons learned around personalization:

Big changes in enterprise content lifecycles takes big effort over long periods of time. And, change is hard. What I experienced isn’t that unique due to the realities of corporate culture. Until we can address both the rational, as well as emotional reasons behind the resistance to change, the benefits that content engineering promises will remain an ideal discussed in conferences, written in books read by content engineering and content strategy insiders, and ignored by corporate decision makers. 

Companies working on transformation of content processes and systems need to address:
 
  • Silos
  • Territorialism
  • Fear
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Constant reorganizations
  • Lack of accountability
 
Lisa Trager helps organizations develop and execute digital strategies for an omnichannel world. As a consultant and the Principal of Content in Motion, she led digital enterprise initiatives on the agency and client-side in the telecommunications, healthcare, pharmaceutical, financial, consumer goods, and government sectors. Currently, she works at Verizon in Digital Operations where she applies her extensive knowledge and expertise in creating customer-centric experiences related to Service & Support.

The Roles of Standards and Governance in Engineering Content for Multichannel Distribution

Assembling structured content modules showing relevant content, in context, at precisely the right moment, calls for engineering. Ulrike Parson examines “The Roles of Standards and Governance in Engineering Content for Multichannel Distribution” and gives readers navigational assistance in the form of public standards along the path towards intelligent customer experiences. Understand how incorporating standards helps make content suitable for omnichannel distribution. Here is a glimpse at how Ulrike defines Omnichannel content as follows:

Omnichannel content must have the following properties:
 
  • Granular, meaning fragments and topics instead of documents
  • Reusable for different audiences, contexts, and purposes
  • Enriched with metadata for creating context and determining the purpose
  • Portable, technically suitable for different media
  • High-quality, fulfilling the information needs of the users – correct, understandable, appropriate, and accurate
  • Distinct, separation between content and structure definition, content and layout, content and metadata
 
Ulrike Parson is the CEO of parson AG, located in Hamburg and Berlin, Germany. She looks back on more than 20 years of professional experience in technical communication. She is specialized in content strategy, developer documentation, and agile project management. The clients of parson include international and regional companies from various branches, such as software development, semiconductors, logistics, education, and healthcare. Ulrike is Steering Committee chair for the iiRDS Consortium that develops an international standard for delivering intelligent content.

Autonomous Agile Teams and Enterprise Content Strategy: An Impossible Combination?

But how do we balance agile development approaches and enterprise-wide structured content engineering? Tom Johnson of Amazon explores this difficult question in “Engineering content across the agile enterprise: an impossible ideal?”. There are benefits to both independent and unified documentation practices in authoring and managing content, and harmony between them can seem impossible. Tom weighs both sides and proposes a sensible, and most importantly, practical solution that impacts the full content lifecycle in a positive manner. Here is a glimpse at how Tom Johnson addresses strategies for unifying content:

Another strategy for allowing autonomous teams to harmonize within the larger content landscape is to create common glossaries and taxonomies. These can be created outside of any common tools. Much of the clarity and meaning in tech docs is tied up with the terminology writers use. Control the use of terms at the source and you have a shot and making content (even if in different tools and systems) flow together more harmoniously. 
 
This is easier than it sounds -- content by nature is messy. Content on any doc site might all read with the same general tone and follow similar structures (due to convention with industry standards), but in many places, the content might be muddled and confusing. The content might use different terms to refer to the same process or have functionality that overlaps, or it might present solutions without adding context of similar or contrasting solutions within the same space. 
 
Tom Johnson is an STC member living in Sunnyvale, California. He works on developer documentation Amazon and writes a blog on idratherbewriting.com. He also has an API documentation course available at idratherbewriting.com/learnapidoc.

Product Answers: Engineering Content for Freshness

Once content is structured, new possibilities emerge to reduce the cost and time of creation while maintaining fresh content for customers. In “Product Answers: Engineering Content for Freshness,” Megan Gilhooly explores the benefits of fresh content and the role structured content plays in delivery. See how a designed content architecture, with modular topics and leveraged content reuse, creates lasting, impactful, and relevant content. Here is a brief preview on how Megan Gilhooly covers priorities for maintaining content freshness:

Content freshness means many things, and how you define it will depend on the type of content you produce, the underlying objectives of the content, how it is distributed, and the overarching content strategy. In general, though, fresh content is up-to-date, timely, and pertinent, and provides new or different insights to existing information. Let’s break this down:
 
  1. Up to date. Fresh content might be recently updated, but there’s a difference between recently updated and up to date.
  2. Timely. Fresh content is relevant to today’s trends. 
  3. Pertinent. Fresh content provides desired insights and surfaces them at the appropriate time in the customer journey. In other words, customers can find information that is relevant to their current needs. 
  4. New or different. Fresh content provides previously unknown information or adds a new perspective to a topic. For example, fresh content might describe a new feature, or it might explain a new use for an old feature. 
 
Megan (@megangilhooly) recently joined Zoomin after serving as Senior Manager of Content Management and Strategy at Amazon Web Services. Previously, she was Director of Information Experience at Ping Identity, and Director of Technical Communications at INVIDI Technologies.

Our personal journey into the world of Content Engineering

Cruce Saunders, the founder of [A], who assembled the articles for our Content Engineering Series, had an enlightening journey into content engineering as the dynamics of content creation dramatically changed over the past 20 years. As described below, this journey gives a useful historic perspective to how content engineering evolved.

Content had always been in Cruce’s blood: he gave his first STC talk, introducing the internet as a publishing medium, in the late 1990s for the Dallas chapter. Fast-forward past several years running a company that evolved from web firm, to interactive agency, to CMS platform startup, to integrator of 3rd-party WCMS products. Eventually, he founded [A] to focus entirely on intelligent content in 2012. 
 
Inspired by Joe Gollner’s blog, The Content Philosopher, Ann Rockley’s work, and technical communications professionals working on various approaches to content portability, Cruce’s mind opened up to all the connections to other critical content types beyond documentation and support. Content engineering had been born in the interplay, and was expressed so well in Joe’s blog and Ann’s work.   

As a result, Cruce compared the content modeling and metadata specifications work he had been doing for marketing content sets focused on dynamic web publishing and search engine discoverability,  and realized just how close (and yet how far away) the basic patterns were to the single-source publishing approaches in technical communications. A bridge was missing and sorely needed.

In reading various web content strategists’ definitions, it became crystal clear that we needed a distinct practice with disciplines including model, metadata, markup, schema, taxonomy, and organization topology. We needed an entirely new practice focused on the structure and semantics of content, rather than the ‘content of the content’. Hence, Cruce gave his first public talk on the role of Content Engineering at the 2015 Intelligent Content Conference in San Francisco.

Since then, [A] has worked with and interviewed dozens of senior executives, more than one hundred directors and senior managers, and hundreds of authors across enterprise content teams. Everyone agrees we need a new way to ‘do’ content. And more and more of us agree content engineering must be a clear part of the solution.

Converged Content, Converged Supply Chains

Content shared between marketing, sales, technical communications, knowledge management, learning, localization, and other departments contributes to the unification of pre- and post-sale customer experiences: customers now choose where to start and where to go next within the content sets. 

Given the complexity of enterprise content publishing, the practice of content strategy alone cannot solve today’s challenges. Content strategists need specialized counterparts and enablers to realize and sustain the goals of more strategic deployment of content assets. This includes the integration of engineering and operations functions.

Engineered content assets can be used in many places at once: they may be related, discovered, and used to deliver value across multiple systems and platforms, when and where needed, at the fastest possible throughput.

Content engineers make sure that content structures, semantics, and technologies are in place to take the content strategy from plan to a technically-realized reality. Content Engineers become a resource for talented and often isolated members of technical communications or content marketing teams, bridging worlds and content sets through tactical tools like content and semantic models that all encourage the collaboration needed to deliver integrated, intelligent experiences. 

The Platform for Content Intelligence

[A] Activates intelligent customer experience through Strategy, Content Engineering, Platform Engineering and Operations. Working with a mix of the largest enterprises and most innovative mid-market organizations, [A] covers the Strategy, Engineering, and Operations necessary to deliver next-generation Intelligent Customer Experiences. [A] supports every step of the process.

[A] is the Platform for Content Intelligence: Partnership is a mindset that spans [A]’s entire business. Intelligent Customer Experiences never happen in a vacuum. [A] works with an array of peers, technology vendors, infrastructure providers, and related services vendors. Together, we form an integrated approach across client engagement, technical capability, and support to bring ICX solutions to life. Partner with [A].

Relevant Resources

These resources will guide content leaders as organizations strive to deliver Intelligent Customer Experiences in the 2020’s. [A] is dedicated to supporting every step of the process. Working with a mix of the largest enterprises and most innovative mid-market organizations, [A] covers the Strategy, Platform Engineering, Content Engineering, and Operations necessary to deliver next-generation Intelligent Customer Experiences.

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