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Empowering Enterprise Content with Architecture, Engineering, and Value

An Interview with [A]'s Founder and Principal 

In the wide-ranging interview below, Alan Porter of Nuxeo interviews Cruce Saunders of [A] for the second episode of Content Journeys podcast, hosted by Nuxeo. In a little over 30 minutes, the two covered a wide range of topics, including:
  • The role of content within the enterprise
  • The valuation and sponsorship approach for content organizations
  • The practice of content engineering, and how it fits into movements towards omnichannel publishing
  • The value of content portability across content supply chains, 
  • The role of content APIs in delivering Next-Generation Intelligent Customer Experiences
  • How content-as-a-service (CaaS) architectures are guiding modernization initiatives
  • How various practices need to be combined into a Content Services Organization in order to become effective in transforming content operations

Transcript

Alan Porter
Welcome to the Content Journeys podcast, a monthly discussion about the world of content in business. I am your host, Alan Porter. From practical use cases to the latest innovations, we'll take a look at where we are today and where we're going tomorrow, in short, the journeys we take with our content. 

Each month we chat to an invited guest from the world of content: practitioners, analysts, industry thought leaders, creative and operational folks to give the widest perspective as possible on how content impacts the business at every stage of the digital supply chain, from idea to customer experience.

This month, we're delighted to be joined by Cruce Saunders to discuss the concept of content engineering. But before we dive in Cruce, maybe you can give us a little bit of your background and why this topic is close to your heart.

Cruce Saunders
Hi Alan, great to be here. You know, this couldn't be a more interesting topic to me, this idea of content engineering and how it impacts customer experience. It's right very much at the heart of everything I've been doing for the last 25 years. I've been involved in digital systems, digitally mediated computer mediated environments for a very long time, since the early days of BBSs, back in the early nineties is probably when I got first involved. 

And I've been passionate about the connections that happen across time and space between different forms of human intelligence. And so that to me is an expression of a bigger intelligence. And I see knowledge as powerful and beautiful and the internet as offering endless ways for that knowledge to be shared. In theory, that should be a utopia. 

In fact, in some of the early days of the academic web, it felt like a utopia. But it doesn't always work that way in practice. In different areas of my life I've run a web dev shop, an interactive agency, a CMS product company, and then a CMS integrator. And during each of those eras, I saw how knowledge gets isolated into different content artifacts and locked down into systems and channels. –@mrcruce

It became painful enough to see the soul of knowledge split into so many different hard artifact-based forms that I really have dedicated my career since 2012 purely to the mission of freeing knowledge, really getting content, its denominator into a mode of portability and flow. And so I see engineering as the path to that flow. 

And content engineering being that sort of master key that unlocks the shape and structure and semantic connections and the portability of content itself. So there's a lot of material that content can really connect us to when it's portable. But it really can be something that can be an isolated, disposable and underappreciated, underutilized artifact if it is poorly managed, treated, organized and engineered. And so I think it's time for us to wake up and do things in a new way. 

Alan Porter
That's great, Cruce, thanks. And I totally agree with you that we're definitely at a point in time where we actually need to look at doing things in a completely new way. And I think we're being forced to do that at this particular moment in time. So it will be interesting to see what comes out of the current situation in terms of the way things change and the way we look at content. 

So just to get us going we have a couple of standard intro questions just to start the conversation going. So what do you think about when you hear the term content used in a business environment, Cruce?

The Role of Enterprise Content

Cruce Saunders
Well, I think content gets a bit of a bad rap within the enterprise, at least in many parts of an organization. Content means that which is contained. And so sometimes that's interpreted to mean the stuff that ends up filling up our campaign pages and tech support communities and documentation repos. It's basically material that is absent from an interconnected relationship with other parts of an organization.

It's usually filler in some departments and some organizations. I've got to get X number of articles done or I've got to have this kind of topic in my support docs. Or I've got to have this kind of campaign asset in my DAM and I need to sort of fill in the blanks on a wire frame and put content in there. But we don't really look at what that's expressing. 

And content is really so much more than just the stuff filling up our repos and our web pages and our customer touch points. It's that bigger intellectual property, the intangible IP that powers every customer experience across an enterprise. –@mrcruce And it's the manifestation of that knowledge that comprises an entire organization's value and it shapes into various representations within multiple channels. 

So I think it should be seen as a kind of electricity or a power source that's available to everybody, that's fluid and malleable, able to really empower different experiences and a point of assembly in real time, dynamic interaction with the customer's context. So it's really something that expresses an organization's entire being, in essence.

And unfortunately, it's just often put into this category of a cost associated with delivering some finite organizational function on a very limited scale. So I think the reputation of content itself is evolving and changing within the enterprise. It's moving slowly but surely from being this accidental commodity to being really a foundational asset on which all customer and shareholder value is ultimately built. 

So I think it's going to move from being an accident and a single quarter expense within a single function to being more of an enterprise portfolio asset investment that drives customer and shareholder value. And that transition is underway now. It's taking a lot of movement from a lot of people to make that change happen. But we feel it, we see it. We see it in the way orgs are being designed now around content and omnichannel. 

We see it in the way that investments are being made in content infrastructure and content supply chains. So I think I'm optimistic about the future of content's reputation, but I'm very, very chagrined by the current and past state of content.

Content as an Asset

Alan Porter
So talking about the current and past state of content you mentioned around the idea of content being an asset that really should be reflected on the bottom line. And we've heard for years this cliche of "content is king." The whole growth of content marketing has sort of driven that phrase. But really, when you start talking to people in the business, it really, as you said, still seems to be overlooked as a business asset. Why do you think that is and what can we as content professionals do about it?

Cruce Saunders
Oh, this is a huge topic. It comes down to the way that spend is happening around content. Why content gets lost is because spend is based on this quarter-by-quarter P&L and content production is ending up as an expendable cost. But yet the asset value of what's being produced is durable, it extends far beyond a quarter. –@mrcruce

If a single content marketing asset like a white paper is producing leads for two or three years, but I expensed it in one quarter, it is out of balance, literally, with the way that that asset is producing compared to the way that I've represented that spend. So it's truly a balance sheet asset in an intellectual property term. 

Like if I have a movie and I'm Disney, I already understand that that intellectual property is going to generate value for the shareholders over time. And therefore, I'm going to put all my movies on the balance sheet. So that makes sense to me if I'm running Disney. Why doesn't it make sense to me if I'm running any other enterprise on the planet? 

Most of these enterprises are managing and delivering their entire value on the basis of customer experiences mediated in content. And yet we are expensing the stuff and we're not organizing and managing it with a portfolio view. So, really, that is a pivot mindset that needs to shift. 

Billions of dollars are being spent even within single enterprises on content. But it is completely spread out between different departments and functions and product groups and international teams. And it's never accounted for as an aggregate impact. So because we don't look at it as a portfolio, we're not able to even consider the performance either at the portfolio level or at the asset basis.

So I would go so far as to say that when organizations are spending the money, all they've created is potential value. But that the content is not actually worth anything unless we are able to demonstrate the value production of that asset on an ongoing basis. And that really requires a new orientation to the structure of content and how we measure its consumption, use and value. 

That's a big shift and it's definitely one that we're only in the earliest stages of. I see it as a shift from page-based consumption metrics that we see in Google Analytics and other sort of normal marketing analytics regimes to the content asset-oriented consumption metrics, which is to say all of the places that a single asset gets manifested across channels within an omnichannel publishing environment.

Alan Porter
So it's an interesting lead in this idea of moving away from thinking in content in terms of the way we view it, in terms of pages to the building blocks, the assets that are put together to deliver the customer experience. And I think this is really where this concept of content engineering really applies is in thinking about how we're developing these building blocks and how we're going to put them together to deliver the different experiences. 

The Practice of Content Engineering

Alan Porter
As you mentioned earlier, this is an idea that you've been championing for many years. Can you describe where the term content engineering came from and what it means to you?

Cruce Saunders
We define content engineering as the practice of organizing the shape, structure and application of content. Content engineering is a pedigree, has a long history that predates [A]. It is a practice that has been born out of thinking with that. Joe Gollner and a number of other innovative leaders within the space have proposed as the organizing principles by which the content sets that have a strategy by which they were created but don't necessarily have a shape and structure by which they can be applied can acquire that shape and structure.

And so we at [A] see that as the key piece of a larger content services function, along with also key content strategy and content operations pieces. So I don't think content engineering can ever be seen in a vacuum. There is a lot of work going on in the semantic side of this world. Different kinds of data scientists, knowledge engineers, knowledge scientists that are evolving different approaches to knowledge graphs and ways of representing data and content in these faceted, graph-oriented forms.

That's, I think, even the next generation beyond where we are today. But where we are today is, we're taking unstructured content and transforming it with the focus of strategy into a defined modular shape. That's the engineering function. Applying it against semantics that are defined. –@mrcruce

And that is where the semantic side of the engineering practices informed by strategy create a common reference, a master semantic model, along with a common reference for structure that the engineers build. So at [A], a content engineer works on a Master Content Model® and its relationship to a master semantic model.

And we make sure that those things are able to be shared within the large organization as a meeting place for understanding the content itself at its most root level. We have to be able to manage content at as close to the level of interoperable meaning as we can. And that requires new functions, new organizational functions. 

In order to make those real, we need an operations function. So content engineering, operations, and strategy all work together as part of a content services function. So we do believe that content engineering is the way of the future, but that it's part of a triumvirate of content practices. –@mrcruce And together, that is what creates the next generation of intelligent customer experiences built on a modular pool of core content shared across an enterprise in an integrated way. 

As a metaphor, one metaphor that we find that resonates with clients is imagining if customer experiences are these beautiful fountains like at the Bellagio in Las Vegas that I guess nobody can go to right now, but  just gorgeous fountains that are creating these amazing visuals for customers. But they're being powered by people manually in the background with buckets of water, dumping the water into the fountain as fast as they can to create these experiences.

That's basically how we're doing content today. There is no plumbing for how content powers different customer experiences. If content is the water, we don't have any organized, structured way by which it moves from production of the water, where the water works all the way into the fountains of the customer experiences. There's just nothing there. It's all human. Copy paste buckets. And that is actually insane. And so we're going to have to change that, and really that is really where content engineering comes in. 

Alan Porter
Great. I think some of the technology that we talk about at Nuxeo and so forth, things around content services platform and digital asset management can really provide some of that plumbing. But I've heard you talk and been involved with projects with you, where we look at the content engineering and developing things like the Master Content Model® even before we start looking at making technology decisions.

Content Portability Across Content Supply Chains 

Alan Porter
So can you sort of explain how taking a content engineering approach impacts the choice and implementation of those sort of technologies and helping you define that plumbing, if you like? Actually, also, once you've got the plumbing in place, the use of things like a CSP or a DAM.

Cruce Saunders
Absolutely. No content supply chain can operate without infrastructure. And it is absolutely essential that that infrastructure be orchestrated in a way that will connect up the various parts so that they can work well together. The problem with a lot of content systems implementations is their manual bespoke connections between the CMS and the DAM or between the various channel consumption end points and the CMS, if they're integrated at all. Often it's not integrated. –@mrcruce 

But by starting with the Master Content Model®, we create essentially a musical score by which all of these tools, utilities, platforms and repositories can represent content. It's an agreement on how to represent the content. And it gives the enterprise the capacity to enact an organized approach to streamlining content across acquisition, enrichment, management and publishing. 

And it gives the organization the ability to enforce various standards for presentation. So what elements are being used by agencies of record, for example? I know we worked with one client that had hundreds of agencies of record, all producing content, and all being done in this completely manual way with Word documents in a distributed environment totally mediated by email and intranets.

That is so dangerous because especially with regulatory environments where every word matters, managing a lot of manual content within systems that don't connect creates a lot of room for risk. Introducing a Master Content Model® can create a format that the agencies need to use to bring in content. 

So that content can then be run through both the regulatory medical legal review lifecycle or also can run through ingestion processes into platforms in a more structured and clean way without manual transformation. So building that awareness about the importance of structure and managing structure, that opens up entire new ways of working with content more efficiently that were never possible without that structure. 

I believe that all content is moving towards Content-as-a-Service. So all enterprise content will ultimately need to be structured against some sort of unified Master Content Model® and represented for exposure via API and ultimately omnichannel display. So we have to start looking at content through the eyes of schema aligned portability. 

We want our content to be able to flow through these systems like Nuxeo, in an object-oriented way and not get trapped into any particular CMS. What's great about the CSP platform that Nuxeo is is the object-oriented way of dealing with content regardless of source and regardless of destination.
So it can mediate the discovery and integration of content assets in a modular ecosystem. That is the hallmark of our next generation content systems. They're API driven, they free content, they free the content itself, which is ultimately the thing an enterprise leader needs to look for in a vendor relationship is content respect. The vendor must respect the content that the enterprise owns. It is the enterprise's content. 

The vendors must respect the intellectual property of the enterprise. I believe that any platform that doesn't get on the bandwagon with respecting an enterprise's intellectual property will be out of business within the next 8 to 10 years. –@mrcruce Gone off the face of the planet Earth, gone. Portability is the only path to the future.

Alan Porter
Passionate words there, Cruce. 

Cruce Saunders
I've seen vendor lock in and the pain it brings upon the earth.

Harnessing APIs and Content-as-a-Service to Deliver Next-Generation Intelligent Customer Experiences

Alan Porter
Yeah. So once you got past the technology selection phase, and hopefully you're avoiding vendor lock in and going for it, as you said, a component object orientated, API driven approach. You've got the technology in place, but really then there's the working with the concept. How do you see the benefits from a productivity perspective, of taking a systematic engineering approach to content? What does it mean for the people who are actually doing the work?

Cruce Saunders
Well, you know, knowledge never rests. Customer needs evolve by the minute. Organizations are anything but static, and the products and services and processes inside the organization are constantly changing. So it really makes sense to consider that a content model or a taxonomy or a content strategy is never something done and on a shelf. 

It's natural for systems to evolve over time, and knowledge systems most especially need ongoing attention. And so I think the big key benefit for a lot of organizations is a nimbleness to an omnichannel future of customer experience that allows the knowledge in an organization to become a living, breathing part of all of its customer experiences in an integrated way, without isolating it to separate teams and systems. 

That living, breathing nature of content means the organization needs an internal function for updating and managing the content model because that changes the way that content is used, displayed, searched, transformed across all of these different organizational functions. And there really does need to be an ongoing engineering function involved as part of this overall content services organization. 

So it can save, in many respects, huge amounts of time and money to incorporate a standards-based approach to content acquisition that aligns with content distribution. As one example, we work with a healthcare organization where the cost in time that subject matter experts were spending on transforming content was greater than 50%. In some cases 60%, 70% of their time on transforming content. 

That means doing other activities that are not actually subject matter experts' really primary authoring responsibilities, copying and pasting, moving into new formats and shifting content around. We were able to do an acquisition approach that allowed us to capture content actually in a Microsoft Word environment because they were highly paid doctors who didn't need to be trained on structural authoring.

So we acquired structure out of a Word document in XML and moved that into an ingestions cycle for a downstream CMS. So we were able to pull out of Word into a standard structure and then store that structure, that content in a structure as XML and then transform that into ingestion into a downstream CMS. 

But that same XML was then also used as a feeder into a real time API that became the basis for a voice skill. So all of that shows we can take a decoupled authoring approach and move the resulting content into a downstream implementation of that content that is multiple, not just singular. So at least two or three channels. 

And if there's a cost of transformation for each channel that is significant, one, it increases our capability and our time to market. And two, it dramatically decreases our cost, in this case by greater than 50% of their valuable subject matter expertise time in just the efficiency associated with a systematic engineering approach. 

And that is really at the heart of the value proposition of content engineering. It's in streamlining systems while creating new capabilities that really ends up playing out in so many ways in an organization's long-term value proposition to the market across each one of its pre- and post-sales functions. It's far more than just helping to influence one channel, one lifecycle, one system of record once those engineering practices start to take root and be applied in a broader way in a content organization.


Driving Content Value

Alan Porter
Great. There's been some great insights, Cruce. So I have one final question for you. As a final thought, what would you consider the one area that our listeners, content professionals listening to this podcast, what can they focus on right now to drive more value from their content? 

Cruce Saunders
One key unifying focus we are seeing a lot of our enterprise champions successful with is Content-as-a-Service. When building APIs, we have to have structured available portable content. And so it helps to drive content intelligence initiatives when we have a clear objective like Content-as-a-Service. In addition to that, all leaders should be participating in the bigger market conversation. 

We formed a group called the Content Order to help to bridge the discussion in different parts of the content industry. There is so much rich intelligence already happening within the deep practices, within content, across content strategy, content operations, content engineering and different sub-specialties. 

So we need to start working together to align practices and disciplines within the space so that enterprise publishers, really publishers of all sizes and shapes, can benefit from a more organized, accessible, holistic approach. –@mrcruce A shared approach that we can all start to use to understand how the different practices can lead to content intelligence.

The content industry is thriving. It's also fragmented. Roles are continuously changing and evolving. The shared vocabulary around that is, too. So we're working to reach a consensus in multiple arenas and that requires a conversation. And so that's one thing I definitely encourage everybody to do is create conversations about the next generation of content within the enterprise and then within the industry. 

There is so much promise that each individual brings, but none of it is possible, none of these disciplines are possible to realize their potential without an integrated conversation where we break down the barriers between disciplines, start sharing knowledge and come together to help really make the future of content and the knowledge it expresses a more beautiful and whole future for all of us to live within and benefit from.

Alan Porter
Thank you, Cruce. Thank you again for your passion about content, which clearly came through today. I really enjoyed listening to that and for your well thought out answers and insights. It's been an absolute pleasure having you join us for today's Content Journey.

Cruce Saunders
Thanks very much, Alan. Anybody interested in learning more about some of these thoughts, I think it might be good to take a look at some of the content on simplea.com. And also join the conversation either at the content order or just in any circles you're in, because it's by stimulating these conversations that we all get smarter. And I thank you for stimulating this conversation, Alan, it's been a pleasure. 

Alan Porter
My absolute pleasure, Cruce. Great to talk to you again.

Cruce Saunders
All right. Cheers. 

Alan Porter
Cheers. If you enjoyed this discussion and would like to learn more about content industry related insights, please join us for the following webinars.

How to turbo charge your creative process on May 21st. Transform your customer experience with modern information management, on May 26th. More details and registration links for these events and others can be found on the Nuxeo website at nuxeo.com/events. We also have two new white papers, both addressing different aspects of artificial intelligence and content. They are available from the nuxeo.com resource center. 

So stop by to download and read our thoughts on powering your content with AI and reducing image, hide and seek with artificial intelligence. Well, that brings us to the end of this episode of Content Journeys. Got a question or a comment? You can find us on Twitter @nuxeo, just use the hashtag #ContentJourneys. 

If you enjoyed what you heard today, please share. And don't forget to subscribe to Content Journeys on your favorite podcast platform. And if you could leave a rating and a review too, that would be great. If you would like to participate, or if you know anyone that you'd like to see featured in this podcast, please leave us a comment. 

Again, a special thanks to Cruce Saunders for joining us today. And thank you for taking the time to listen. I am your host, Alan Porter. Stay well. Stay safe. Produce good content and enjoy your journey.

More About the Interview

Alan Porter is an industry-leading content strategist and Nuxeo’s Director of Product Marketing. He is the author of “The Content Pool,” and a regular conference speaker, workshop leader, and writer on Content Marketing, Content Strategy, Customer Experience, Brand Management, and Content and Localization Strategy. Named one of the Top 25 Content Strategy Influencers and a Digital Strategy thought leader in 2016 and 2017, Alan is a catalyst for change with a strong track record in developing new ideas, embracing emerging technologies, and introducing operational improvements.

Cruce Saunders is the founder and principal at [A] and author of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World. He regularly speaks on omnichannel customer experience, content intelligence, AI, chatbots, personalization, content structural and semantic standards, and intelligence transformation. He also hosts the Towards a Smarter World podcast, where he connects with leaders impacting global intelligence.

To listen to the full episode, visit Nuxeo's Content Journeys podcast.

For even more information about content intelligence, and how the practices of content strategy, content engineering, and content operations fit into a content intelligence framework, visit simplea.com, or join The Content Order

Authorship

Alan J. Porter is the Director of Product Marketing at Nuxeo software. He is a regular writer and industry speaker on various aspects of customer experience and content strategy."


Cruce Saunders is the founder and principal at [A] and author of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World. He regularly speaks on omnichannel customer experience, content intelligence, AI, chatbots, personalization, content structural and semantic standards, and intelligence transformation. He also hosts the Towards a Smarter World podcast, where he connects with leaders impacting global intelligence.

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[A] Guide to the Content Services Organization