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[A] Podcast: Examining the Internet of Things

Interview With Mark Lewis

A discussion on the alignment and development of intelligent content in organizations.

Bio

Mark Lewis is a Content Engineer and DITA Educator at Quark.

Transcript

Cruce: Hi, this is Cruce Saunders. I’m at Information Development World sitting down with Mark Lewis, author of DITA Metrics 101. He’s also just finished speaking about “Intelligent Content and the Internet of Smart Things” here at Information Development World. 

Mark, thanks for joining me. I wanted to start out with a few questions about this concept you started out with when you blew a train whistle at the beginning of your talk about alignment. Can you tell us a little bit about your thinking on what alignment is and how it impacts development of intelligent content in the organization?
 
Mark: Sure. The original problem that I saw was that we’ve got this increasing level of volume of content that is needed that is going to come out of the Internet of Things and the Internet of Smart Things, and people say “Well, what’s the difference?” Well we’ve got this generic Internet of Things which are just connected devices, and everybody says “Okay my toaster is connected to me now, how can that be a drastic increase of content?” Well, not just that, but that’s not going to cause a lot of content. 

What we have is a situation where we’ve got devices that are getting smarter and smarter because we’re starting to embed more sensors, more processors. Now we have embedded software, we have user experiences, user interfaces in these devices. Not only do we have the Internet of Things, we have smart products which are smart things, connect them all together, connected smart products. Now we have the Internet of Smart Things.
 
The way that I explained it to the audience was yes, we’ve documented things before and interfaces require application programming interface content. We’ve done that before. We’ve documented networks and systems of products, but we’ve never documented systems of smart products. There’s an increasing volume in complexity of the content that the little content creators like us are going to have to create. There are just more and more layers of complexity coming from all of these innovations. 

I don’t think that we’re ready for that. I think there are going to be innovations and complexities, new content requirements and new types of content requirements that are coming that we haven’t thought of yet or that we don’t know about yet. So what I was explaining to the audience was we better take a content engineering approach, and that’s why we’re in the content engineering track today. Take a content engineering approach to this problem.
 
So what I was recommending to everybody was think about the software development lifecycle, requirements, design, implementation and test phases, your basic engineering phases. Look at the content at the content development lifecycle. Well, it has the same phases in it. If you take the content engineering approach—requirements, design, implementation, test, maintenance—what I think that we need to do is to stop thinking of content as an afterthought, which typically has a low priority and that’s going to be a problem. It’s always the last thing that people think about. We’ve got the other engineering disciplines. They’ve been applying principles that have allowed them to have success for many decades. We need to look at them, look at their successes and draw from them. Engineering principles applying to content.
 
Now that we’ve made that statement, let’s talk about aligning the lifecycles together. My main point is to gather accurate and clear content requirements and bring them in earlier in the product development lifecycle, so not waiting to gather those content requirements later. So you’ve got smart products and smart parts. These smart parts are mechanical, electrical, structural. Content is a part and we need smart content or intelligent content to be that part of a smart product.
 
Cruce: So content is no longer an output of a publishing process, it’s really an engineering input?
 
Mark: Right. If you want to be able to get certain outputs, whether it’s personalized content going to all these different output formats, PDF, HTML, mobile devices, all the new display devices that are coming out, the display devices that we haven’t even thought of yet, then you need to engineer your content and future-proof it for the formats that we haven’t even thought of yet.
 
Cruce: Got it. Well it’s interesting, I know we were talking after your talk today about the biotech engineering company that— 
 
Mark: That was Medtronics.
 
Cruce: Yeah, Medtronics. Medtronics had a really strong connection with the internet of things, because of course they’re creating devices that live inside of us. And those will eventually localize content about a health state and become providers of content as well, because they’re providing out data states, vitals and other metrics from performance in the body and then they’re publishing out content as well, like a Fitbit does, that will ultimately sync, whether it’s via Bluetooth or other method, to external repositories that might then publish that via a web service to a mobile app that says here is how your vitals are performing in your pacemaker and in your valve replacement and in other embedded medical devices. 

And of course our toaster talks too. So there’s content, there is the Internet of Smart Things as publisher as well as prompting this need to document and manage content around the Internet of Smart Things. Is that a fair way to characterize the landscape or are there other parts to it?
 
Mark: Well, even the gentleman from Medtronics was saying that we’ve got to move from the publishing model mentality to more of a content engineering discipline if we’re going to get all of this content done. That was the problem I was seeing was lots of complexity, lots of new content requirements, and I’m freaking out saying “How are we going to get this all done?” So that gentleman was like, “Yeah, we’re taking engineering principles and we’re applying them to content as a part of the product.”
 
Cruce: So if you’re inside of a tech comm’s group or a marketing group or you’re a senior executive and you’re looking at the volume of data that’s already here, let alone the volume that’s going to becoming in the Internet of Smart Things, what should you start to be thinking now about how to get your arms around it from an executive point of view? What should executives be thinking about managing all of this intelligent content across smart things and other forms of publishing?
 
Mark: I can tell you those executives are going to be thinking about what their own priorities are and that’s fine. They’re going to be thinking about increasing revenue, decreasing cost, reduced time to market. So reflect those into the content strategy and the content requirements, it’s how we’re going to produce all of this content, which is more content, so that we can get more revenue. 

We have to align those—the content strategy with those corporate goals, with that corporate strategy, and that’s how I’m going to convince the executives that this problem exists and that they need to put effort into it. If they want to get their products out of the door on time, then they better start applying engineering principles to their content or it’s not going to happen. So you’ve got reduced effort which means reduced cost that they can have if they apply these methodologies.
 
Cruce: This really kind of dovetails with a thread that I’ve been hearing throughout Information Development World that amplifies a thought that I’ve been having for a long time about the asset value of content. That content ultimately has a balance sheet value in the same way as we have intellectual property value on our balance sheets in corporate America and we’ve got goodwill and other intangibles that are highly valued on our balance sheets. 

The content and data seems to me to be a huge competitive advantage. If you’ve got lots and lots of data points that others don’t, you can do more with that than your competitors can, and create different experiences than your competitors can.
 
We’ve got this Internet of Smart Things that is going to become a giant contributor to that, which ultimately could be contributing to the balance sheet if those assets are managed well, if those assets are kept in good structure and are stored well and are reused properly. There’s a cost decrease, but it seems like we’ve also got an opportunity to actually enhance our balance sheets significantly. It might not be a revenue addition, although there’s that possibility too, but there’ also this balance sheet impact. Do you think that message might resonate with leaders as well?
 
Mark: It will. When I typically talk to executives, I try to speak their language which is numbers, dollars. And so the metrics that I’ve designed, like in DITA Metrics 101, it’s all about proving to the executives that what you’re doing in the content department is in alignment with their corporate goals. So you say, “All right, what are the top three corporate goals?” You’ve got reduced costs, increase customer satisfaction, reduced time to market and then we design metrics to prove to the executives that what we are doing as content creators are addressing his or her goals.
 
Then you get executive buy in, and then they know that their goals are being satisfied and both those departments, both of those strategies are in alignment. I extended that in to my presentation today to say “Look, you’ve also got to align the lifecycles,” meaning the software development lifecycle, the content development lifecycle and the other engineering disciplines like the mechanical and the electrical parts of these smart products. So it’s alignment of development lifecycles, alignment of processes, kind of like you see documentation departments doing agile now. 

Why? Well because they’re trying to align their processes with the engineering departments that have already adopted agile. So I see that as an attempt to be an alignment. I don’t think that they’re doing it for the reasons that I’m saying today. It’s still a good thing, but I think that’s an attempt at alignment that people are doing without realizing how badly it’s needed.
 
Cruce: It’s very interesting to me, because I’m hearing you talk in terms of principles and guiding standards and other kinds of pillars of alignment that help to sustain across the organization, collaboration around a common set of understandings. And it’s reminding me a little bit of Lisa’s talk this morning about governance and the importance of standards across the organization. 

What’s your take on how governance models will evolve with the Internet of Smart Things, because, like you’re pointing out, it starts to impact even broader groups within engineering than are currently involved in a lot of the digital publishing processes.
 
Mark: In order to facilitate governance and to facilitate compliance, we need to take that engineering approach. What I do with a lot of my clients is I get them to understand that if you structure your content and you bring it into a tool that allows you to design workflows and processes so that you can enforce the reviews that are supposed to happen, that we keep an audit trail of the reviews that did happen, then you can enforce governance. And you can prove that governance happened which is a lot of big corporations are getting slapped on the wrist because they’ve not been doing that. But with structured content, you can and you can prove it.
 
Cruce: Do you think you’re going to end up doing a metrics book for the Internet of Smart Things next?
 
Mark: One thing that I did today was I committed to what I’m calling the alignment community. I made a commitment to the presentation audience today that look, I know that everything that I’ve been telling you about gaining skills and requirements and gaining skills and design and getting out of your content creation box, moving further upstream in the product development lifecycle they’re saying, “But executives aren’t going to let me out of the content creation box.” And I told them I know. So what I’m going to do is take all these materials and these thoughts that we talk about in this session and rewrite it to the executive audience so that they understand that yes, there is a problem, convince them that there is a solution. And I’m probably going to have to develop some metrics to help prove that, because that’s the language that they speak.
 
Cruce: Well, we’re all looking forward to that in the community and thank you for your leadership on that. We will be following your blog on LinkedIn and we’ll look for this next step here, and I think everybody now that’s listened to this has got an inkling that the Internet of Smart Things is going to have an impact on the publishing process and on the management of intelligent content across the enterprise need to look out for it, keep it on the horizon and, more than that, start creating a plan, because it’s coming fast just like everything else in our industry that changes so quickly. 

Thank you Mark very much for your time today, I appreciate it. If people want to find you online and track your work, what’s the best way for them to do that?
 
Mark: A lot of my work and research appears in the DITA Metrics LinkedIn group. You can find my book at www.ditametrics.com or www.ditametrics101.com and just find me on LinkedIn and reach out and connect.
 
Cruce: Terrific! Thanks Mark.
 
Mark: Thank you.



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