Component Content Management Systems (CCMS) for Digital Health Marketers (part 1)

Component content management system (CCMS) for digital health marketers


To best introduce you to the concept of component content or content reuse I’m going to take it in stages.  First, I’ll cover components.  After that I’ll get into some definitions and requirements for a good CCMS.  Next I’ll define the two extremes of content authoring as strongly and loosely structured, then I’ll get a little deeper into that. Finally, I’ll give you my thoughts on the CCMS landscape right now as it pertains to digital marketers in healthcare.

Just to note, what I’m not going to do is get into the content strategy that drives many of these choices.  Content Strategy is incredibly important to architecting a CCMS, but it’s also its own conversation.  If you want more on that check out Buddy Scalera’s podcast, Rx Digital Marketing Storytelling podcast.

Defining component content management systems (CCMS):

A component content management system (CCMS) is a content management system that manages content at a granular level (component) rather than at the document level.  If you think of a document as an article, web page, or word document than a component could be a paragraph, image, or even a word.

For those of you not familiar with the terminology, a content management system (CMS) is a computer application that supports the creation and modification of digital content. It is often used to support multiple users working in a collaborative environment (thank you Wikipedia).

CMS features vary widely, but most CMSs include Web-based publishing, format management, history editing and version control, indexing, search, and retrieval. By their nature, content management systems support the separation of content and presentation.

When we talk about CMS’s most of us think about web content management systems, or WCMS’s. A web content management system is a CMS designed specifically to support the management of the content of web pages. Most popular CMSs are also WCMSs, but that may be because that’s how most people want to use them. The most popular web-CMSs are Drupal & WordPress in the open source LAMP space; Umbraco & Sitecore in the .Net space, and Adobe’s AEM (formally Day CQ) in the Java space.

Web content includes text and embedded graphics, photos, video, audio, maps, and code (e.g., for applications) that displays content or interacts with the user. Web content management systems typically have two major components:

  • A content management application (CMA) is the front-end user interface that allows a user, even with limited expertise, to add, modify, and remove content from a website without the intervention of a webmaster.
  • A content delivery application (CDA) compiles that information and updates the website.

But not all CMS’s and web-CMS’s are CCMS’s.  In fact, most of them are not.

Each component represents a single topic, concept or asset (for example an image, table, product description, a procedure).  A CCMS is a content management system that has the distinct and specialized features to manage content at a granular level (component) rather than at the document level.

The CCMS must be able to track “not only versions of topics and graphics but relationships among topics, graphics, maps, publications, and deliverables.” Components can be as large as a chapter or as small as a definition or even a word. Components in multiple content assemblies (content types) can be viewed as components or as traditional documents.

Why do I want a CCMS?

Some of this information may be very new to you.  So in case you were not able to make the cognitive leap as to the value of being able to repurpose content, here’s a few reasons to consider how a CCMS will help you.

A language of communication with your customers

Your business or brand has a language of communication.  A few years ago I was managing a large technical team.  We had two big clients that regularly did large banner campaigns.  When I say large, I mean 150 versions of 5 creative concepts globally large for the one and the other was similar in size but US only.  When these hit, which was about six times a year for one and four for the other, it was all hands on deck to ensure a seamless execution.  So you could imagine the workload the one week where they both it at the same time.  Needless to say, we had to ramp up fast.  Which we did.  But it wasn’t easy.  And at the end of the day when we got to the first review, even though we executed on the creative the comment came back that it looked like five different people did these (which was a win, because there were a lot more than that).

What this pointed out to me was that individuals have a voice.  In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell (2005) describes how World War II British intelligence officers were able to identify the location of various German military units just by listening to the cadence of German encrypted transmissions.  They couldn’t understand them because they were encrypted, but after listen for long periods of time intelligence officers were abler to distinguish between the personalities of who was sending the transmissions.  In this case it was a good thing for British Intelligence because they could leverage this information into insights about German troops.  But that kind of variability is not good for your brand.  More often than you realize the personality of your content authors and content deliverers are finding their way into your corporate message.  And, over time, often that message can degrade.  So one of the top reasons to have a CCMS is to create a consistent “language of communication” with your customers.  And I’m not just talking about the Oxford comma.

The real cost of content

Most organizations waste a lot of time, money, and energy doing the same things over and over again.  How many times have you looked at a document and gotten about half way through it before you realized you were the author?  That’s really not a good thing.  Now imagine how many times someone needed a piece of content and didn’t realize that someone else had already authored it.  Unfortunately, it happens quite a bit.

In healthcare specifically this is a very bad and especially wasteful thing.  It’s not like we just hire an artistic copyrighter to come up with some pros.  Much of our content is both scientifically authored by subject matter experts (SMEs), legal reviewed, and peer-reviewed.  That takes time.

I once worked with a high-level executive who had made the jump from HP over to healthcare with dreams of changing everything.  One of the first things she realized was just how long things take.  Many of the cohort that made the jump with her quickly got frustrated with the process and jumped back to the CPG space where we used to do a new branded website for every holiday and even a few that we made up.

CCMS’s are designed to solve exactly this problem.  When you want to author content you can directly and relationally leverage that which has already been authored into your own.  That means you get all the benefit of the work that camp before you and you lessen the work that will come after you.  It’s a whole lot easier to approve something that’s been approved before.

If you can’t find it, you can’t use it

One day I’m going to run a treasure hunt using only SharePoint.  For what it is, SharePoint is actually a pretty good and very functional system.  But that doesn’t mean you can always find what you’re looking for.

Over the years I’ve seen many attempts at “organizing” SharePoint.  Standard directory structures, enhanced searches, version control, etc.  In exactly no cases have I ever talked to a user base that was happy with it.  On a good day you can put yourself back in the mindset you were in when you saved a document to SharePoint and be able to find it again.  On a bad day it’s lost for good.  Just let it go man, it’s gone.

When I first start a CCMS project one of the core principles I fight for is the creation of a system that people will not only use, but be the one they go to first.  Because you’re not only competing with the DMS, you’re also competing with the archived DMS, the local hard drive, the shared drive, one drive storage, personal drop-box accounts, and any system that any one of your vendors uses if they don’t have a standard place to put the original files on your system.

My goal, as I state it, is not to be the seventh system.  It’s to be the first and only.

Lots of other reasons

At this point I could go on about all the reasons to consider a CCMS, but that’s not my intention. I’m not trying to convince you to do anything, rather I’ll assume you have done your research and you know what’s best for your organization.  So here’s a few more good things a CCMS can bring to your company:

  • Version control
  • Evolution of content, not re-creation
  • Improved knowledge management
  • Accessible information
  • Consistent communications both internally and externally

What makes a good CCMS?

Now that you understand the concept of a CCMS, let’s talk about some features that make for a good CCMS.  Now keep in mind these criteria are in no particular order, and may not be important to you, but they are the ones I typically leverage when I’m evaluating my solutions.

  • Componentization: The ability for people to use parts of the content in other materials without losing connection to the source. Where, when, and how this happens is variable (ex: dita vs custom components).  Re-use is very different than copying and pasting because it maintains the link to the original instead of creating a new version.
  • Workflow: Processes are complex, especially in healthcare. Content needs to be worked on by multiple people (authors, SMEs, etc.), approved, revised, approved again, used, re-evaluated next year, etc.
  • Multi-channel: Content should be stored in a platform agnostic way (XML, JackRabbit, etc.), for both digital and offline uses. Separating out content from the formatting and visualization of the content is imperative to content re-use.
  • Reporting: We have to know where and how people are using content for many, many reasons and at many levels of content ownership.
  • Integration: Content flows through many platforms, we need to work with them all through some technology or process.
  • Templating: There is a thin line between structured and unstructured content where we need the power of the structure, but the ease of unstructured authoring.
  • Exporting: Content needs to be stored as platform independent, but we also have to be able to use it.  Most common types are PDF, DOC, PPT, HTML, InDesign and then XML or JSON for systems integration.

Okay, so that’s part one of this two-part series on component content management systems.  It’s a pretty big topic and there’s a lot to cover so be sure to listen to part to where I take you through the major pieces of the CCMS architecture you should think about and I finally start naming names as I break down some of the platforms on the market today and list the features and benefits.


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  1. […] Note: this is part 2 of a 2 part series that covers Component Content Management Systems (CCMS) for digital health marketers.  Click the link if you have not yet read Part 1. […]

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