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.
Parts of a CCMS architecture.
There are four major parts to a CCMS architecture at a very high level. The features I just covered are just that, features of the architecture, but not the architecture itself. If you think of the features as the job descriptions, you can think of this high-level architecture as the different departments in the company. The four major areas are: the authoring interface, content management, digital asset storage, and of course publishing.
This is where your authors do their work. It might seem simple, but many times you don’t have just one author. Often times you’ll either divide a large document up into sections or you’ll rely on various subject matter experts to contribute. When that’s the case collaboration can get tricky.
Authoring interfaces can also get quite complex. One of the issues with strict DITA is that many of the larger CCMS’s require you to work in XML editors like Oxygen. In healthcare especially where you may be working with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to author and collaborate on content there’s very little expectation that they will be able to use XML effectively. Even if they could, it’s doubtful they’ll know the DITA framework well enough to be effective. But that’s not the knowledge you’re working with them for.
There are some nice CCMS tools that focus primarily on the authoring interface. AuthorBridge by Stilo and AuthorIT are two examples of this. There are other nice “word-like” authoring environments, but I’ll discuss those in a little bit when I cover the systems themselves.
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Document Management System (DMS)
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM covers the management of information within the entire scope of an enterprise whether that information is in the form of a paper document, an electronic file, a database print stream, or even an email. ECM is an umbrella term covering document management, Web content management, search, collaboration, records management, digital asset management (DAM), workflow management, capture and scanning.
With respect to the CCMS we’re most concerned with the DMS, which is the system used to track, mange, and store documents and reduce paper. It’s not technically a content management system even though some of the features overlap.
Digital Asset Management (DAM)
DAMs consists of management tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets. Usually if you’re talking about a DAM you are referring to digital images, videos, and music, but DAMs have grown to include many different types of documentation. DAMs now include computer software and hardware systems that aid in the process of digital asset management.
DAMs are very good for control and consistency of content. For instance, you can have your logo in one place and include it on every one of your websites. That way you can update it once and it will change everywhere. A good DAM will integrate will with many of your business and publishing systems. Business systems to take content into the DAM, and publishing systems to push content out to your audiences. This makes DAMs very good for content reuse, especially for visual content reuse.
Publishing or Delivery systems (often part of the CCMS, or a CMS in its own right)
Assuming you can author and store your content, now you have to think about how you’ll get your content out to your audiences. There are lots of specialized platforms to do this. You may use a web-CMS for your websites (drupal, wordpress, sitecore, AEM), and an email sending provider (ESP) (Silverpop, constant contact, bronto, mailchimp), marketing automation (IBM marketing cloud, Mautic, Marketo), or CRM platform (Salesforce, hubspot) for your emails. For social media you may leverage a platform like Hootsuite. For your reps you may use Veeva’s iRep.
Suffice to say there are lots of delivery systems to consider when you’re architecting a CCMS. This is the point at which your content actually interfaces with the consumer of the content. As you can imagine these choices are incredibly important. But just as important is your choice of CCMS and how it will interact with that platform. Maintaining content that links back to the original source is at the core of componentization, and a bad choice here will break that chain and significantly reduce the effectiveness of the whole system.
Let’s talk CCMS’s… finally:
Now that I’ve laid the groundwork for your CCMS architecture and covered some of the features you’ll want to consider when vetting systems and determining requirements I’m going to talk a bit more about the CCMS’s themselves. The way I’ve classified CCMS’s is on an ordinal scale ranging from highly structured to loosely typed. You’ll understand more about what that means as I get into it.
Highly structured content systems
On the far left of the scale we have the highly structured systems. These systems typically rely on DITA (I’ll get to that in a minute) and are more complex or technical in nature and usability. They tend to be found in the technical publishing world along with a few other industries that handle large volumes of content, especially where that content is reused, like translation services.
A bit about DITA:
The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an open standard XML data model for authoring and publishing. DITA was created, like many things, by IBM back in 2001, so it’s relatively new.
The name derives from the following components:
- Darwin: it uses the principles of specialization and inheritance, which is in some ways analogous to the naturalist Charles Darwin’s concept of evolutionary adaptation,
- Information typing, which means each topic has a defined primary objective (procedure, glossary entry, troubleshooting information) and structure,
- Architecture: DITA is an extensible set of structures.
DITA is not the only well-known document markup language – there are actually lots of them. Perhaps the most well-known are:
- HyperText Markup Language (HTML) – the original markup language that was defined as a part of implementing World Wide Web, an ad hoc defined language inspired by the meta format SGML and which inspired many other markup languages.
- Wiki markup – used in Wikipedia, MediaWiki and other Wiki installations.
So why am I talking about DITA? Reuse. A principal goal for DITA has been to reduce the practice of copying content from one place to another as a way of reusing content. Reuse within DITA occurs on two levels:
- Topic reuse. Because of the non-nesting structure of topics, a topic can be reused in any topic-like context. Information designers know that when they reuse a topic in a new information model, the architecture will process it consistently in its new context.
- Content reuse. DITA provides each element with a conref attribute that can point to any other equivalent element in the same or any other topic. This referencing mechanism starts with a base element, thus assuring that a fail-safe structure is always part of the calling topic (the topic that contains the element with the conref attribute). By architecting it in this way the new content is always functionally equivalent to the element that it replaces.
But, believe it or not, I’m not here to talk about DITA. Because DITA is very good for somethings, like publishing technical manuals, and it’s not so good for other things, like leveraging non-technical subject matter experts (SME) in your authoring. There are a lot of strengths, one of the major weaknesses of DITA is the DITA itself. Most authoring in DITA-based systems happens in XML. As a result, we end up with a very limited set of authors who are trained to do so. Either that, or we have to put a translator between the author and the SME, which slows things down, creates complexity, and introduces other issues down the line when you want to edit or revise content.
Highly-structured DITA CCMS platforms has a set of well-established and, in some cases, massive, set of platforms. There are lots of features and benefits, but most have been created for an industry other than digital marketing. The root of these systems is either publishing or translation services. Examples of these platforms include: SDL, Vasant, Astoria, DITA Exchange, and EasyDITA.
Structured content platforms like these can offer an organization looking to implement a CCMS many advantages. For starters they’ve been around a while and are well tested. Many of these platforms were established early on as the publishing and translation industries grew. As a result, they’ve had plenty of time to establish and refine their standards, workflows, and processes. This is a good thing because you can actually find someone with several years’ experience with the platform to help structure, onboard, and train your organization.
But that longevity doesn’t apply everywhere. In many cases these highly-structured content platform organizations have recognized that there is a gap in the enterprise marketing marketplace that they have the potential to fill. As a result, they’ve begun the migration to the center making their interfaces friendlier and adding new features and workflows. Typically, this is happening through either acquisition and integration, or a complete overhaul of the interface. Either way, parts of the platform are based in pretty new software that’s not time tested in production environments.
Of course the base of the system is still solid with a core structure that can easily and consistently manipulate DITA, import documents, search, and publish documents to most of the targets content types you’d want. They have good workflow management and time-tested processes for routing and approval (outside healthcare, of course). Several of these are based in large and proven systems, like Oracle. And depending on your content needs, a few are even FDA Title 21 CFR Part 11 compliant.
If you’re not familiar with FDA Title 21 CFR part 11 that’s a little much for me to get into now. Suffice to say is the code of federal regulation (CFR) that defines the criteria under which electronic records and electronic signatures are considered trustworthy, reliable, and equivalent to paper records. FDA Title 21 CFR part 11 requires that controls are implemented including audits, audit trails, system validations, electronic signatures, and documentation for software involved in processing specific electronic data. But that is as far down that rabbit hole of part 11 I’m going to go right now.
More loosely structured authoring
On the complete opposite side of the strongly structured systems we have loosely structured systems on the extreme right, like Microsoft Word. Yep, Word. Word is my go-to example of a loosely-structured document. OneNote might be slightly less structured, because you can place stuff anywhere on the page, draw, etc. But Word is pretty loose.
Most people don’t realize that Microsoft Word actually has an XML schema behind it. Through the XML schema you can create templates, documents and do a whole lot more. Essentially you can do everything you can do in word, which is what enables programs like open-office to have compatibility. You can also go the other way and export a document to be used as a template for other documents. But, just because it has XML behind it doesn’t mean there’s a standard or the document is consistently well structured.
The difference between Word and DITA is that with DITA any system that implements it knows what to expect and how to parse a document. Where with Word it’s most likely that every author does something a little bit different.
To illustrate this just think about headings. Some people use them, others do not. Creatively some people will be more descriptive than others when they are authoring while others will just have a few words with no punctuations. Format while, some will actually use Word’s heading styles and alter them to fit the need while others will spend time manually increasing font sizes, bolding, coloring, italicizing, etc. The irony being this extra time spend it actually making the document worse in the XML. Because what platforms and systems like is predictability and consistency.
At this point I’ll stop talking about Word in favor or a real platform, like WittyParrot, Acrolinx, AuthorBridge, or Contently. These platforms are relatively new within the last four years and, for the most part, are digitally native. I won’t say they’re as unstructured as Word, but their goal is to move toward the center where they can reap the benefits of structured DITA with the usability of simple applications. Some of the founders and developers may have gotten their start in publishing and translation, but the platforms themselves have been architected from the ground up. As a result, there are some major benefits.
Astro Teller, Director of Google X Labs famously said, “if you want cars to run at 50 miles per gallon, fine you can retool your car a little bit. But if I tell you it has to run on a gallon of gas for 500 miles, you have to start over.” This powerful thought illustrates the importance of reframing your thinking and breaking constrain to achieve a specific goal, and that’s exactly what these organizations did when they started from scratch. Newer platforms are fast and responsive and the navigation makes sense to someone who doesn’t come with a multi-year history on previous versions of the software (as we found a lot in the DITA space).
Many of the new platforms have overhauled the authoring environments, workflows, flexibility, and even added a few nifty features. For starters digitally native platforms typically have superior user interfaces (UI). The power in creating a standard over adapting one like DITA has allowed digitally-native CCMS organizations to build with the user as the focus rather than the XML standard or other incumbent technology. They actually feel much more user friendly. Some of my other favorite features include:
- Contextual search as you type helps authors find out that what they’re typing may already exist in the system. After typing just a few words the system may pop up autocomplete-like options for components. As I described before components can be and image or a word, or they can be a full paragraph, chapter, or document. As you could imagine this is a huge time save and dramatically increases the opportunities for content-reuse.
- Application interoperability is another key feature. Buddy Scalera once said to me, “PowerPoint is the language of business,” and he was right. Word and PowerPoint represent a proportionally large amount of content that we author and share. In the marketing space InDesign may contribute as well, with HTML helping to fill the remaining gaps. (Note: I didn’t mention PDF because that is typically a later-stage document type based on one of the above).The historic issues with these applications are actually quite vast and not just limited to content. Unfortunately, people like to make copies of these files – lots and lots of copies. One may exist on a DMS like SharePoint that maintains version control. Inevitably someone will save a copy local or email it out to a team instantly making may copies. In all these cases the link back to the original has been severed. With a good CCMS, however, the content link is built right into the document so no matter where it resides the important content will always maintain the most recent version.
We have the same issue with authoring. Authoring in Word or PowerPoint does not typically give you direct access to a content repository. As a result, you are almost guaranteeing that already authored, reviewed, approved, and published content will not be re-used in new assets.
- User-defined, flexible organization is typically based in organic category or tag architectures is one of my favorite features of new age CCMS platforms. Hierarchies are both hard to define and harder to get people to use consistently. Tagging and more categories are a much more natural way for people to both organize and find things. But don’t be fooled, coming up with an organizational taxonomy isn’t easy either.
Unfortunately, these newer systems have a few major issue that are preventing widespread adoption in the CCMS space. For starters they’re new. Many of these platforms are still in active development. But that’s not quite as bad as it might seem.
New software means new processes. Many of these new teams are quite agile, responsive, and flexible to your needs. So don’t count them out if they don’t have the features your looking for right now. The whole thing can change in just a few months. Back in the day O’Reilly coined the term “Web 2.0”, and in doing so brought wide recognition to the term “perpetual beta”. Perpetual beta describes development methodologies that consistently release new features and versions more often than the old model of planning for big multi-year roll-outs. Unfortunately, this also results in unstable environments and occasional issues. Millennials are okay with this, but that doesn’t mean your organizations content and authors are.
Another common issue with digitally-native platforms is the failure to recognize traditional needs. Most CCMS’s focus on digital content creation and publishing, but only a few address the more traditional content needs of print and even pdf. As digital marketers many of us love to focus on the cutting-edge of innovation, but until the industry establishes this as a norm lack of integration with traditional channels and systems can be a show-stopper.
Also in-line with traditional needs is enterprise content management. Marketing and Sales are obviously very important to consider when scoping CCMS needs, but so is the rest of the company. These newer systems couldn’t possibly be as robust as the ones that have grown within publishing for over a decade. As are result they often choose one area to focus on. Some focus on just the authoring interface while other’s may look just at content re-use in outbound digital channels.
Unfortunately, most of these will not meet 100% of your need. This is especially true in the healthcare industry where much of the content is scientific, and only a portion of the outbound communications are commercial/promotional in nature. Even those elements that are strictly promotional typically have their roots in a previously scientific content asset like the Prescribing Information, clinical trial information, standard response documents (SRDs), or the dossier. With a strong focus on email, web, and social, many of the new platforms may not fit the bill for enterprise content management.
Custom built-ish: a third option
The result in both DITA structured and digital native cases is that the software and platforms are extremely new to the market. This give way to a third option: custom built-ish. I say “-ish” because there’s pretty much no reason to ever start from scratch. At a minimum you’ll want to start with a web CMS.
I tend to leave out custom built systems because of the variability. Some organizations have opted to leverage the power of standard release web-CMSs to build the custom linking and reporting they need as a CCMS. Examples of this are with Drupal/Acquia, AEM/Hippo, and Sitecore. Each are very good examples of CMSs built on the technology stack that stand out as opportunities to extend. How and why you do that, however is up to you and will most likely be heavily influenced by existing technology strategy of your organization.
Finding a happy medium
So DITA is too structured and Word is not structured enough. In our digital world of instant gratification our first thought goes to google where we hope to find a happy medium. A system that has a flexible authoring interface like Word but has the structural and reuse advantages of DITA. Let me save you the query, it doesn’t exist. There is a gap, but don’t lose hope.
Something to remember when you’re trying to vet CCMS solutions is that you are not looking for a silver bullet solution. That would be nice, but the expectation should be that you will be working with several technologies and platforms to make this complete architecture work.
The reality is content strategy and processes are custom to every organization. Spend lots of time understanding your requirements, both business and technical. From there you can understand what you can and cannot do with each platform, create a plan to execute on what you can, and create a plan to fill the gaps of what you cannot.