Vol 44, Issue 4

March/April 2005

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Learning from Others: The Right Prescription for Content Management Success

by Scott Abel

Pharmaceutical companies work hard to discover marketable treatments for illnesses of all types and severities. In order to accomplish these feats of scientific wizardry—and deliver shareholder value—they must learn to better manage an almost insurmountable amount of content.

It's been said that pharmaceutical companies make two products: drugs and documents. In addition to the content found in most organizations (marketing, HR, financial, sales, legal, training, etc.), pharmaceutical companies must meet myriad regulatory requirements governing the creation, management, publishing, and archiving of the content they use to get healthcare products approved for sale. These regulatory requirements create even more content: compliance documents, business and manufacturing process documentation, computer system validation packages … the list goes on.

Enter Content Management

Reducing the time it takes to produce documentation that gets a new pharmaceutical product onto the market can drastically increase the revenue the product earns for the company. While patents protect pharmaceutical discoveries, after patents expire drug formulas are fair game for generic manufacturers, who reproduce them without the costs of research and development. Every day that a product is not being sold brings lost opportunity costs. Some drugs have a lost opportunity cost of millions a day.

Content management helps to streamline and shorten the documentation process for pharmaceuticals. Smart drug companies are embracing content management throughout their product lifecycles, and are saving big bucks by getting products marketable faster. While content management benefits organizations of all types, it also presents a host of challenges, which forward-thinking organizations work to avoid.

Let's examine a few of the biggest content management mistakes.

Starting without a strategy

Too many content management projects start off without a strategy. Project initiators embark on a mission to procure or build the “right” CMS (content management system) software without a clue about what the system must do to provide a return on investment. A well-developed strategy is key to the success of the content management project, and it takes up-front planning.

The first step in developing a content management strategy is gaining a broad understanding of the types of content your organization creates, and of your content life cycle (creation, review/approval, management, delivery). Starting with a strategy may seem foreign to those who are accustomed to requirements-based IT projects—that's why it's also crucial to recognize that content management is not simply an IT project. It's a business project that, properly implemented, can deliver an excellent return on investment (ROI).

What‘s the best content management strategy? Your mileage may vary—the best I've found is the “Unified Content Strategy”, the focus of Ann Rockley's book, Managing Enterprise Content. Rockley's strategy is clear-cut and simple to understand. It's been adopted as a best practice by multinational corporations, educational organizations, product manufacturers—even content management software firms. I've used it with clients in the pharmaceutical and medical device arenas to help those organizations map out content management initiatives with content as the focus, and the payoffs have been significant.

Do yourself a favor: start with strategy.

Letting software vendors get too close

Don't start your CMS project with product demonstrations or online vendor seminars. Software salespeople are trained to sell, not to understand your needs. Don't let software vendors define your problems for you; they'll do it and you'll be sorry later.

Instead, consider hiring an independent, vendor-neutral content management consultant, or creating such a position in-house. This consultant should conduct an organizational needs analysis that examines the needs, dangers, opportunities, strengths, goals, and challenges you're likely to face, as well as a content audit, which gives an accounting of the information in your organization by using a representative sample of your content.

A content audit analyzes how content is used, reused, and delivered. The importance of this step cannot be overestimated—a thorough content audit helps to prepare your organization for the scope of the project by examining the information you currently create (as well as the stuff you hope to) to determine structure, breadth, organization, and potential areas for reuse. It also acts as a reality check, and can be an eye opener for those who thought there was little value in examining content in the first place.

The results of these activities should be detailed in a report which includes recommendations for moving forward.

Selecting the wrong team

More often than not, content management project teams are relegated to the IT department. Content experts are consulted, but are not intimately involved, and are seldom included in decision-making. This is a big mistake.

Content management is not an IT project. Content management project teams must be diverse and should include a range of involvement from those with a stake in the outcome (users of the content, producers of the content, and others). Most IT pros lack the experience needed to shepherd a complex content management project to successful completion. Just ask system integrators who specialize in one CMS product line or another how many projects they've had to go back and fix after the local IT department, or the software vendor itself, botched things up.

Be smart. Involve as many people from as many functional areas as possible. And do it from the start.

By delaying the technological aspects of your project, staving off the salespeople, and leveraging the experience of those who know your content, you'll go a long way to improve the likelihood of a content management success story. Learn from the mistakes of others by strategizing, tuning out the vendors, and asking the real experts what they know and need.

Scott Abel is a technical writing specialist and content management strategist whose strengths lie in helping organizations improve the way they author, maintain, publish and archive their information assets. Scott is a frequent presenter at industry and professional service seminars, an instructor at IUPUI Community Learning Network, and immediate past president of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), Hoosier Chapter. Scott is also a member of the Drug Information Association (Document Management, e-CTD, and XML committees), AIIM (the Enterprise Content Management Association), The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture (“AIfIA”), and a founding member of Content Management Professionals (CMP Pros). You can reach Scott via e-mail at abelsp@netdirect.net. Scott's website: www.thecontentwrangler.com.


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