Thursday, April 26, 2007

Define Before You Integrate

Many organizations believe they have a clear and exact picture of what they mean when they talk about concepts such as product, service and customer. But if you ask around how people in the organization define "product" you will probably get almost as many definitions as the number of persons you ask. Why? Because the seamingly obvious often obscures misunderstandings and inconsistencies. Not many persons dare to question if, for example, a global Telecom company actually has a clear definition of what a product or service means to them. So the concept is left to be defined by anyone who needs it to be defined, without establishing a common definition that is communicated to everyone within the organization.

Many people would get offended if you start asking questions like this. So, is it a stupid question? Possibly. And possibly not. If they can give you a clear definition and show that everybody uses this definition, then it is fine. If not, you have a (political) problem to deal with.

Semantic integration is what integration is about first and foremost, with technical integration coming in on second place. You need first to ensure that "customer" in one business system means the same thing as "customer" in another business system if you are to integrate them, not just make sure that you map attributes in the correct way. And to be able to ensure that, you need a common definition on enterprise level of the customer concept (which might not be exactly the same as in any of the systems to be integrated).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

BI is about more than information

"BI needs to address more than the information component of decision-making. Collaboration, social networking, exposing underlying assumptions and better representation of the meanings and relationships of things – these are the things we need to turn our attention to. We need to understand how to turn people around from unproductive positions, how to expose these points of view to commentary and how to hold people accountable for what they do instead a bunch of post mortems that obscure more than they illuminate. If we want BI to rise above cheap parlor tricks, we need to broaden the base" (Neil Raden, The Intelligent Enterprise Weblog)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Decision Support using an Enterprise Wiki

Knowledge workers typically need information of the following four kinds to make informed decisions; the current status of things, exceptions, historical records and relevant knowledge. The first three are primarily for answering “what?” questions. What is going on? What has gone wrong? What has happened since XX? What is likely to happen in the future? The last type of information - relevant knowledge – can be used to answer not only “what?” but also for example “why?” and “how?” questions.

The first three types of information can usually be answered with queries to operational data stores or data warehouses, typically containing transactional data and data from other sources (business systems) that can tell something about how the business operates.

“Relevant knowledge” is a bit fuzzier. The knowledge needed can potentially be retrieved and extracted from content of any different kind such as documents, web pages and graphics, or directly from people. The findability of relevant knowledge is however suffering from content management problems – that the content is not formatted, aggregated, organized and described in a way that allows it to be found in the vast, over flooded and fragmented content landscape. In short, this means that the content management problems need to be addressed and resolved if knowledge workers are to be able to find relevant knowledge for making the right decisions.

An enterprise wiki is a powerful tool for collecting knowledge from every corner of the organization and making it accessible for everyone with the right to access it. Besides making knowledge explicit inarticles, links to related knowledge resources can be provides as well as links to the knowledge workers who have contributed to the article. Below is a simple interaction diagram illustrating a wiki that can provide access to knowledge resources, including access to other knowledge workers that might possess the relevant knowledge.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

BI + ECM = True?

Rich Cohen writes in DM Review:

"The next few years are going to provide a bumpy ride for the IT function at many companies. The rise of unstructured content will require new ways of thinking about how information is used and managed enterprise-wide - indeed it will require a new definition of the term "information." The goal is simple: treat all information - unstructured and structured - as if it is one of the most valuable assets your company possesses. Learn all you can about it, manage it properly, and use it to help grow the company. "

Jacques Surveyer argues why ECM will become a necessity for BI:

"Enterprise content management (ECM) has always been a bit of a wallflower -- acknowledged as important, but emerging slowly and flourishing most in professional and service-oriented firms where collaboration and knowledge management are paramount. But ECM offers a lot that's beyond the capabilities of most business intelligence systems -- the ability to handle semi-structured data in diverse document formats, team collaboration, support for ad hoc working groups, and knowledge management. All are of growing interest in the world of BI."

TDWI uses a similar reasoning when promoting their 2007 TDWI World Conference:

"Business intelligence is a major beneficiary of ECM. As the volume of information in data warehouses and BI systems continues to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult for users to find relevant information and make the right decisions. Traditional BI and analytics are good at telling you the “what” of business performance, but they often leave out the “why.” ECM search capabilities fill in the blanks by making related information in memos, e-mails, and policies findable, reaching further into the heart of a business. "

Dave Kellog gets to wrap up this post:

"So ECM seems to be heading in a new direction. If things evolve similarly in BI, you can expect to see cannabalism (such as Business Objects buying Hyperion) and incursion (such as IBM buying Cognos) in the future. People have speculated about such things for years. If BI continues to evolve in parallel fashion to ECM, then perhaps soon the speculators will be proven right."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What To Expect From Web 3.0

With web 3.0 content is truly separated from application and presentation.

I can bring my content with me, or rather access my - one and only - content repository from any one location.

I can access and manipulate my content with the web based application of choice using any device.

I can easily share my own content with others and get access to content someone wants to share with me - through any application or device.

I do not have to spend time organizing files in a file system. Instead, I organize the content in my repository with smart tagging tools that are so easy and natural to use that I don't let any new content pass without being tagged. My content never gets disorganized. I do some fine tuning with the help of artificial intelligence that learns how I want to organize the content to find it easier, but otherwise I do not care too much about organizing things.

The applications I use are seamlessly integrated with each other and I can put together my own portfolio of (free) applications. I easily swap between different apps. Instead of jumping between tabs or browser windows or relying on the order in which the application provider presents navigation options, I can quickly put together my on apps portal interface and define in which order and where I want the navigation options to appear on the screen.

I sign in once when I sign in on the device, and then access content and all applications that I am authorized to access without having to sign in again.

When I start producing new content, the application I use automatically searches my own repository and the web for similar and related content from trusthworthy sources. It helps me produce what I need faster and with better quality, or helps me avoid producing the same content over again just because I am not aware that it has already been produced by me or someone else on the web.

I pay for the apps that I use and the content repository by either accepting advertising or by paying a monthly subscription fee. If I change from one app to a another, that application provider will get its share of my subscription fee instead.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Process Perspective On Content Production

A business process perspective is often used to integrate functional silos in an enterprise. A process perspective is the foundation for numerous business development techniques such as customer focus, quality management, value chain management, service orientation etc.

What is the consequence of using this perspective on content production? Some main advantages are listed below:

  • Clarify the value add of content production
  • Align content production with consumer/user needs
  • Provide a holistic view of content activities
  • Enable follow up of e.g. time, cost, quality and service levels

What is the value add of content production? Are content produced with little or no value for the users? Many enterprises have detailed knowledge about the production costs of tangible assets but less so when it comes to content.

Calculating the content production costs is reasonable straightforward if you use a process perspective and look at costs for each activity in the process. Terms to consider are e.g. acquisition and creation costs, integration and delivery costs and also the cost of managing content over its life cycle.

Calculating the value of content is trickier. In a former blog I have argued that the value of content is created when it is consumed. The users experience of value can be based on e.g. collecting subjective opinions or measuring how much a content product is accessed during its life cycle.

How much value that is added in the process can be understood as the estimated value divided by the production costs.

A process perspective is an important technique for content production improvements. Most enterprises have something to gain by a holistic approach to content activities and view the production process from the outside in.

Even quite simple estimations and reasoning of content value in relation to production efforts can reduce the production of useless content and ease the overload burden for users.

Why IP Telephony Sucks

I live with my family in a modern apartment. In fact, it is so modern that we have two high-speed internet connections from two different suppliers and no POTS ("Plain Old Telephone Service"). Both suppliers offer triple play - broadband, television and telephony through their high-speed Internet connections. You get a rebate if you use all three services. It sounds great, doesn't it?

As you probably know, IP telephony uses the TCP/IP protocol to transmit digitized voice data. I would like to call this kind of telephony service NUTS (New Underdeveloped Telephone Service). This is what we got with NUTS that we did not get with POTS:

1. More cables. One from the cable outlet to the modem, one from the power outlet to the modem, and one from the modem to the phone. Since we have a DECT phone, we also have a power cable for that. If we need more phones plugged in somewhere else in our apartment, we simply multiply the number of cables with the number of locations.

2. Another device. Yes, we got yet another device that requires a software to work. Who believes that software comes without bugs? And with the modem, we have yet another device produced in China with cheap plastics that can suddenly break without any apparent reason. I would be happy with just a phone plugged directly into the wall.

3. If we have an emergency (we have kids so it happens) and need to call 112, then 112 cannot automatically locate our address because that does not work with IP telephony. Bad luck.

4. Inflexibility. The modem is plugged into the wall at one location. If we want to have another phone somewhere else, we need to buy another modem. Or invest in a DECT phone (which we luckily already had).

5. Bad sound quality. Ever tried speaking through a bucket?

6. Unpredictable availability. The modem can suddenly stop working, probably because it lost its connection to a server somewhere or due to a crash in the modem software. And if the power goes down at home, then the phone does so too (that's probably a situation when you would need it).

7. Supplier lock-in. The deal for us is like this - one cable, one supplier. Lucky for us, we have two cables and can choose between two suppliers. But then again, if we would have POTS then we could choose between hundreds of operators, most of them competing with price since the services are more or less equal. The two suppliers that we can choose from don't really compete. They simply know that it is a 50% chance that we choose them, so instead of competing with price and other offers they can just split the market between them. This is what we usually call an oligolopy.

8. No extras. We didn't even get a phone bundled in the offer, as you often do with mobile telephony. The killer offer here is that we get to borrow a modem for free. Wow! Obviously, we should be happy if your old phones work with the modem. Additionally, the suppliers offer no extra services compared to POTS. In fact, with POTS we would have more services to choose between than now.

The only benefit of NUTS that I can see is the relatively lower fixed price compared to POTS. But that too is an illusion. Since we mostly call our friends and others on their mobiles, it is the fee for calling mobiles that matters to us. With POTS, we could choose an operator that takes a considerably lower fee for calling mobiles.

With NUTS, we have moved one step forward and three steps backwards. But I am not really upset, because I knew this when we chose supplier. But I regret that we didn't go for just mobile telephony. I regret that we are still stuck in old ways of thinking, still believing that we need something to plug into the wall at home. The future is mobile. And my advice to you all - don't go NUTS!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Great Promise of Enterprise Wikis

What makes a wiki a wiki is that it is edited collectively and freely. Anyone can edit anything. That is, as long as they keep to the (explicit or implicit) wiki code of conduct. If they don't, their contributions will be removed or changed, or the previous version of the content they edited will be restored. So, an enterprise wiki is simply a wiki that can only be edited by anyone within the enterprise.

From an enterprise perspective, a wiki can be used as a tool to collect experiences, insights, facts, opinions, lessons learned or other kinds of information from any corner of the enterprise. It can be seen as a tool for creating a culture of knowledge sharing, where fellow coworkers empower each other and thereby empower the entire enterprise.

A key to an enterprise wiki's succcess is of course that it is easy for anyone to contribute to it. If it requires a great deal of effort to share something with others, then most of us don’t bother to do it. But even more important is that as many as possible feel that they get something in return for their contributions, be it gratitude, credibility, respect or something else.

I also believe that enterprise wikis shouldn’t allow anonymous contributions. If anonymity is allowed and maybe even becomes common practice, the possibility to get in contact with the contributor for the purpose of person-to-person knowledge exchange is lost. This aspect of knowledge exchange via an enterprise wiki is very important. A person might simply not be aware of knowledge he/she possesses that might be very valuable to other people within the enterprise. Hence, it is not made explicit on the wiki. Or, the knowledge is tacit and requires face-to-face contact to be communicated. In this sense, an enterprise wiki can give people access to both explicit and implicit knowledge that exists within the organization. This, to me, is the great promise of enterprise wikis.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The World Could Make A Crowd

To collaborate in public forums by means of wiki-technology can be extremly powerful as we have seen the past couple of years. It seems that more and more organizations are implementing or encouraging collective intelligence initiatives which is great but I think that there are many lessons still to be learned why it is interesting to follow all the current experiments as well as the work of the MIT Center that started last year on the subject.

One of the projects that the Center has participated in is the networked business book We Are Smarter Then Me that is to be published in the fall. The idea was to see if a community of authors could write a book better than individual experts. From reading the great Gilbane Group report it has been an interesting journey but maybe not the best result.

Another project using the same concept is the A Million Penguins novel that now has turned in and the experiences of this crowdwriting project seem to be similar when you read the obituary from the publisher.

There is clearly some type of packaged content that is hard to produce collectively but then again the nature of the wiki-book is not a one version story which is eloquently put in a recent booktwo.org post.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Virtual Content Repositories as Content Integration Approach

In essence, content integration is about providing users within an enterprise with a single point of access to all content they need in their daily work.

There are basically two approaches to content integration – consolidation or federation (point to point integration is basically a swearword today). The consolidation approach, to consolidate all content sources into one single enterprise content repository, must however seem like a utopian dream to most large enterprises. Instead, a common way to provide unified access to heterogeneous content in disperse content sources is to implement an enterprise portal solution with content integration taking place at the presentation level. But this integration approach is in my eyes not "real" content integration since it does not offer the possibility to describe, access and search the content in a unified way. Instead, using a federation approach with a virtual content repository could provide these possibilities “behind the scenes” of the portal solution, with the action taking place in the middleware. The promise of virtual content repositories is just to do that - to provide unified access to disparate content sources within an enterprise without any point-to-point integrations or repository consolidation. Especially the possibility to map metadata between different content sources is essential for content integration. Just as content, metadata is usually stored and managed in isolated islands. As Bruce Silver writes “the user needs to be presented with a unified list of attributes independent of the attribute structure of the underlying systems.”

The major benefits with a virtual content repository approach would be that it is relatively cheap and fast compared to consolidation, and that it will still integrate content so that it can be described, accessed and searched in a unified way. In addition "…virtual repositories can simplify the task of compliance by virtue of containing a single set of business processes applicable to all content in all repositories…//...virtual repositories mean organizations can stop debating whether to go with a single or multiple data stores, and instead concentrate on the critical factors that make for a good repository of any size" (R Dukart)

Major ECM / ECI vendors such as Oracle, IBM, EMC and BEA seem to believe in virtual content repositories for the federation approach, with content being federated to a single virtual repository from any existing content source via a standardized API. Obviously, the key for virtual content repositories to succeed is the use of standardised API:s to access the repository and underlying content sources. JSR 170, the Content Repository API for Java Technology specification developed by Day Software, was the first adopted content repository API standard. The goal with the standard was to “produce a content repository API that provides an implementation independent way to access content bi-directionally on a granular level.” (Day Software). Hence, repositories supporting this standard can be accessed in the same way and the repositories are not tied to any one application. The latest version of the JSR 170 standard, JSR 283, was released in October 2005 by Day Software which leads the specification (and also formed a strategic technology partnership with Oracle in November 2006).

Although still being in an early adoption phase, I believe that virtual content repositories have a future as a content integration approach. Maybe not for "deeper" integration of data in relational databases, but certainly for integrating content such as Office documents, web pages, graphics and e-mails.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Insights About: Enterprise Folksonomies

I would like to share some different insights and thoughts about the use of folksonomies in enterprises that I personally find interesting.

Joshua Porter, “Why we can’t compare folksonomies to search”:

"In Search, we have no idea who the results belong to before we get to them. They are simply the most relevant results to whatever words we type in. Highly useful, of course. But not Personal. In folksonomies, on the other hand, we get to discover content based on who is tagging it. This is powerful because now we can judge content in terms of who is tagging it, and not just how relevant it might be to some algorithm that doesn’t take into account who-knows-who. Just like the movies, we tend to value the judgments of people we know (or are familiar with online) more than people we don’t know"

Bob Archer, “Folksonomy tagging for the greater good”:

"I believe there is real value in folksonomy in the corporate world. This content tagging approach will allow employees, including the content creators, a simple means to define content as easily as it is created. While traditional search engines would only index the content on the page, or the file structure the page exists in, folksonomy would allow tagging of content beyond this. Tagging also distributes the time consuming process of creating and classifying content beyond the content creator...//…it offers enormous potential solving the content dilemma facing corporate intranets."

Mark Thristan, "Enterprise Distributed Categorisation: I Get on the Folksonomy Bandwagon":

"It strikes me that the flat categorisation of a folksonomy could be clustered and analysed using the same techniques as are used for a card-sort, and that key, popular categories coming out of a distributed categorisation exercise could be used to form the structure of an intitial taxonomy"

Sandro Groganz, “Folksonomy in the Enterprise: Will it pay off?":

“Additionally, there are different levels of confidentiality concerning corporate information: Some of it is for all employees, other only for the top management, certain teams, etc. This fragments the group-dynamics due to confidentiality gaps especially in large enterprises, who could actually profit from a broad collective intelligence when it comes to a high quality folksonomy."

Luis Suarez, "Tagging beyond content applications and people":

"What actually happens when you go beyond the tagging of applications and their different components and you start tagging people?...//…Now with tagging, and specially, with tagging people we would have the opportunity to perhaps locate that expertise a lot easier since we are the ones in control not only from the perspective of being able to add different tags ourselves, thus bringing a dynamic aspect to all of it, but also at the same time by being able ourselves to add the tags with which we would want people to be able to find us."

Michael Fitzgerald, "Tagging Tools Offer Powerful Way to Organize Information":

"No taxonomy can come up with every term employees might have for something. But with tagging, users gain the flexibility to work outside the taxonomy. "

Dominic Sayers, "Tagging in the corporate environment, part 2":

"I claim that the visibility of the tag is a real concern for corporate taggers. In an investment banking environment we are not allowed even to list the transactions that the advisory teams are working on because that knowledge is market-sensitive. A tag could easily give the game away."

Andrew McAfee, "FastForwarding to a Better Understanding, Part 3"

"...users are going to vote with their feet when it comes to collaboration technologies. They're going to adopt the ones that make the most sense for them, not for any greater good. Some corporate technologies can and should be imposed on their users. But how would you effectively mandate that employees collaborate primarily via wikis, or tag lots of pages so that a corporate folksonomy develops, or trade in the internal prediction market? The idea itself seems a little ridiculous."

David Millen, Jonathan Feinberg, and Bernard Kerr, "Social Bookmarking in the Enterprise"

"The success of social software applications, in general, requires participation to reach critical mass to provide value to users and to ensure a sustainable level of contribution and vibrant interaction. Real-name identity may discourage some people from using the system, and private bookmarks will significantly reduce the benefits of information sharing among users. For a large enterprise, however, we believe that the ability to reach critical mass will not present a problem"

Shamus McGillicuddy, "Social Bookmarking: Pushing Collaboration to the Edge":

"Unlike some other "new Internet" collaborative applications (often referred to as Web 2.0), such as wikis and blogs, enterprise social bookmarking technology still hasn't reached the enterprise market. Unfortunately, while there are companies rapidly adopting technologies such as Ajax and RSS, experts say many organizations are slow to deploy the more interactive, bottom-up concepts associated with Web 2.0, including social bookmarking."

“…bookmarking allows companies to apply metadata to information such as competitive intelligence that may have limited long-term value but is extremely valuable in the short term. Such short-term information is often difficult to capture with enterprise content management tools.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Some Thoughts About the Quality of Online Content Products

According to my experience, many companies do not treat online publishing with the same seriousness as they treat offline publishing (such as CD-ROM & DVD productions) and print publishing. And I believe that the answer is simple - it can be found in the relatively low cost of publishing and distributing content products online compared to offline and in print.

In print publishing, the cost of sending a content product to print can be enormous. And to correct any errors, such as major spelling errors or incorrect contact information in a printed catalogue, the content product needs to be printed again. You simply don’t afford to discover errors after the content product has been published. However, the same is not true when publishing a content product online. In most cases, any errors can easily and at almost no cost be corrected after the content product has been published.

It seems as when there are no apparent costs connected to quality flaws, it tends to lead to sloppiness in the production and publishing process. Still, there are always indirect, less obvious costs of publishing content products with quality flaws online. A mistake in the information about a product in an online product catalogue can get the same negative consequences as if it would happen in an offline product catalogue. The consequences of such an error might get even worse online if the online catalogue is used for e-commerce where there is no human “intermediary” (like the cashier) that can discover and correct any errors before a purchase is made. And, then there’s the damage that an error – for example in an online campaign - can do to the brand. And bear in mind that the online content product might reach a bigger audience than the offline or printed version.

My point is that a company should be just as afraid of making an error in an online content product as if they make it in a content product that is to be published offline or in print. And it should put as much effort in ensuring that the quality is as desired before publishing a content product online as they would when publishing a similar content product offline or in print.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Is User Experience Also a Quality?

You might wonder why the concept of user experience is not mentioned in my previous post. Peter Merholz presents some really interesting thoughts in his post "User Experience is a Quality, Not A Discipline" from 2005:
  • "Usability is simply a quality. It's an important quality, but just one of many. And it definitely doesn't warrant being a "discipline."
  • "User experience is not a discipline, or an approach, it's a thing, a quality, an emergent property between a person and a product or service.
  • "This puts me in direct opposition with Jesse's diagram. Those aren't elements of user experience. Those are elements of web design."
  • "User experience should not be just about interactive systems -- it's a quality that reflects the sum total of a person's experiences with any product, service, organization."
I basically agree with this reasoning, especially that usability is a quality and that Jesse James Garretts model "The Elements of User Experiences" is focused on web design. Which Jesse also declares in his book with the same name: "This book is about the user experience of one particular kind of product: Web sites". But I don't agree with Peter that the user experience is simply one quality among many others.

A user experience of a product, service or organization is the sum of all its qualities as perceived by the individual user who experiences it. It also includes the value dimension. Furthermore, each user experience is affected by all previous experiences the user has had with the product, service or organization in question. In a sense, the user experience is the overall quality of a product, service or organization as perceived and experienced by an individual.

Hence, I have not made user experience to a quality among the others in my post "The User Experience Onion". A user experience is not an individual layer of the onion, it is the sum of all layers, the onion itself. And the user experience is created when the content product ("the onion") is consumed by an individual user.

If you are interested, I borrowed the onion metaphor from the animated movie Shrek.

SHREK: For your information, there's a lot more to ogres than people think.
DONKEY: Example?
SHREK: Example? Okay, um, ogres are like onions.
DONKEY: [Sniffs] They stink?
SHREK: Yes. No!
DONKEY: They make you cry?
SHREK: No!
DONKEY: You leave them out in the sun, they get all brown, start sprouting' little white hairs.
SHREK: No! Layers! Onions have layers! Ogres have layers! Onions have layers.You get it? We both have layers. [Sighs]
DONKEY: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. [Sniffs] You know, not everybody likes onions. Cake! Everybody loves cakes! Cakes have layers.
SHREK: I don't care... what everyone likes. Ogres are not like cakes.
DONKEY: You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, "Let's get some parfait," they say, "Hell no, I don't like no parfait"? Parfaits are delicious.
SHREK: No! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story. Bye-bye. See ya later.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Enterprise Content Governance

IT governance primarily includes decision-making i.e. who has the authority to make certain decisions. The goal is to generate greater results of common IT investments.

Without governance there is no formal way to discuss strategic development issues, make decisions about funding, prioritize between different initiatives etc.

The same applies for Enterprise Content Governance. The following key areas should be addressed:

  • Propositions and principles: Describe the role and value of content in the business and IT
  • Products and portfolios: Plan and prioritize content initiatives based on business requirements and significance
  • People and platforms: Determine the delivery of shared and enabling content and services
  • Processes and performance: Ensure efficient operations and follow-up on business objectives and agreements

Depending on different corporate management styles these areas can be handled in a multitude of ways. The most frequent styles are distributed, centralized or federal.

People that prefer a decentralised style often argue for creativity and faster decision-cycles. A centralised style is often suitable when cost synergies, consolidation, compliance etc are of importance.

The federal style can be seen as a combination of the centralized and distributed models, trying to balance the different perspectives. The federal style is often implemented as one or more councils with representatives from business units, shared service and enterprise staff.

The experience of realizing and running content governance at an enterprise level will be part of upcoming posting.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Can We Measure the Quality of a Content Product?

When you talk about the quality of a product as a user / customer, I guess that you are talking about the overall impression you have of how the product performs. If it performs to your expectations, or even excels them, then it is of high quality. If it does not, then your are simply not satisfied with it. The same goes for content products, such as a web site, a whitepaper or a Flash animation. If it does not perform to your expectations, your leave the site, delete the whitepaper or close down the Flash animation.

“The quality of a product or service refers to the perception of the degree to which the product or service meets the customer's expectations. Quality has no specific meaning unless related to a specific function and/or object. Quality is a perceptual, conditional and somewhat subjective attribute.” (Wikipedia.org)

However, this definition of quality is very hard to use for a content producer. It might lead to that quality is not defined at all because it is too difficult to define it. And if it is not defined, it cannot be measured and assured.

To avoid this scenario, we must make a distinction between quality and value. The value of a content product is a subjective judgement by the user and how the benefits are perceived in relation to the cost (usually monetary, but could also be effort) of obtaining the content product. For example, a specific content product can be of high quality but of no value to me as a user. But it might as well be perceived as very valuable by other users.

So, seen from a creator / producer, we are definitely in need of more "universal" quality measurements - accuracy, timeliness and completeness.

Accuracy
The content is accurate if it is produced and delivered without errors or flaws. For example:
  • Text is free from grammatical, syntactic and style errors
  • The writing style, terminology, and style is consistent
  • The content adheres to established standards and guidelines
  • And so on

Timeliness
The strict definition of timeliness – sometimes referred to as “freshness” – is “occurring at a suitable or opportune time; well-timed.” The point is that content that is correct today might not be correct tomorrow. For a content product to be correct, it needs to be both accurate and timely. In many contexts, such as when making a business decision, timeliness is the most important quality factor. In other, it is less important. But it is always a factor that affects the quality of the content.

Completeness
Completeness is "the state of being complete and entire; having everything that is needed" or
"having all necessary or normal parts, components, or steps". It is about providing all the relevant content needed in one place, in one content product.

Obviously, the concept of relevance is closely related to the concept of completeness. Relevance is a subjective measurement of how well the content satisfies the user's need. It is about saying just enough and not forcing the user to filter out things that are irrelevant from the content. The content shall include all content that is relevant and exclude all content that is irrelevant.

Depending on what the requirements are, additional measures can be used to determine the quality of a content product, such as:

  • Readability – measure of the accessibility of the content and/or associated layout, indicating how effectively it will reach a given reading audience
  • Usability – how easy and convenient it is to use the content product
  • Reliability – if the content is worthy of reliance or trust, if it is perceived as a reliable source
  • Availability – if the content is ready for use by an authorized person
  • Accessibility – how accessible the content is to people with disabilities
  • Compliance – how well the content complies with relevant laws, rules and regulations

Simply put - if you can define it, you can measure it.

To sum up, a content producer can define, measure and ensure the quality of a product. To define, measure and ensure the value of a content product is another - and much harder - thing. But let's not make it unnecessary hard for ourselves by mixing quality and value.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Content Platform



A content platform is a set of tools and technologies, both hardware and software, that provide a fully functioning environment for developing, producing and delivering content products. Typically, it supports such activites and processes as authoring, template management, version management, metadata management, workflow, localization, publishing, search, syndication and archiving.

Obviously, the content platform must be in place before any content products can be produced and delivered. To be able to develop content products, it is critical to have all the required components of the content platform in place. The content platform must enable and support the development of content products that can be offered on the target market. It also needs to provide tools and solutions that enable efficient and secure production and delivery of personalized content products to the intended users in a convenient and timely way.

In other words, the content platform is an absolute necessity to be able to develop, produce and deliver content products to the intended users. Does this mean that you implement the content platform first and then think about what content products to offer, to whom and how to deliver them? Well, many seem to think so. They start with implementing a content platform, probably by buying an ECM suite, and then start thinking about what exactly to do with it. It should of course be the other way around. In order to know what components the content platform needs to contain and how it need to be designed, you need to know what content products you shall offer, to whom and how you want to deliver them.

Explanations:
Time To Platform (TTP) is the time it takes to have the required platform in place.
Time To Market (TTM) is the time it takes to develop an idea to a product that is ready to be offered to customers on a market.
Time To Customer (TTC) is the time it takes for a developed product to be delivered to the customer.