A recent conversation about emerging technologies reminded me of an interesting infographic that I saw posted and reposted a lot a few years back, It showcased the “30 Technologies of the Next Decade.” It’s an impressive list of where digital transformation is taking us and how the customer experience will change in the relatively near term.
One thing that’s clear: our technology stack is continuing to go through a period of dramatic change.
Over recent years I’ve also been privy to the plans of some major organizations across a wide range of industries. These plans map out their aspirational goals for addressing the challenges such change will bring. I’ve seen a lot of systems and architecture diagrams, proofs of concept, and prototypes demonstrated with varying degrees of success. And, with a few exceptions, they all share a common weakness.
I estimate that at least half of those 30 technologies depend on content — be it written, graphical, video, audio, animation, or developing media like augmented reality — to deliver the customer experience. Yet many of those future-looking plans that embrace those technologies suffer from what I term “The Content Fallacy.” An unstated belief that “content just happens.”
Content needs to be engineered
A common trope when talking about the impact of digital transformation is to focus on the end result. This is good; we all need a shared vision. But the road to achieving that vision is often built on a common understanding of what foundations are needed to build that road. And the one I believe is largely missing is the concept of content engineering. To achieve any sort of personalized, high-quality experience across a growing number of delivery channels, you need to think up front as to what sort of content you will need and how it will be engineered to achieve those goals.
To give a real-world example, when discussing with a client how they would meet a C-suite level mandate for personalizing the customer experience as part of their digital transformation strategy, we discovered that to meet all the different vectors of marketing campaigns, product types, customer segments, industries, languages, and delivery channels they were targeting, they would be potentially delivering over 18,000 variants of one piece of content.
They had assumed that because they already had the baseline content, they could just feed it into their new systems and it would be delivered in the format the customer needed. But content for a website is not the same content you need for a smartphone or watch. The content you have is most likely not written or structured for the question-context-interpretation-answer model you need for a chatbot or voice assistant. If your customer communications have primarily been text-based, then they will probably not work alongside visuals or provide the right context and enhancement for an augmented reality experience.
The six facets of content engineering
Content engineering is a six-faceted approach to thinking and designing your content for the emerging digital transformation experience. Each of those facets can be defined as follows:
- Model: a representation of the types of content you create, including their elements, attributes, and interdependent relationships.
- Metadata: information that helps applications, authors, systems, and robots use content in a smart way.
- Mark-Up: a way to identify the structure and context of the content outside the content itself.
- Schema: a form of metadata that provides meaning and relationships to content. Schema often involves published standard vocabularies for describing concepts with standardized terms. Examples of XML schemas include DocBook, DITA, and TEI.
amap of related concepts which are applied to content, often as tags. Enables and supports features such as related content reuse, navigation, search, and personalization.
- Topology: the art of developing common organizational structures and containers across content management and publishing systems.
By taking an engineering approach, content moves away from being something that just happens (and then often doesn’t deliver the expected results) to becoming the foundational fuel to power digital transformation and deliver those exciting new multi-channel experiences we are all looking forward to.