For almost as long as I can remember, pitchmen (especially on late-night TV) have been selling all-in-one gadgets that slice, dice, puree, and do pretty much everything.
In our world of technical communication we have something similar: “soup to nuts” authoring systems that combine all the major steps of the content workflow under one banner:
- Creating content
- Managing content
Vendors have been offering systems like this for several years. The sales pitch is alluring: unify all of your content under the banner of one integrated toolset. Lots of content, a multi-step workflow, and one brand to rule them all.
Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company, or even a decent-sized organization within a company, use one of these single-vendor systems for its entire content workflow.
I’ve used parts of these systems. For example, I’ve used easyDITA for content management and publishing, but not for content creation and reviewing. I’ve used XMetaL, but only for creating and publishing content.
In fact I’ve never used these systems for reviewing. All of my SMEs have said the same thing: “Give me a Word document or a PDF that I can mark up. Don’t make me learn a new tool.”
Do any of you use a single, soup-to-nuts system to create, manage, review, and publish content? If so, I’d like to hear from you. Is it working well for you? How easy was it to set up, get buy-in from content producers and SMEs, and train everyone?
Toward a unified content strategy
Despite the sales pitch, I think the soup-to-nuts approach actually works against the goal of a unified content strategy: a situation in which all of the company’s content is brought into harmony, is governed by the same set of rules, and reflects consistent messages and branding.
Why is soup-to-nuts incompatible with this ideal? Because in the real world, rolling out a unified content strategy requires buy-in from different organizations within the company and then settling on a common, or at least compatible, set of tools and processes.
If the Marketing department is developing content in InDesign and Word, and the InfoDev department is developing content in FrameMaker, it’s probably easier to take an incremental approach to blending the two workflows. Start by agreeing on a single publishing methodology, for example, that accommodates both content-development workflows. Then agree on a reviewing process. Then agree on a standard way of creating and managing the content. Then, finally, if you’re really feeling brave, convert your legacy content to work in the new system.
In the meantime, since the goal is a truly unified content strategy, other parts of the company ought to be coming on board. Mergers and acquisitions further complicate the process. At every step, stakeholders are more apt to succeed when they take the incremental approach rather than the all-or-nothing, soup-to-nuts approach.
Soup-to-nuts – or just a couple of courses?
So, is soup-to-nuts what we need for developing content? Obviously, there are some vendors that think so. And I guess they’ve persuaded some of their customers, or the systems wouldn’t still be on the market.
Do companies buy the soup-to-nuts systems and then use only pieces of them? That’s been my experience.
Or are some of you using them as their creators envision: one brand name, one process, for the whole workflow? If so, again, I’d like to hear from you: is it working well? Have you encountered any unforeseen challenges? How well have you overcome them?
I’m not secretly trying to sell you a product or even a particular approach. I’ve got an open mind. It’s just that there seems to be a disconnect between what the marketers are selling and the way the real world works. It would be good for us, as a profession, to talk about it.