With the speed at which new products develop and change today, and their increasing complexity, getting training and learning materials together quickly is more critical than ever. The sheer volume of information alone makes going green and mobile a necessity. In the case of one Fortune 100 technology company, global content management processes need to accommodate hundreds of new product introductions each year, with each requiring at least six months to create the required customer-friendly training materials and documentation.
For this global company, a further complication is that the source content—from internal documents used by trainers and other personnel—is created by engineers from around the world. At the same time as the corporate focus was shifting to green strategies and faster delivery, the company’s certification program was expanding, but it still used a traditional instructor-led, document-based training approach. To support its goals, the company implemented an enterprise learning management system (LMS), which had the added benefit of reducing the printed materials involved in the certification program.
The new system needed content, and starting from zero digitized learning content meant reviewing and revising the entire approach to develop that content from the traditional print-centric model. Because that could provide huge costs savings from production, shipping, and customs costs, a strategy for getting to green and mobile with the mountains of content that had been developed over the years started to take form.
GOING FROM ZERO DIGITAL CONTENT TO GLOBAL AND MOBILE
The company’s content architecture team performed a test run on a subset of its existing content. In doing so, the team discovered that the internal effort to digitize the content for a single new product introduction was so complex that using outside expertise would save thousands of hours of experimenting, testing, and reworking in-house. They turned to Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) to help analyze their content environment, normalize the mountains of data, and automate conversion and quality control processes to handle the scale of activity required.
Like many Learning teams, the company’s content team had to master the technical aspects of content design and reuse. With today’s focus on lean, agile, mobile, and reduced cost, many organizations are discovering the advantages of reusing their content and making it do multiple duties in marketing, sales, support, training, and wherever content is used. The fact is that content resides in various content management, document management, and learning management systems, often with a high degree of duplication.
To achieve reuse goals and get more content digitized quicker, these teams need to identify content best suited for standardization and normalization that can be used throughout an entire organization. Consistent, high-quality content leads to better interactions, whether the content focuses on making the sale or training users on using the product. Making content more easily searchable also places organizations at the forefront in a Web search, a key target for an increasingly global marketplace to generate loyal customers. And by producing consistent, valid information that fits brand expectations and makes it easy to procure and consume products or services, the organization realizes value as an industry leader.
THE RIGHT COMBINATION OF AUTOMATION AND PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS
DCL worked with the company’s content teams to examine the source materials for new product content, which included PowerPoint files and accompanying audio recordings created by the engineering teams that work on the products. They determined the best way to normalize this material was to provide consistent, high-quality content that could be converted to EXtensible Markup Language (XML) and made available for a variety of outputs. DCL built quality assurance (QA) software tools and processes to leverage the business rules of an enterprise-style guide to transcribe and move the content into a structured, consistent format.
As the new product content production processes ramped up, DCL turned to the challenge of digitizing the company’s learning content. DCL analyzed the company’s implementation of a learning content management system (LCMS) solution and provided the means to integrate the QA software tool with manual copyediting. DCL then consulted with the content creation teams to support the move to XML-based authoring, ensuring consistency of structure going forward. This whole-system approach to content meant looking at the client’s entire system to anticipate issues and develop workarounds to issues that would have hobbled the company’s progress if left unaddressed.
Automation and process improvements provide several tangible benefits to Learning teams:
- Deliver high-quality content: An innovative approach to content brings older, yet still valuable, legacy content into modern contexts, with content quality levels higher than managers expect. Automation software does much of the heavy lifting, so resources spend less time on manual quality assurance and more on creating great digital learning experiences.
- Replicate the solution: The phased approach applies up-front analysis, automation, and iterative corrections to the process for converting legacy content. Teams then harness it to process, update, create, and publish all types of content across all kinds of channels, without trapping it in one software application or formatting elements specific to one output.
- Simplify the authoring process: The strategy for converting content also filters into the content authoring environment. Teams improve by applying standards and best practices from the initial conversion to author, store, edit, and publish content within understandable workflows.
- Minimize down time: Organizations are challenged to make their content available everywhere all the time. Incorporating responsive Web designs and HTML5 into content processing speeds the compilation of legacy content into new assets that take training to mobile devices.
- Get product to market sooner: Companies that develop and deliver software supported by innovative content reuse, repurposing, and organization strategies reduce overall time to market.
RESULTS: SIX-FOLD INCREASE IN THROUGHPUT AND MORE
The initial results of the ongoing collaboration between this global leader and DCL speak for themselves:
- Improved time-to-market for new product introductions by 66 percent and increased throughput so significantly that, rather than preparing between 12 and 20 introductions per year, the company’s capacity increased to 78 introductions in the first year.
- Streamlined both the conversion of learning content to XML and the upload process to the LCMS, allowing the company to move 50 courses to the LMS in just 16 months, enabling a larger global audience to access the certification material even in remote locations with poor infrastructure.
Learning teams tasked with creating and reusing content in a complex arena of platforms, formats, locations, and audiences can learn from the five-phase approach used by this team to digitize their existing content:
- A thorough analysis and inventory of existing content, including the information types, outputs, workflows, and storage locations (including the LMS solution).
- Prioritization of the content conversion effort.
- Cleanup, conversion, and testing on a subset of data.
- Refinement of automation tools and conversion processes.
- Conversion of a complete prioritized set of content.
A content conversion effort always encounters challenges, but a flexible approach to the process, along with the right resources, provides numerous benefits. Those benefits accrue to the teams charged with delivering learning content across platforms and channels, as well as the learners who consume it.
Mark Gross is president of Data Conversion Laboratory, and an authority on XML implementation and document conversion. Gross also serves as project executive, with overall responsibility for resource management and planning. Prior to joining DCL in 1981, Gross was with the consulting practice of Arthur Young & Co. He has a B.S. degree in Engineering from Columbia University and an MBA from New York University.