Component Content Management Systems. Workflow management of large volumes of data.

A content management system (CMS) is a database-supported software program, in which content can be collaboratively created, processed and managed. The database contains individual modules such as text and graphics that can be stored and then used again whenever desired. This content can be published in different output formats, for example as a PDF or online help. A CMS therefore functions according to the principle of media neutrality. Some CMS systems are XML-based, while others manage without it but nevertheless offer the advantages of a professional CMS system.

CMS in the field of technical documentation: The component content management system

CMS systems are used in different media, for example to create websites. The specific CMS systems used in technical documentation are also referred to as component content management system (CCMS). They offer a whole range of advantages compared with a simple text processing program.

A component content management system can play a significant part in reducing the costs involved in creating documentation and susceptibility to errors:

  • Support for documentation teams
    There is a central location where all content of the documentation is stored. All those involved in the project can access the data at any time and will always find the latest version. It is also always clear who carried out which revision at what time. An component content management system thus allows a collaborative approach to working on documentation. It is also possible to allocate different roles to different users, so that rights can be granted for the creation and editing of content.
  • Easy to find content
    The database is structured in such a way that individual content can be found quickly using a search function. All content is provided with metadata, i.e. descriptive data relating to the content, which increases its usability. This includes, for example, information about the author, data relating to the creation and updating of the document and information on different versions.
  • Versions of content
    A document can be recorded at different stages. The older versions are preserved and can be retrieved again if necessary. This allows the history of a document to be reconstructed without any difficulty.
  • Variations in content
    Several variations of a document can be generated in the component content management system, for example for different types of a product that differ only with regard to individual functions or components. Individual modules are then replaced in these alternative versions, while the rest remains unchanged.
  • Reusability of content
    Once content has been created and is stored as an object in the database, it can be used as often as desired and in different documents. This allows the same instructions for a procedure to be used in many different documents, for example. This prevents the creation of superfluous content and significantly reduces the amount of work. A component content management system thus fulfils a key requirement for single source publishing: the publication of different output formats from a single source.
  • Standardised layout
    DTDs such as PI-Mod or DITA help to structure the documentation content. The DTD specifies elements that divide up the documentation, both in regard to the nature of the elements as well as to their relationships with each other. The DTDs can be adapted according to the requirements of the documentation. If a document is to contain safety information, for example, the DTD must provide these elements.
  • Quality assurance of content
    The reuse of content contributes to quality assurance. Content that has been through a quality assessment is preserved in different output formats, which eliminates sources of error.
  • Reduction in translation costs
    Different language versions can also be managed using an component content management system. The system automatically records whether specific content has been translated into a specified target language and whether this translation is current or out of date. If a new version of a document is created, the component content management system can recognise which content has been changed and send only this for translation. The translation process works through language packages, which are checked out and then checked in to a translation memory system. There they are translated and then exported out of the translation memory system and checked in to the component content management system again. Content that has not changed can simply be used again; reused content only needs to be translated once.

Switch to a component content management system. Advantage - Disadvantage.

On the one hand, the switch to a component content management system initially entails a certain amount of investment: the software must be purchased, the system implemented and employees trained and, last but not least, there will be ongoing costs for administration and maintenance. Editorial procedures will also have to change over to the new modular method: After all, working with a component content management system requires a highly structured methods. For many teams, this switch represents an enormous task. Editors who are used to an unstructured way of working, without clearly defined processes or mandatory standards, are confronted with unknown challenges. On the other hand, the creation of documentation will become much cheaper in the medium to long term, so the use of these systems will always pay off in the longer run.

There is a general procedure model for introducing a component content management system, which you can adapt to any complexity of the system and any company size.

Nevertheless, there are some arguments against introducing an component content management system:

  • There are no reused modules.
  • The advantages for translation management do not come into effect, as the documentation is created in only one language.

Still, it is not the substantive arguments preventing companies from introducing component content management system. The reasons are rather economic: The necessary effort and the expenses for the acquisition of a component content management system have a very deterring influence. Even if the daily challenges of the editors could be overcome much more easily with the efficient processes of a component content management system, many companies decide against an editing system.

Working with a component content management system requires a degree of standardization

It is perfectly reasonable to think that introducing a component content management system requires a certain degree of standardized processes and that the introduction runs more smoothly with a high maturity level. However, in reverse, a component content management system can also be helpful for its users to implement standards from the beginning. A training should raise the awareness that it is usually easier to reuse modularized content than to recreate redundant content again and again. That way, the functionality of the system transfers into new working standards.

If you intend to implement a component content management system, the following issues are relevant for a project plan:

  • Analyze the actual state
  • Determine potential for optimization
  • Define target state
  • Assess and select component content management system
  • Create functional specification
  • Have the component content management system adjusted by the provider
  • Implement component management system
  • Train staff

The success of the project depends on how the process maturity is evaluated, how well the implementation of the component content management system has been planned, if risk and change management has been conducted thoroughly and if the project management in the company is working effectively.

Maturity level of the technical writers
Cross Media Publishing