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Web content migration: Developing a content strategy

As you embark on a Web content migration, your first order of business is developing a rock-solid information strategy.

A friend of mine who became general counsel at a university told me that his new role presents some challenges....

"My predecessor didn't trust computers and left everything in more than 30 file cabinet drawers. I'm just trying to figure out what's there before I can make things accessible, findable and searchable."

General counsels' offices in some universities have lacked real incentives to digitize operations. But the digital age is here. In his new role, my friend will negotiate agreements and resolve disputes. Having the right information on hand is essential. He needs to get his information house in order, reduce costs, mitigate risks and migrate paper-driven processes to a digital environment. Ultimately, he needs to rein in content chaos with a WCM platform.

Of course the expectation of what should happen in the general counsel's office (or in any business unit for that matter) is clear. With the consumerization of IT, business information should be as easily available as searching on Google.

But getting started is difficult. To make the transition to digitally driven work, it is essential to breach the boundaries of the existing order and design for the future. This requires vision and leadership.

Develop a content strategy

My friend and others like him need first to develop an overall content strategy. Begin by identifying the three or four most important business outcomes. Describe employees' roles and the kinds of content they must access to produce these results. Look for examples where digital information -- delivered to the right people at the right time -- makes the difference. As part of this analysis, identify specific content types and organizational categories.

Focus on prototypical individuals whose tasks are digitally driven: a lawyer drafting a contract or an administrator reviewing information to make decisions, for example. Important categories within a university setting can include department, date, subject matter and target audience. The content strategy should describe which items each of these personas need and how each expects content to be organized.

Be as specific as possible about how the content relates to the tasks. It helps to first list the content types and then identify the major organizing categories as the related metadata.

You can develop this strategy rapidly and then revise it in light of experience. Base the content strategy on what you know at the time you develop it, and accept that it may need modification down the road.

Conduct a content inventory

Once you have a strategy for the future, review current content assets and structure. Conduct an inventory to determine how your content is currently organized, accessed and managed.

Remember the 30 file cabinets in the general counsel's office? These contracts, agreements, reports and correspondence are likely organized in a folder hierarchy -- indexed perhaps by department, date, topic and other business-related topics. The electronic file plans for network file shares and many enterprise content management (ECM) systems mirror this filing structure.

In conducting an inventory, you need to identify both the content types and the existing criteria (or schema) for organizing them. For instance, contracts might be filed first by department and then date, while correspondence might be filed by date and then topic. In the physical world, these criteria reflect how works get done and how office workers manage their daily tasks. After all, physical documents cannot be in two places at the same time. But the digital world is different.

Design the information architecture

In digitizing operations, there are multiple ways to manage and deliver content. Design in a way that suits organizational processes. Like the design documents for building a house, you need an information architecture that defines the organization and structure of the content you use -- and are going to live with for the future. (Yes you can update as you go.) It's important to identify the taxonomies and ad hoc tags (or folksonomies) that describe this content structure. Thus you need to pay attention to the formally defined set of terms and those that emerge organically through the ebb and flow of everyday work.

Begin with the content inventory and review the list of content types you have identified. Make sure this list is complete and useful. Note all the indexing terms and categories you already use.

For more on web content management:

The maturation of WCMs

Realities of ECM in the cloud

Bracing for mobile with WCM

Choosing the right CMS

Next, go back to prototype workers you identified as part of your content strategy and determine how each will access the various content types. Identify the relevant index terms and criteria these prototypes will use while doing their work.

Then ask two questions: (1) What does the target prototype worker really need? And (2) what's missing? You may need to define new content types or remove redundant ones. You may need to categorize content along an entirely new dimension that you don't currently use. Or you may find that you have been tagging content by too many overlapping criteria and that you should simplify your organizational structure.

There is elegance to good design. Take the time to design the key elements of your information architecture.

Planning for content migration

Finally, it's time to make the move from the old to the new -- from the physical to the digital work environment. You need to plan for your content migration.

Consider the business tasks and expectations of various prototypes as they work with content. They probably need to access information as the transition takes place. Figure out how much of the existing content (or back files) you need to bring forward into your new digital environment and whether it is better to simply leave the existing information in place. Depending on the outcomes, there are many options.

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