16 August 2015
William van der Moolen
William van der Moolen
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Information Energy 2015

A trip report

On June 3-4 2015, I visited the Information Energy conference in Utrecht, a conference for a new breed of content professionals named ‘infomedians’. These are specialists in multichannel communication that effectively master the skill of cross-silo content collaboration.

Why Information Energy?

Information Energy is a fairly new conference, initiated in 2012 after the break-up of the Dutch association of Technical Authors. Where previous editions continued the trail of structured authoring in XML, DITA and FrameMaker for manuals, online help or learning systems, this year’s edition displayed a subtle flirt with publishers and web content management professionals.

And it makes sense. Today the volume of content, channels and touchpoints is expanding rapidly, so owners of large, public-facing websites and corporate intranets are looking into smarter ways to manage their content. Manually copying, pasting and re-editing content to publish it across different channels and devices is the “too little too late formula” for content delivery.

Semantic web, multichannel or even omnichannel strategies are presented as the new manna. But they show a significant overlap with the methods and technologies technical authors in manufacturing, aviation and defence industries adopted over a decade ago when they switched to structured authoring in SGML/XML based on DocBook or DITA. Structured authoring with metadata allowed them to break down large blobs of text and images into small re-usable chunks that could be re-used anywhere. This is the concept of ‘Create Once Publish Everywhere’ (COPE) for online help, e-learning and print.

Cross-silo journey mapping

Both technical authors and web professionals recognize the importance of user-centered design. However, so far they have limited the scope of their work to silo-owned touchpoints, failing to connect the dots of the entire customer journey.

Why is it that technical authors never managed to bridge the gap between their realm of digital user documentation, and the silo of marketing communication in charge of the world wide web?

Sure, the limited availability, affordability and portability of internet access certainly played its role in keeping both worlds apart. Mobile connectivity around Y2K was a privilege for C-level executives, so most web efforts were geared to the needs of the decision makers. Technical publications such as quick reference cards and user manuals only made their way onto the web disguised as a printable, old-world artefact called a PDF, requiring manual hand-overs, round-tripping and version management.

But hey, the world has changed! Smartphones and tablets have entered the market and smart watches are well on their way. Personal life and the mobile workplace are blending, so getting the right content to the right person at the right time in the right format requires smarter ways to create, review and deliver content.

Integrated content versus the silos

The 2015 edition of Information Energy introduced the concept of integrated content. That is, content that may emerge from different silos throughout an organization, but that is effectively managed, shared and published through sensible collaboration.

As keynote speaker Joe Gollner of Gnostyx Research stated: “In enterprise scale organizations, silos are there to stay, whether you like it or not.” So better deal with it in the most efficient way. For example by introducing game elements to convince leadership, such as with a personalized board-design of a game of Snakes and Ladders (threats, opportunities and helpers), which was presented by Nolwenn Kerzreho.

Blending information design

At Information Energy, web content managers had the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade of technical authors in tracks like DITA and XML. Technical authors in turn could taste service design and designing with Big Data in interactive workshops or presentations, such as how to test the effectiveness of an instructional video with real users. Alternative tracks offered “open kitchen” sessions in tooling to govern the chaos of content explosion.

Prepare for the new workplace

The most interesting session I attended was about the social intranet by Ric van Westhreenen. ‘Infomedians’ need to prepare for the future workplace, where organizations no longer select employees to work for them, but employees choose the organizations they’d like to work for.

In the Netherlands for example, we are close to the large-scale retirement of baby-boomers, reducing the effective employable workforce within the next 5-10 years. So what does your organization do to attract the most knowledgeable and motivated talents?

Is it with an old-school, top-down broadcasting intranet, populated with archives and workspaces nobody ever seems to use, or with a new social collaboration workspace that employees and contractors like to use? Intranets show the same symptoms of many public-facing websites we see today. Seventy percent of content is recreated and duplicated instead of re-used and updated. That hardly seems like an efficient use of resources and time, but rather a recipe for demotivating a skilled and talented workforce.

From WYSIWIG to WYSIWIN

At Information Energy 2015, Jang Graat stated “Users don’t want WYSIWIG anymore. They demand WISIWIN (‘What-I-See-Is-What-I-Need’).” And I think he’s right.

Whether your goal is to bind customers to your company’s products and services, or talent to your workforce, the success of any organization hinges on binding both customers and employees to their brand, products and services along the entire customer journey. Quoting Joe Gollner: “A broken content collaboration leads to a broken customer experience and inevitably to a broken organization.”

More at #IEN2015

Originally, Information Energy started as an event based on a personal initiate by Wim Hooghwinkel of iDTP. This year however, Information Energy has been adopted by the German TEKOM organization, which organizes two conferences a year in Germany.

That acquisition provides a solid base for next year’s edition of Information Energy. For more information about this year’s edition, check out hashtag #IEN2015 on Twitter. For next year’s edition, keep an eye on their website where I expect the early-bird registration to open around January 2016.

About the author

William van der Moolen (a.k.a. @WvdMoolen) is an information architect and content strategy consultant at Informaat. William has a background in technical documentation, multi-lingual information management and internet since 1995. His project experience is in wireless, food industry, energy, financial services and special interest in designing for health and care.

Content strategy (18)

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