Content, content—it’s everywhere—and managing it is getting out of hand! How many times have you looked through folders chocked full of files to locate the specific document that you want, only to find it’s not the right version, contains inaccurate or outdated information, or worse—is nowhere to be found?

Enter Content Management. And, more precisely, The Content Wrangler (that’s me). Each week, I’ll rustle up useful articles, reviews and news you can use to get a handle on the content you create. I’ll share strategies that can help you plan and implement a successful content management initiative, as well as best practices, case studies and lessons learned from those who have made the big mistakes; the ones you’ll want to avoid. And, I’ll answer questions from readers—ready, aim, shoot me an email.

If you’re wonderin’ why there’s so much fuss about managing content (after all, we’ve been doing it for quite a while without any help) you should read Pamela Kostur’s article, Content: What is it and why should we manage it. In short, Kostur says before we start thinking about how to manage content (selecting tools, vendors and technologies), we should first understand the content we hope to manage and admit that we are the business of creating it.

“Regardless of what products or services your company sells, you ARE in the business of working with content and chances are, finding the right content is problematic for people in your organization, and potentially, for your customers, too.”

The January 13, 2003 issue of eWeek provides further support for the importance of the focus on content in the new world of content management. In “Content Will Be Focus of IT Revival”, eWeek says: “A solution to this dilemma is compelling content. It must be administered cheaply enough so that it’s possible to keep online resources up-to-date; it must be accessible to users who will use it to answer their questions without costly and time-consuming support.”

“Enterprises must create the kind of content that sells products, enhances services and builds supply chain loyalty. That will generate new business that will justify further investment in IT, which may well include new technology but which will, above all else, include increased productivity.”

Kostur and others who understand content and its value help us to recognize that managing content is important because it can help us save time and money by avoiding what her firm, The Rockley Group calls “The Content Silo Trap”.

“Frequently, content is created by authors working in isolation from other authors within the organization. Walls are erected among content areas and even within content areas, which leads to content being created, and recreated, and recreated, often with changes or differences at each iteration. We call this the Content Silo Trap. And while organizations don’t set out to create silos, they are damaging, often resulting in poor communication and lack of sharing information, reduced awareness of other initiatives, a lack of standards and consistency (different departments/people do it differently), increased costs to create, manage, and deliver content, poor quality content (because information products may not be created according to standards or they may contain inconsistent/outdated information).”

“When content is developed in this way it not only costs the organization a lot of time and money (creating, recreating, and recreating the same content), it also introduces inconsistencies and potential errors into the various information products. Inconsistencies and errors can cause problems for customers trying to understand what your products are and what they do, before and after they purchase them. Incorrect information can also result in accidents and potentially, lawsuits,” Kostur says.

Gaining a broader understanding of the types of content your organization creates is the first step in developing a content management strategy. Starting with a strategy may seem foreign to those who are used to a requirements-based IT project approach. That’s why it helps to recognize, up front, that content management is not an IT project. Instead, it is a business project that, when properly implemented, can deliver an excellent return on investment (ROI).

“It’s very important to have a clear grip on the content you hope to manage before you start trying to manage it,” says Jake Nickell, President of skinnyCorp, a Chicago-based development house specializing in online content solutions. “The biggest problem is that without a strategy, you restrict yourself unnecessarily. There are always more content relationships than you might realize up front. If you fail to start with a strategy, you’ll end up doing it all over again at a later date. It’s cheaper and more effective to do it right the first time,” Nickell says.

“Organizations often think that picking the right tool is the most important decision they need to make regarding CM. However, it’s impossible to better leverage enterprise content for business needs until you thoroughly understand what those needs are.” says Brian Buehling, Managing Director at Dakota Systems, a Chicago-based consultancy that specializes in enterprise content management solutions.

“The real ROI of CMSs comes from the process and organizational changes that they enable,” Says Buehling. “If companies just automate their existing workflow processes with their current organizational structure. little is gained.”

Initiating a content management project without a content management strategy is a common problem that is sure to lead to less-than-favorable results. “So many times,” Buehling says, “companies completely skip this task and jump right into vendor selection activities to the detriment of their projects.”

So what strategy is the best content management strategy? You mileage may vary, but the best published strategy I’ve found is called “A Unified Content Strategy,” the focus of Ann Rockley’s latest book, Managing Enterprise Content. Rockley’s strategy is clear-cut and simple to understand — and unlike strategies other companies promote — it’s available today at your favorite bookseller. Its been adopted by several multi-national corporations, educational organizations, product manufacturers — even content management software firms — as a best practice. I’ve used it personally with clients in the pharmaceutical and medical device arenas to help those organizations map out their content management initiatives with content as the focus of their efforts.

[Disclosure: I acted as a technical editor for New Riders on the book, “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy.” My role was to ask questions of the strategy and challenge the authors to do the best job possible communicating complex concepts in easy-to-understand lingo.]

To help get you thinking about content management strategy, New Riders Publishing has provided Content Wrangler readers with a free, downloadable chapter from Rockley’s book entitled, Chapter Two: Fundamental Concepts of Reuse. This chapter is an excellent starting point for those interested in learning more about the benefits reuse can provide a content management project.