This is the second post in the series about building a business case for content automation. In the previous post, I talked about automated content assembly, visualizing complex procedures, and generation of programming code and configuration files.

In this post, we’ll see how content automation can be very beneficial for business content too.


Assembling Sales Proposals and Product/Project Requirements Documentation

Situation: You are a product/project manager and need to document requirements for a new product or project. You also have to estimate the efforts required to implement the requirements. Then you want to get various documents aimed at different audiences:

Why Manual Process Is a Problem: Of course, you could write requirements in MS Word, then calculate costs in MS Excel, and then put them together. However:

  • Manually maintaining changes done in requirements at various stages of the development is error-prone and time-consuming. Imagine that at some point, a certain requirement is excluded from the scope or moved to a later stage. Or maybe a requirement is split into two smaller requirements, and these sub-requirements are scheduled for different stages of the development process. You have to both reflect these changes in your MS Word documents and MS Excel spreadsheet. This happens a lot during the lifecycle of large projects and complex products, which means that the cost of maintaining integrity of the entire product or project documentation is going to rise.
  • Different audiences may need a different level of detail or want to see the same data from different perspectives. For example, while the product/project manager may want to see only a high-level breakdown of costs by development stages, the CIO may need to get a detailed breakdown of costs regardless of how they are stretched across the development stages. You would have to prepare each view of the same data for different audiences manually, and then make sure that each view is updated whenever a change in the project scope is made. This goes far beyond content conditionalizing. It’s about manipulating individual pieces of information and re-assembling them differently depending on the needs of the content consumer. It’s very hard to do and maintain manually.

How Content Automation Can Help: Product or project requirements written in a structured format with metadata used to estimate the efforts required to implement each requirement and other product/project-management information is an enabler for building a solution that will automatically assemble documents for different audiences and generate different views of the same data for people with different roles.


Visualization of Business Processes

Situation: You are a consultant who is building a solution for your customer. Part of your job is to understand the current situation at your customer’s organization: how business processes work, who is involved, how information flows between teams, what triggers process-critical events, and so on. You need to interview stakeholders and capture their knowledge. Probably, you’ll get a series of formal descriptions that represent the information you’ve gathered:

Because multiple roles and triggers are usually involved in business processes in the organization, an effective way to get a big picture is to have a flowchart that graphically represents roles and actors involved in various processes and shows how the information flows between them. Perhaps, multiple flowcharts should be created to represent the same business process from the perspective of different roles.

Why Manual Process Is a Problem: Of course, you could draw a flowchart in Visio or PowerPoint and then document the business process in MS Word. However:

  • As long as every single person whom you interview provides a complete and consistent information about the part of the process to which that person is involved, you don’t have to worry. In the reality, you will likely unleash a lot of inconsistencies and missing links so you would have to go back and forth many times and constantly and iteratively update your vision of how things work. Updating your flowcharts manually in this case would be too expensive and complicated.
  • Even in small organizations, different people may have different and even conflicting views on what they are doing and how they communicate with other people. If you are manually visualizing business processes, discovering these conflicts and inconsistencies is a challenging task that can cause a lot of confusion.
  • If several consultants are involved in information gathering, putting together the scattered pieces of information, which might be conflicting with each other, is an error-prone and time-consuming process. This both makes your work more complicated and adds an additional management overhead.
  • A business process might look slightly differently from the perspective of different roles. If you create multiple role-specific views of the same process, and then a change is introduced into a process or you talk to more people and unveil additional information, updating all these flowcharts may become a nightmare.

How Content Automation Can Help: In formalized descriptions, it’s very easy to identify the role and meaning of each information piece as well as the relationship between different pieces. This means there is a relatively straightforward way to dynamically convert the formalized descriptions into a well-structured visual representation.

Additionally, it’s easy to automatically unveil conflicts and generate a report about inconsistencies. If there’s a change in a certain role or an event that triggers an action, you only need to update the formalized description of that role, and then the flowchart will be regenerated to show the updated process.

By the way, the formalized descriptions don’t have to be in DITA or even in XML. It could be Excel, Access, or any other well-defined structure.

These are just a few examples of business cases when content automation can significantly improve the way you work. If you recognize yourself in any of them, want to learn more, or have other ideas about other cases, I’ll be happy to discuss them with you! Contact me at alex AT intuillion DOT com.

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