Unlike other content types -- reports or marketing content for example -- people use policy and procedure content to take action, make decisions, and, in some cases, even prevent a life-ending accident. You want people to succeed. So, it's critical to get this right.
You may have heard of structured content because it’s the foundation of content management systems (CMS) commonly used in marketing when setting up the content you see on web pages or in a blog post.
What you might not know is that this same model has huge benefits for our application: the communication of operations knowledge (i.e., processes, policies, procedures, and related information). The core of our solution, Zavanta, is structured content.
In this article, we explore what structured content is and why you should consider it as a key requirement for large-scale policy and procedure communication and your overall operations content strategy. A solution like Zavanta, which was built using a structured content model, can:
- Transform your policy/procedure communication into a valuable business asset
- Significantly reduce the time and frustration in getting the job done
- Enhance a digital transformation agenda
Current Challenges with Operations Content
Creating and maintaining policy and procedure content has unique challenges:
- High volume (Some organizations have 1,000+policies and procedures)
- Always changing (Process changes, new regs, new systems) – updating is a nightmare
- Diverse audience (People need it communicated in different ways, different languages)
- Users need to find answers fast (and they are not!)
- Governance, control, and security is critical
- Content standardization is a must-have
- No unified P&P (Policy & Procedures) method or single source of truth (People doing their own thing, someone in one department writing something, different tools for this application in various departments….)
Ad hoc approaches are not working. Organizations are still wasting resources cranking out hundreds and thousands of documents that no one uses. We hear this every day!
Plus, it’s taking everyone involved -- subject experts, document control managers, and reviewers -- too long to get the job done. They are spending way too much time on clerical and manual tasks.
Back in the 1990s, when Comprose wrote P&P manuals for our clients, we faced the same problem you faced. How could we control the quality and productivity of a team of consultants working on multiple client projects at one time? We knew there had to be a better way. That is why we invented Zavanta!
Adopt a Structured Content Model for P&P Communication
Structured content is information that is broken up into small, standardized components or “chunks.” These small chunks of information are then combined to create a variety of outputs. Think of Lego® pieces that can be assembled in different ways to create different formations.
Structured content is predictable and ready to be used in a variety of ways.
And for those of you with a technical bent, structured content is treated like data. It’s stored in a relational database so that it’s easy to manage.
What is Unstructured Content?
The typical document created in MS Word, Google Docs, content typed into a text box, and emails are all examples of unstructured content.
In an MS Word file for example, which is how most policy and procedure documents are created, all the content is locked in one container. The format of the document is fixed, typically designed for 8 ½ x 11 printed output. If you want to deliver that content online, it must be converted. Imagine the 100-page document that has a bunch of policies and procedures all mushed together.
Disadvantages of Unstructured Content Approaches
- Even with templates, authors often go rogue. Every document is a new experience. It is difficult to control quality and ensure everyone includes the same type of information with standard terminology.
- There is no way to reuse content. For example, if you have an audience that needs a complete SOP for training but then you need to pull out just the step-by-step to embed it into an application, you are out of luck. You simply cannot do that with a traditional document unless IT gets involved.
- Search is difficult. We all know the frustration of having to skim pages and pages to find one piece of guidance for completing a task or understanding company policy. Let alone finding the right content again.
- Managing and updating unstructured content presents severe challenges for your content administrators.
- Updating is a manual and time-consuming process.
- Applying governance of content is difficult.
Content Quality and Usability is Compromised
This disadvantage trumps all the others on the list. We all know that especially today, people’s attention span is short. They simply will not read long blobs of text in a giant PDF or Word document. When content is broken up into logical chunks, it's easier to navigate, scan, understand, and remember.
“But we have SharePoint?”
Even if you have SharePoint or a policy/procedure document management system, the content within them is unstructured because it was created in MS Word or another word processor (sometimes even Excel). The document managers and document control systems do a great job at managing content at the file level but fall short of managing the content that is inside that file. (Read more about the challenges of using SharePoint for SOPs.)
And that is the crux of the problem.
Top 10 Benefits of Using a Structured Content Solution for P&P Communication
Structured content offers numerous benefits that enhance content management, organization, and distribution, and eases the burden on your teams. You will find these benefits are intertwined. Content built on structured data is more adaptable and reusable, which makes ongoing maintenance much easier. Here are the top benefits of structured content.
1. Enhanced user experience
Information presented in logical units is easy to scan for your target audience. Zavanta’s web output has built-in navigation so the user can jump immediately to the section they want. Let’s say someone is having trouble. They can click and jump directly to the troubleshooting section without having to wade through the entire document.
2. Expanded usability
By structuring content into modular components, it becomes more useful as a business asset.
Content elements can be repurposed across different channels or platforms and for different use cases, saving time and effort in content creation. Structured content supports personalization efforts by enabling the dynamic assembly of content based on user preferences, demographics, or behaviors.
Many of our customers serve multiple locations, divisions, partners, and vendors. Some content is applicable to all, and some is unique, depending on the entity. Structured content enables you to provide both types of information. With Zavanta, from a single system, you can generate a web portal for employees and separate sections or portals just for partners, vendors, and regulators.
Structured content can also be easily reused and inserted into applications. With Zavanta, an approved SOP can reside in your employee portal. You can also have specific sections of that same SOP inserted into an LMS (Learning Management System) or other application. Because the source content exists in one spot, you change it in one place, and updates will automatically appear in all locations.
Imagine being able to create a company dictionary of terms and definitions shared across business units. Content teams and authors could then pull relevant terms into specific policies and procedures without reinventing the wheel.
With this approach, the possibilities of knowledge reuse across the enterprise are unlimited.
3. Multiple outputs without reformatting
Related to the above, you can get multiple outputs from a single source. The format is separated from the content and applied when the output is generated.
For example, with Zavanta, you can display digital content via your internal or public portals, or you can print a professionally formatted SOP and generate an online version suitable for tablets without any re-formatting. (In time studies we’ve conducted, this shaves off about 60% of development time.)
4. Advanced searchability
When your content creators utilize a system built on structured content, search engine optimization is built in. Common terminology is standardized. Your users will receive rich results and waste less time looking for what they need.
This is one reason marketers have embraced content management systems based on a structured content method. Their job is to ensure that people can find their website content easily and that search engines like Google and Bing can index the content and display related search results.
5. Superior organization
Structured content is easier to organize and categorize. Content can be organized in a variety of ways using the content that’s inside the document.
For a simple example, in our guided authoring interface in Zavanta, we have a field for who performs the task in the procedure. This allows our clients to easily assign procedure documents based on job or position titles. The system can quickly search for all procedures assigned to that employee role as opposed to a manager trying to search SharePoint in hopes they find what they need.
Building on the above example, many of our Zavanta users create position guides based on job titles. Imagine how this eases employee onboarding.
It is easier to secure and control content at a granular level, supporting strict governance.
6. Higher consistency
Structured content allows for consistent formatting, styling, and branding. When content is separated from the presentation and you create content templates, it becomes easier to maintain a consistent tone, style, and design throughout all channels and devices.
With Zavanta’s content overlays, you can define the common field names, pick lists, and content components for each process, procedure, or work instruction. Common phrases and terminology can be codified upfront, so authors don’t have to write from scratch, ensuring consistency across business units and authors.
7. Easier maintenance
Structured content is much easier to maintain. Say example, a job title changes or your organization undergoes restructuring. Who volunteers to open 300 documents and manually make those content updates?
With Zavanta’s mass update feature, you can make global changes across all documents or a subset of documents.
In policies and procedures, a lot of information gets repeated, posing a significant maintenance challenge. Handing this is where a structured content solution really shines – especially at scale.
We worked with a commercial bank and found their account titling guidelines were embedded in multiple policies and procedures. And every time we found the guidelines, the list was different! Using Zavanta, they treated this list as a single component and simply linked to it from relevant documents. This improved the user experience (users weren’t confused by the variations) and reduced updating time. When the guidelines changed, they only had to update it in one spot. Think about how often laws, standards, and regulations change.
8. Improved collaboration
Structured content facilitates collaboration among subject matter experts, content editors, and stakeholders. As content components are stored and managed separately, multiple team members can work on different parts simultaneously without conflicts, leading to improved productivity and streamlined workflows.
A system like Zavanta provides a digital audit trail to track changes by contributor. It can also automate reminders to stakeholders to provide their edits or approval by a designated due date. One client told us they used cupcakes to bribe stakeholders to provide their feedback on time! Now, that same client utilizes Zavanta to “nudge” those approvers to meet deadlines.
9. Faster, more reliable translation
Content components can be translated independently, and the translation can be applied consistently across all instances where the component is used, reducing errors and inconsistencies.
Zavanta flags changes made at the detailed content component level. So, changes made to the English version are automatically synced to all the other language versions. Since the translation occurs within Zavanta, the entire content development process is tracked through the full approval process. This allows your content strategists to track all your operations content throughout the entire life cycle, not just the English-based content.
Structured content allows organizations to evolve their content strategies and embrace change without requiring a complete content overhaul. For example, if you grow through a merger or acquisition, you can easily adapt and centralize policies and procedures for the new organization. As laws or regulations change, your system is nimble and can be easily updated.
No matter what comes in the future, you’ll be ready. Organizations that don’t adopt a structured content approach may be facing significant conversions and rework.
Structured Content and Zavanta
Our Zavanta policy and procedure software was created on a structured content model designed for non-technical users.
Zavanta captures process knowledge content and breaks it up into logical units or "chunks" stored in a relational database so that it’s easier to find, use, update, translate, track, validate, monitor, update, and re-purpose for different audiences and applications.
We have been at this for over 30 years. Our templates and guided authoring walk your subject matter experts through a process that ensures a structured and standardization dream.
Zavanta is a complete solution that supports the full lifecycle of authoring, reviews, publishing, versioning, and notifications.
Contact us to learn more.