The Need for Content Operations

By Deane Barker on January 27, 2016

We implement content management as a practice.  After 11 years of this, we see the same two patterns over and over again:

  1. Organizations not prepared to launch a new CMS because their content is mess
  2. Organizations who do not fully use the content management systems they’ve had implemented
There are a lot of reasons for why this happens, but it’s very consistent.  We’ve so far dealt with them on a piecemeal basis.  However, we’re beginning to wonder if it would be wise to create an entirely separate practice based around what we’re calling “content operations.”  This is low-level, tactical, operational work that needs to be done on content to…well, make it go.

As an organizational exercise, we put together a detailed description of this practice, which I’ve reprinted below.  After a quick intro (suffer through it), there are over a dozen sub-practices and example scenarios for how we think this would work.

Understand that in no way do we think we’re breaking any new ground here.  But I think a lot of implementation shops handle this stuff on a case-by-case basis — they suffer through migration work and other large-scale, tactical content stuff as a price of admission for doing the CMS implementation.  They do it, it sucks, and then they say, “Wow, that was awful…on to the next one!”

What we’re looking to do is accept this work, build some process and tools around it, and actively pursue it both as a business model, and way to develop the competency.

I’m posting this here because I think it’s a good outline of problems we see in this space. Some of this might resonate with you, or remind you of a deathmarch project or two from your past.

This is a practice area that probably needs to be embraced, not avoided.

Practice Description: Content Operations

Content Operations (CO) is concerned with everything between Content Strategy (CS) and Content Management (CM). Any form of content manipulation and analysis would be managed by a CO process.

CO is bookended by content strategy and technical CMS services.

  1. CO is not digital marketing or content strategy. It assumes the content plan exists and just needs to be implemented.
  2. CO is not technical content management. It assumes a satisfactory CMS has been implemented. It is concerned with the content inside this CMS.
CO is the “glue” between the (1) plan for content, and (2) the content management system in which it’s managed and delivered.

CO would provide two types of services: (1) one-time, project-based services which contribute to a CMS implementation; and (2) ongoing services which continue on a recurring basis after implementation.

Goals

  1. To increase overall success of CMS implementation projects by addressing the “client skill and effort gap”
  2. To avoid completed projects from launch delays while they wait for content issues to be resolved.
  3. To increase developer efficiency by off-loading tasks that don’t require developer attention but can’t currently be staffed any other way (content invenvtory and analysis for scoping, URL redirection management, content extraction, content rough-in, etc.)
  4. To increase client efficiency by providing an outlet for larger-scale content activities.
  5. To increase client effectiveness by providing consulting around operations and other non-development content issues.

1. CMS Implementation Service Examples

These are services that would occur in conjuction with a CMS implementation.

Content Inventory/Audit

Identification of all existing content, analysis of types and characteristics, and description of non-content functionality.
Example: To assist in the scoping of a CMS re-implementation, the CO specialist puts together an inventory and analysis of the current content for the sales team to start scoping from.

Automated Content Extraction

Extraction, transformation, and storage of existing content in preparation for an import.
Example: The CO specialist prototypes, tests, and executes an automated content extract to get the existing content cleaned and into an XML document for the implementing developer to import from.

Manual Content Migration

Manual, human-powered movement of content from one system to another.
Example: The CO specialist migrates content from legacy PDFs to managed, structured content objects when no other (programmatic) options exist. Alternately, the CO specialist trains, manages, and reports on a group of subcontractors that perform this work.

Content Rough-in / IA Implementation

Creation of content structures to implement a designed IA.
Example: A CS process has created an approved IA, and a new CMS installation has been bootstrapped. In order to test navigation logic and other functionality, the CO specialist roughs in the planned site map with the correct types to provide some structure for continued development. This is not a full migration — just a stubbing out of future content.

Content Re-Organization

Movement and re-organization of content to implement an improved IA or to fulfill other operational needs.
Example: The CO specialist plans, executes, reviews, and reports on a large re-organization of content to support an improved IA recommendation. The re-org is planned and executed with minimal disruption to editorial staff, who are then briefed on the changes.

Content QA

Review of migrated content to ensure pre-launch quality.
Example: A migration has been completed, but content has to be checked for formatting, links, organization, etc. prior to launch. The CO specialist plans the QA metrics, manages the process, opens tickets and connects with the development team where necessary, and reports on progress both during execution and after completion.

Launch Management and Auditing

Monitoring and management of content-related tasks required for site launch.
Example: During a CMS implementation, the CO specialist keeps track of the list of content that has to be created, where that content is in the process, who is responsible for it, etc. The CO specialist tracks and reports on every content-related item that might impact launch readiness with the goal of having the CMS functionality and content come together at the right time for launch.

Editorial Training Planning and Execution

Development of training plans, materials, and execution of training for editorial staff.
Example: A CO specialist reviews the website plan to determine the different logical editing groups, then plans a training curriculum on the both the CMS and other related, topics to ensure proper skill by launch time. The CO specialist executes this training, then conducts follow-ups as necessary to ensure editors are working with the system correct. The CO specialist coordinates continuing access to training materials, and is available on an ad hoc basis post-implementation for questions.

URL Integrity Management

URL planning, auditing, and redirection management.
Example: During a CMS implementation, the CO specialist reviews the URL patterns of the existing site, discusses and plans changes with the client, communicates those changes to the developer, and populates and manages the redirection file to be used on the new site’s 404 handler.

2. Ongoing Content Operations Service Examples

These are services that would occur on a continuing basis, post-implementation.

Content QA

Monitoring of content for link integrity and other editorial markers.
Example: The CO specialist manages multiple processes and toolsets to review content for quality, such as link validity, image size opitmization, spell checking, and the verification of specific content rules — if an acronym is used, ensure it was previously stated in full within the same content object, for example.

Content Entry / Posting

The creation, formatting, and configuration of content from provided source material.
Example: The CO specialist posts content provided by a client — turning a Word document into a press release object, for example, populating it with an image and scheduling it for publication.

Content Creation Management

Management of the content creation and sourcing process through other vendors, including design support and extended project support for larger content-based projects.
Example: The CO specialist arranges for the creation of content for a client’s upcoming campaign, including design concepts, managing the production of copy writers, analytics configuration, etc.

Content Operations Consulting and Audit

Review of internal digital content operations and consulting around changes and improvements.
Example: The CO specialist performs an auditing of the client’s content channels and digital staff, suggestilng improvements for workflow, reporting, and responsibilities.

Analytics Consulting, Tuning, and Analysis

Review of analystics, consulting around alternatives, analysis of results.
Example: The CO specialist works with the client to determine how to configure analytics to produce the data they need, then makes all changes possible via configuration and scopes more in-depth changes with the development team.

Localization Support

Sourcing and management of localization services.
Example: Based on a localization plan, the CO specialist sources translation services, configures the CMS as necessary, and executes translation projects to produce localized and publish content.

CMS Administration

Management of users, permissions, workflows, etc. as necessary to assist editorial process.
Example: Rather than training internal staff on administrative features, the client depends on the CO specialist to add and remove users when requested, configure permissions as necessary, and create desired workflows as needed. The CO specialist is responsible for the running, administration, and configuration of the CMS up to the limit of what can be done without development.

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