"We've spoken about knowledge workers for years — but the shift to knowledge corporations may be even more profound."
This line appears atop a press release for a Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) survey with an eye-popping finding: More than one-quarter of 266 survey respondents estimate corporate content to comprise 75% of company value. The survey findings suggest that organizations in a wide range of industries — including manufacturers, high-tech companies and pharmaceutical companies — consider content to be an increasingly valuable asset.
To get a better feel for what content actually is and how to manage it in a risk-savvy way, I conducted an email chat with Mark Gross, founder, president and CEO of Data Conversion Laboratory.
Eric Krell: Executives across all industries say that content represents a large and growing component of their company's value. Now, most of us throw the term "content" around these days, but what is it, and what should finance, risk and compliance managers understand about content?
Mark Gross: Silos of content lying dormant within an organization can now be tapped and turned into revenue streams. Older document collections, including legacy product service manuals, backlists and newspaper archives, are all treasure troves which can be turned into searchable collections, offered much more widely than ever before, and monetized in many new ways. In the industrial world, for example, companies keep track of hundreds of manuals -- content that customers are very likely seeking and not finding as they're in the form of printed copies sitting in storage. It makes commercial sense for these companies to take their information and convert it in order to manage it better.
Another consideration: As large companies become increasingly international, they must have information organized in XML, DITA, etc., or they'll face continually retranslating at a high cost. For example, companies with consumer products going international can easily have 20-30 language requirements at a time.
Content formats can also impact regulatory compliance: Pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors face new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's Prescription Drug Sample Transparency Program, or ACA 6004) requiring the reporting of the distribution of drug product samples. The new law requires electronic records that identify the type and quantity of drug samples requested, the identity and quantity of drug samples distributed, and the name, address, professional designation and verification that the manufacturer or distributor has the signature of any person who makes or signs for the request.
What are the primary content risks a company confronts today?
Gross: There are three:
Accuracy: A wide range of organizations, from manufacturers to drug makers to publishers, are challenged by the complexity involved in moving content into a form that can be accessed on the web or a mobile device. The survey shows that when companies have tried to convert information on their own, accuracy became an issue, as 85% [of the survey mentioned above] say the cleanup of errors became an unexpected cost. For some industries, inaccuracies can have very real human costs as well: Think of a helicopter repair manual, or a drug label.
Missed Revenue Opportunities: The majority of content to be converted is product information, service manuals and other types of documentation. By converting this content into new forms and distributing to new channels, efficiently and most importantly, accurately, companies can not only reduce risks but actively expand revenue opportunities. An example: Converting product catalogs to a web-friendly format exponentially expands the audience of potential customers.
Competing in a Global Market: In order to sell to international customers, companies must convert their content to digital formats that enable simple language translation. Otherwise, they risk continually retranslating at a high cost. For example, companies with consumer products sold internationally can easily require that their content be available in 20-40 languages. The inefficiency risks don't stop there; for companies with offices worldwide, with accompanying content, not having a content management strategy can mean overlooking content (and so diminishing revenue opportunities) or duplicating conversions due to lack of communication.
What is the value of having a content conversion management strategy? What are one or two common missteps companies that have these strategies commit?
Gross: A strategy for finding, centralizing, converting and managing content can enable content-rich companies such as manufacturers to work more efficiently as well as reduce costs and risks. For example, an airline or auto manufacturer will have significant quantities of content, including service manuals and product catalogs. These materials can be shared more widely (company website, mobile devices) once digitized correctly, meaning more opportunities for revenue. Huge amounts of money are spent each year on moving information within organizations that could otherwise be handled more efficiently through digitalization and single-sourcing.
A common mistake is for companies to attempt to convert their content ad hoc in-house; this can often lead to missed opportunities, inaccuracies leading to the need to repeat work, and overall poor quality assurance. Use of resources is a big consideration: Often, companies radically underestimate the costs of doing conversion themselves not just in terms of money but in terms of distraction.
Content does not feature prominently in most risk management discussions, at least not today. What are a few leading practices that can help companies manage content risks?
Gross: Product content supports every aspect of a business, from research & development to engineering to support to purchasing decisions. Yet many organizations treat it as an afterthought and few invest appropriately to develop a strategy and maintain the content. It is of great benefit to companies to keep close tabs on buying influences and understand the role complete and easily accessible documentation plays in the decision making process. Evaluating the complete product lifecycle process within an organization will also identify inefficiencies. Insufficient focus on content strategy costs companies millions each year, affecting every department.
Our primary advice to companies: Understand the cost of doing things the wrong way. Recognize the bottlenecks, encourage teamwork and make everyone a stakeholder in managing your company's content.