Structured content and content efficiency – the CCMS story at CIPD

Create Once, Publish Everywhere: at its core, it’s about managing content, broken up into logical chunks, made intelligent with metadata, in a content management system. The benefits of COPE are around workflow efficiency, content search and retrieval; re-use and cascading updates; version control, format transformation, distributed publishing. COPE also supports translation and localisation workflows. It’s a content strategy therefore that addresses CIPD’s content problems as well as our content ambitions. At its heart, COPE is about developing content agility to support business agility – particularly around product innovation and multi channel distribution.

In this post I’m going to explore how we’ve worked with Mekon XML consultancy to choose, set up and configured DITA XML and a CCMS for our pilot project: CIPD’s first tentative steps towards COPE.

Choosing a CCMS – the Conference Room Prototype process

When it came to choosing a CCMS we followed Mekon’s Conference Room Prototype process. It’s a process that’s designed to help organisations evaluate two or more CCMSs and decide which they should invest in. Rather than IT deciding which system to buy, the CRP process engages the end users in the selection process, thereby helping to mitigate the risks inherent in technology projects – mostly those all-too human factors of ownership and training.

We narrowed down our selection to two systems: Jorsek’s easyDITA and SDL’s LiveContent. We already have SDL’s Tridion Web CMS, so LiveContent was always going to make it to the shortlist.

Mekon hosted and ran two two-day prototyping sessions for easyDITA and for LiveContent. Prior to the session Mekon worked with us to write user stories that described in simple, non-technical language typical workflows and tasks of individual users (for example: As a content creator, I want to be able to insert an image into a topic.) These user stories were MOSCOW scored and the feedback analysed.

User scoring was very close, with easyDITA just having the edge. LiveContent was seen as being more powerful. But easyDITA was seen to be easier to use, particularly in terms of its authoring interface.

EasyDITA = ease of use

We were always cognisant, when evaluating both systems, that CIPD’s researchers – our authors – are not in the least bit technical. The user interface needed to be as close a match as possible to what they were used to using – basically Microsoft Word.

easyDITA screenshot

Screenshot from easyDITA

Mekon worked with CIPD and with easyDITA to set up and configure the CCMS to our requirements.  For example we spent some time with the chaps at easyDITA configuring the authoring interface to simplify it further – for example to better represent figure elements and to make the nesting of sections more intuitive.

EasyDITA is also very straightforward to use when it comes to reviewing and editing – again similar to Word. But unlike Word, a CCMS facilitates version control, collaborative working and remote access. That ease of use is something the researchers acknowledged and appreciated. One research advisor commented: “After an introductory session, and with a little bit of practice, the software is pretty easy to use; it’s not that different from reviewing and annotating a document using ‘track change’ in Word”.

Configuration and content modelling

We used Dita4Publishers and the chapter topic specialisation.

Mekon helped us to design the content’s info architecture. We kept the content model as simple as possible, balancing potential re-use and update requirements with ease of use (particularly in terms of authoring).

We spent some time working out which DITA elements to use and how. Bibliographic references are a big deal in research reports and we created hyperlinked bib refs that the authors could easily input, but also that could be extended to become a more extensive bibliographic database at some later date.

Metadata is a love note to the future

In terms of metadata we’ve been working with Mekon and information management consultants Metataxis for a while now to develop a global metadata framework including a corporate taxonomy.

Mekon helped us to import the metadata framework into the CCMS. We wanted to use the CCMS to facilitate CIPD’s thought leadership goals, rather than just efficient content management, so it was important to properly integrate the metadata framework. We had to make quite a few decisions around which bits of metadata worked better in the CCMS (for example taxonomy terms) and which were better in the DITA itself (like the website long description).

It’s important, I think, to get those authoring the work (those who understand the context of the content best) to apply taxonomy terms – not those who process the content further down the production stream. easyDITA mades the application of taxonomy straightforward and an integral part of the authoring process.

Design outputs

CIPD’s research reports have moderately complex designs, and we felt that a straight XSLFO transformation to PDF wouldn’t provide us with the right degree of flexibility in terms of workflow or design. We used Mekon’s IdXML Open Toolkit plugin to convert the DITA XML output into IdXML tags that were easily mapped to design elements in the InDesign template.

Mekon worked with CIPD’s in house design team setting up those InDesign templates and providing training and technical support. Giving the design team structured files that map to pre-determined design templates automated much of the page layout, shortening turn around times.

IdXML tags

The content in its flattened XML form as it comes straight out of the idXML plugin

The text imported into Indesign

The text imported into Indesign

Training and support – don’t ever underestimate it

Mekon ran a two-day training course on DITA XML for the project team. But our authors needed just a very basic understanding of DITA XML, particularly the concept of structuring content to facilitate its management and future re-use.

In terms of CCMS training, Mekon and the guys at easyDITA trained the project team, and we in turn trained and provided technical support to the authors.

Our Research team aren’t a very technically astute group. They approached the project and the CCMS with enthusiasm, but they did find the system somewhat difficult to use. Don’t underestimate the amount of training and support you’ll need to give your authoring teams.

The EasyDITA InDesign plugIn worked well, automating much of the page layout process. But again, our in house Design team needed a lot of training and support. We had to set aside plenty of time and money for training and support.

Chaos reigns… until it doesn’t

chaos reigns

Normally – to quote a famous meme – chaos reigns. Each report follows its own unique process. Nothing is standardised. Everything is slightly chaotic. Schedules are long and deadlines are missed. But with this project we established a standardised content templates and workflows.

Which, although we won’t be investing in a CCMS (at least for now; see my next post: Agile content strategy: flexing to changing and challenging business reality) we can benefit from those improved content management processes. We can capitalise upon and extend those project workflows across the Research department.

We mustn’t squander that opportunity.

Cold storage

So the final stage of our pilot project will be to put the CCMS into ‘cold storage’ (so to speak). To mothball the actual code, as well as document the various configurations and customisations and why they were set up that way – both for CCMS and the InDesign plugin.

That way – when the business is ready – we can pick up the project and implement a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content solution. Because, ultimately, all knowledge-rich organisations need content agility to deliver business agility.



Building a business case for COPE (part four): other organisations taking a reimagination approach

Last month I posted about the proof of concept I’ve been asked to develop to demonstrate the potential for re-using content from our research reports in other products. Having read that post, my boss asked me whether there were any case studies out there from businesses who have used the ‘re-imagination’ approach, and were there any supporting stats that demonstrated improved reach, readership and download numbers.

Re-imagination is another (more elegant in my view) term for what is variably called ‘content leveraging’, ‘content derivatives’ and ‘divisible content’. There’s a terrific infographic that illustrates the idea from Column Five.

It’s an idea that recently emerged from the field of content marketing and demonstrates the current shift in marketing from advertising to publishing. It might not be called ‘create once, publish everywhere’, but it shares many of the same characteristics, particularly the atomisation of content to maximise its re-use potential.

I confess, that having spent a while scouring the internet I struggled to find the case studies and requisite stats that I needed to convince my boss of the validity of the ‘re-imagination’ argument. This might be because it’s a relatively new approach and gives businesses commercial advantage. If CIPD were to engage a content marketing company they would no doubt be able to furnish us with examples of content leverage in action. But the trouble with content marketing companies is that they understand content as marketing collateral, but not content as publishing assets.

Content is our product, not a means to sell a productThe key difference between the content marketing approach to re-imagination and the approach we’re trying to make the case for at CIPD is that for us content is our product (not a means to sell a product). So I needed to look beyond the world of content marketing to other knowledge businesses and publishers that are taking a re-use and re-imagination approach.

The Project Athena team have, for a while now, been reaching out to other organisations similar to CIPD in size, purpose and content use, who are using DITA XML and a CCMS to develop a COPE content management framework. (And I’ll be blogging about this soon.) But these organisations, however useful to the Project Athena team in terms of insight and advice, don’t quite have the glamour or cache of the BBC, the Guardian, et al. So when we tell our Executive Team that ‘the Institute of Engineering and Technology are doing something similar to us’, ‘the Rail Safety Standards Board use DITA XML and a CCMS’, they nod their heads and then ask ‘What about the Guardian?’ ‘Aren’t the BBC using COPE?’

So with these things in mind, the Project Athena team have been looking for other, more recognisable, content rich, knowledge organisations, that are taking a similar ‘re-use and re-imagination’ approach.

The BBC: Re-imagination and the re-packaging evergreen content

The BBC have been following a ‘Create once, publish everywhere’ policy for some time now. As an example of re-use in action, Mike Atherton, former Information Architect at the BBC explains how the BBC populated a new wildlife site by re-using existing content: atomising old footage into granular, platform-neutral units and adding semantic metadata. Old content was successfully re-imagined into a number of newly curated collections.

Traditional news organisations

Traditional news organisations are facing the challenge of declining print and advertising revenues coupled with competition from new entrants (often based on a hybrid model of original news and aggregation services) such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy, the Huffington Post, Flipboard and LinkedIn (Pulse).

CIPD’s content challenges echo those of other knowledge businesses and that the move to digital involves a universal set of principles
They are having to quickly adapt their business and operating models from a print paradigm to a digital first philosophy. In fact most media organisations had already (like CIPD) moved to a ‘platform first’ philosophy, where ‘traditional media extend their contents to an accompanying website, but their focus is still on the primary platform’ (A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy?). But at a time when TV, radio and newspapers are no longer the primary places people go to acquire information, news media must be developed using a ‘platform free’ approach, where ecosystems of content assets are gathered and built around a news article.

A platform-free operation requires an all-inclusive approach in content production. When planning a reporting project, we need to consider all forms of content: video, audio, article, photo, interactive features (data/map), etc. Get all these contents equally well produced, then push them through appropriate platforms.
A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy?

What is clear from the case studies below is that CIPD’s content challenges echo those of other knowledge businesses and that the move to digital involves a universal set of principles: the structuring, tagging and atomisation of content; search optimisation; the creation and leverage of rich media alongside textual content; communal and social engagement; the management of these content assets and activities in the appropriate content management systems; and the re-packaging, re-imagining and re-purposing of both evergreen content and new content for multiple channels to reach and engage the widest possible audience.

The Guardian/The Observer

In 2011 the Guardian announced the adoption of a digital-first strategy to reverse long-term revenue decline. (In fact the Guardian was the first to coin the term ‘digital first’.)

In writing about the announcement, journalism professor and Guardian contributor Jeff Jarvis outlines a new approach to news broadcast that sounds a lot like re-imagination.

[Think of]…news as a collection of pieces of Lego that can be stacked into many shapes… [making] better use of the “cutting-room floor of journalism” strewn with facts, interviews, anecdotes, and insights that don’t make it into an article, all “missed opportunities to engage readers”.
Jeff Jarvis, Digital First, what it means for journalism

The Guardian increasingly broadcasts in video, podcast and infographics. They have pioneered a community-centric approach to news, with lively comments forums below most articles, Live Webchats, and their Comment is Free section, where they ‘host hundreds of discussions every week on a wide range of topics, from across the world’.

And the digital first strategy is paying off. They are now the third largest English language newspaper in the world, and their 2013 results showed that just two years after the initial announcement, digital revenues had increased by 29% (exceeding the decline in print) and digital traffic growth rates of 15.5%.


PostMedia Network is the largest publisher of English-language daily newspapers in Canada. In 2011 it too announced a ‘digital first strategy’ and the formation of a Digital Advisory Board. Jeff Jarvis, who sits on the Digital Advisory Board outlines their emergent digital first journalism approach, a kind of reverse re-imagination:

Postmedia made articles the by-products of its recent national election coverage. The company had its reporters on campaign buses feed Twitter and Tumblr and post photos and videos all day, increasing the coverage and its currency. A “twin” back at Postmedia’s news service … turned these reports into blog posts and then, at the end of the day, into articles.
Jeff Jarvis, Digital First, what it means for journalism

The Financial Times

In 2013 the Financial Times also announced their digital first strategy. In a move aimed at securing the FT’s future ‘in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants’. In his email to staff, Editor Lionel Barber wrote:

…we must recognise that the internet offers new avenues and platforms for the richer delivery and sharing of information. We are moving from a news business to a networked business.

…we need to become content editors rather than page editors. We must rethink how we publish our content, when and in what form, whether conventional news, blogs, video or social media.

The New York Times

In May 2014 an internal report from the New York Times was leaked to Buzzfeed. The NYT’s Innovation Report makes for fascinating reading. It offers a hugely detailed and unique view into a traditional news organisation struggling with the shift to digital. Having carefully analysed the digital habits of successful competitors, the report presents a detailed and thoughtful blueprint for how to become a truly digital first news organisation.

The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest.
…At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our journalism to readers. We have always cared about the reach and impact of our work, but we haven’t done enough to crack that code in the digital era.

New York Times, Innovation Report, May 2014

News organisations can no longer depend on the audience navigating to a news item via the website home page: the NYT found a third of readers never visit the home page, and those who visit spend less and less time on it. Instead journalists must find their audience through a diversity of channels – social media platforms and news aggregators. The competition, as NYT states, is winning not necessarily because of better content but because of ‘sophisticated social, search and community-building tools and strategies’.

The NYT identified ‘Audience Development’ as their primary strategy in the move to a ‘digital first’ organisation.

[There are] several areas that we believe can position us for continued growth: discovery (how we package and distribute our journalism), promotion (how we call attention to our journalism) and connection (how we create a two-way relationship with readers that deepens their loyalty).

1. Discovery

We need to think more about resurfacing evergreen content, organizing and packaging our work in more useful ways and pushing relevant content to readers. And to power these efforts, we should invest more in the unglamorous but essential work of tagging and structuring data.

2. Promotion

‘[we must] take the process of optimization for search and social more seriously.’

A key factor behind NYT’s falling digital presence is a lack of promotion. For example, for each story the Huffington Post publishes, it generates a photo, a search headline, a tweet and a Facebook post. NYT admits it needs to ‘change our tools and workflows to optimize our content for search and social’.

3. Connection

‘…is critical in a world where content so often reaches its broadest audience on the backs of other readers’.

The Innovation Report also has some interesting points to make about the re-packaging (or ‘re-imagination’) of published content, the importance of metadata and the atomisation and longevity of content.

Re-purposing of old content

The NYT have been experimenting with ‘repackaging [their] content so that it’s more useful, relevant and shareable for readers’. For example they created a Flipboard magazine of the most prominent obituaries of 2014, which ‘became the best-read collection in the history of [Flipboard]’. But without their own curation platform, traffic was diverted not to the NYT site, but to a third party channel.

Collections would allow us to curate or automatically group our content in many different ways: by section, topic, byline, etc. They can be used to put a new frame around old content and connect the dots between pieces written over time in ways beyond the usual news format.

The importance of metadata

Without structured, tagged data, the NYT is ‘hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.’

All your assets are useless to you unless you have metadata

John O’Donovan, Chief Technical Officer, Financial Times, quoted in NYT’s Innovation Report

The importance of atomising content

In assessing the competition, the report cites Circanews, where each article is

broken into ‘atoms of news,’ such as facts, quotes, and statistics. That allows editors to quickly surface relevant content and context during breaking news.

The longevity of content

On the longevity of content the Innovation Report cites the viral promotion of a 161-year-old NYT article:

On Oscar night, The Times tweeted a 161-year-old story about Solomon Northup, whose memoir was the basis for “12 Years a Slave.”

But it was Gawker who seized the initiative and generated a story based on excerpts from the NYT piece, ‘It ended up being one of their best-read items of the year. But little of that traffic came to us.’

But ultimately the NYT has a crucial advantage over digital upstarts such as Buzzfeed and Huff Post: context. With a ‘treasure trove of evergreen content’ it can build roadmaps of discovery that give readers a greater understanding of the background to any given news item.

Whatever you call it, it all boils down to one thing: survival

Create Once, Publish Everywhere, re-imagination, platform-free, digital-first, single source, nimble content… Whatever you call it, it all boils down to one thing: survival. All these approaches are, in their most fundamental sense, about building the necessary content agility to support business agility in the Internet age.

Building a business case for COPE (part three): content agility

Hello. We’re still working on the business case for an investment to build a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content management solution at CIPD. And for those of you who’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that we’re couching the arguments around agility – one of CIPD’s core organisational values, and a principle that has become increasingly important for businesses looking to remain viable and relevant in the global, digital economy. In this post we’ll be looking at why we need to build agility into our content, what content agility means (in broad terms, this isn’t a DITA tutorial ;-)), and how content agility delivers value for CIPD.

From content sluggishness…

We’re left with cul de sacs of insights, when what we want are roadmaps of discoveryWithout searchable content managed in a central repository, we have no overarching view of our content portfolio at CIPD: what we own, or what can be re-used. Without a complete picture of what has come before, the Research Team are hampered in their efforts to create a rich body of content that builds on previous work, creating what my colleague Perry Timms (who has a flair for a rich metaphor) describes as ‘cul de sacs of insights, when what we want are roadmaps of discovery’. Updates to content are sluggish, ad hoc and inconsistent. Findings from the latest research reports do not cascade into our training output: it is extremely difficult to flow what we know into what we teach. content agility

The proposed implementation of Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) at CIPD involves the following four components:

  1. Content marked up using DITA XML standard
  2. Content enriched with metadata and taxonomical terms
  3. Content ‘modelled’ into logical, modular units
  4. Content managed in a CCMS and distributed via API

(See the previous post on COPE for more on this.) The proposed COPE framework, in tandem with robust editorial governance, will deliver content agility. We will be able to quickly and easily update and evolve CIPD’s content portfolio in a managed and systematic way, to adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities, and to meet customers’ growing expectations of first-class digital experiences.

So what makes content agile?


With COPE, content is ‘atomised’, broken into logical chunks, self-contained topics covering a particular concept or idea, stored and managed as modular units in a powerful database (a CCMS). These atoms of content can be re-assembled in countless combinations. Think of it in terms of Lego bricks, interlocking units with an almost infinite number of variations.



Each chunk is made intelligent with metadata – <tag>s that express the meaning and function of all of the elements within a unit of content. Metadata is the context and information that tells software programs how to handle content, that makes it meaningful wherever and however it is consumed. The more structure, the more meaning you add to content, the more agile it becomes.

Ironically, it’s more structure that makes content nimble and sets it free

Rachel Lovinger, Razorfish, The Nimble Report

The talented Judi Vernau and team at Metataxis have developed a new global metadata framework for CIPD that includes an expansive corporate taxonomy. The taxonomy is, in its simplest sense, the words we use to describe ourselves and the areas in which we operate, our ‘domain space’ if you will, and will be fundamental to our ability to search our content.


Rather than re-using content by copying and pasting, DITA XML supports re-use by ‘transclusion’, coordinating content updates in a revolutionary new way. A chunk of content is authored in/for one product (created once) and is used by reference (a hyperlink) wherever it is re-used in other products. This means that if the transcluded (ie the original) chunk of content is updated, it is also automatically updated in all other instances where that chunk appears. So the same information lives in many places, but is managed as a single asset. This supports both production efficiency, and content agility.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 17.27.37

Image from DITA Best Practices, Laura Bellamy, Michelle Carey & Jennifer Schlotfeldt


XML makes content agile. XML is not concerned with presentation. Content is encoded with structural and semantic meaning, but free of system-specific formatting. Other technologies take the instructions encoded in the XML (the metadata) to deliver the content in a specific way according to the audience accessing the content, the device its being accessed on.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 17.20.38

Being presentation agnostic means that XML can be quickly transformed into other formats, into HTML for online channels and e-books and into PDF (and from PDF into print). Fast transformations considerably reduce time to market. Easy transformations mean that we can meet customers’ diverse and sophisticated digital expectations.

Search and locate

Content encoded in XML can be programmatically and instantaneously queried and located. With CIPD’s content managed in DITA XML in a CCMS, we can search across the entire portfolio thematically – for example on the taxonomical term ‘organisational design’ or on a particular search string, for example ‘Ulrich’.

Some practical applications of content agility at CIPD

1. Exploit commercial opportunities

To fully realise the equity of our content portfolio we must be able to quickly and easily exploit our existing assets. CIPD develops a lot of training courses for large and small organisations. Our Client Development team currently spend a lot of time searching for content. We commission trainers to design training courses that very likely already exist but cannot be found or cannot readily be updated or re-purposed. The proposed COPE framework will increase the findability and availability of appropriate content, it will enable colleagues in the Client Development team to prepare tenders more efficiently, reduce course design costs, and improve course preparation and delivery times. And if we incorporate and build these courses around existing (up to date) content, we’ll be able to leverage our authority, expertise and our point of view – the core of what makes working with CIPD an attractive proposition for B2B clients.

2. Care for and cultivate our knowledge assets

Content is a business asset worthy of being managed efficiently and effectively.

Scott Abel,

Stale information undermines CIPD’s authority and relevance and our customers’ confidence in the brandStale information undermines CIPD’s authority and relevance and our customers’ confidence in the brand. With a single, holistic view of our content in a central management system we can more easily manage the post publication content lifecycle. We can search the database for particular date ranges and topics and review, refresh and (where appropriate) retire content accordingly. With CIPD’s content managed as discreet, logical units in a CCMS, it is relatively straightforward to extend the ROI of individual knowledge assets. We need only swap in a newer ‘chunk’, for example a new case study, to keep a report, for example, consistent, fresh, and relevant. Similarly the modular management of content supports the automated inclusion of region-specific case studies to tailor existing CIPD content to specific markets and territories. COPE helps protect the CIPD brand.

Inconsistency or contradiction damages your brand’s credibility and confuses users about what you stand for.

Colleen Jones, Clout, The Art and Science of Influential Web Content

With all content assets stored in a central, searchable library, we can compare content that covers the same subject area to check that it does not contradict, and consequently confuse. And where necessary we can – through transclusion – correct inaccuracies in an efficient, systematic and coordinated way.

3. Make ad hoc updates

When the language of our domain space shifts, we can quickly flex and adapt our messageWhen the language of our domain space shifts, we can quickly flex and adapt our message. For example, in an emerging field such as human capital metrics, language can change very quickly, the term ‘big data’ might no longer be seen to be very helpful, not scientific or specific enough; or the term ‘HR metrics’ might suddenly be displaced by ‘predictive analytics’. We will be able to search across content held in the CCMS to find where the older, outdated word is used, and update and refresh content with the newly dominant terminology.

4. Make predictable updates

There is some content that needs updating on a predictable basis, for example the four National Minimum Wage rates that change each October and statutory rates including maternity and paternity pay which change in April every year. These rates are referred to across the content portfolio. With content held in XML format in a CCMS, we can run a query to quickly locate such content wherever it appears. Content that is known to require regular or predictable updates can be managed as a ‘variable’ (eg @conref attribute), that because of transclusion can be updated efficiently and in a coordinated fashion across our content portfolio.

5. Respond to breaking news

When news breaks on a subject where CIPD has (or should have) a position, for example zero hours contracts, we can be agile in our response. Where the sum of CIPD’s knowledge is held in a central database we can interrogate our content, find and swiftly disseminate out the relevant messages, or re-assemble and re-position existing content according to changing priorities and shifting opinions.

6. Remain relevant and consistent in fast moving subject areas

This content agility will be particularly beneficial in the most dynamic space in which we operate: employment law. Not only can we update content as new law comes into effect, but we can also reflect and respond to legal rulings as they progress through the justice system, flowing updates through to the appropriate training materials, guidance notes, case reports, FAQs, etc. We can search and locate the relevant content that needs amending, and update in a connected and systematic way as the legal process develops.

7. Cascade research through the content value chain

The implementation of COPE at CIPD will give us a framework to routinely evaluate and update content across the portfolio based on latest research findings and CIPD positioning. We can cascade the latest research findings into existing assets, managing small updates through transclusion, and larger changes by adding in newer chunks of content from the research report. And when our research output challenges ‘received wisdom’ we can identify what needs updating and quickly make the necessary changes.

Speedy transformation and dissemination

For all of the examples above, efficient transformation and APIs connecting the content management system to our distribution channels enables the speedy dissemination of fresh, and relevant and consistent information.

And with the second phase of investment in a dynamic publishing server updates to existing content can be automatically pushed to customers who have already bought or are interacting with the content.

COPE is the architect of agility

The dictionary definition of agility is ‘able to move quickly and easily’. COPE is the architect of agility. With a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content management framework CIPD will have the ability to respond quickly to new commercial opportunities, to keep content fresh and relevant, to efficiently manage ad hoc as well as predictable content updates, to stay on brand with a fresh, relevant and consistent message.

Building a business case for COPE (part two): a brief detour into a proof of concept

As part of the ongoing endeavour to build a case for a Create Once, Publish Everywhere content management solution at CIPD, I was asked some time ago to develop a ‘proof of concept’: to demonstrate the potential for re-using content from our research reports in other products.

I’ve been struggling with this request for a while now, for a number of reasons. Firstly, having worked as a Project Manager in a previous life, ‘proof of concept’ to me felt like a technical challenge. Something that required some kind of small(ish)-scale technology implementation – the setting up an XML editor, a source code control system, and DITA OpenToolkit, not to mention some upfront IA to determine the right content model – to prove that we could re-mix content and produce something new. But I wasn’t sure that this was the right approach. Because the time and effort involved felt like it would further stall the project getting off the ground. Because setting up a DITA environment without a CCMS is a bit like trying to build a corporate website using Notepad and a directory system. Because after all that effort, we’d still only be able to show a relatively uninspiring PDF, maybe an ebook and some help-page style HTML.

And because… well because our research output, as it stands today, isn’t that user-friendly. We produce roughly 70 research papers a year. They’re interesting, certainly, and thought provoking a lot of the time. And they demonstrate to the world that we know what we’re talking about; that we are a serious institution. But – whisper it – some of them are a bit dull.

How do we capitalise on our ‘knowledge capital’?How do we take that flat, dry, academic content and use it to reach as wide an audience as possible? How do we re-use it in ways that not just inform, but delight our customers? How do we capitalise on our ‘knowledge capital’?

So this week I’m blogging about my ‘proof of concept’ journey and how we need to ‘re-imagine’ our existing publishing model. But first let’s look at our ‘as is’ state, which can be summed up in a three-letter acronym – PDF: my personal bête noire.

Why a PDF-only approach is an issue for CIPD and our customers

We currently produce most of our research content in text and graphics, published in PDF format, available for download from the report’s landing page on the CIPD website.

Content is difficult to find internally and on the website

Our research reports are written and edited in Word and laid out to PDF in InDesign and stored on a shared drive. Without labelling the files with metadata and without a content or document management system to store them in, our research reports are extremely difficult for internal users to find.

And our website’s confusing information architecture and sickly search engine makes it difficult for users (and colleagues) to find research content from within our site.

(Our website falls into the classic trap of perfectly representing our own internal model of the business, rather than organising information in a way that customers find useful.)

PDFs are difficult to read…

Readers have to scroll down and then scroll up ad infinitumWell certainly they’re tricky to read on tablets, and almost impossible to read on a smartphone. PDF has a zoom function, but unlike HTML, PDF s don’t adapt and reflow according to the screen size they’re displayed on. And lots of our research reports are laid out to a three-column design. Readers have to scroll down to read ‘below the fold’ on the first column and then scroll up again to read the top of the next column, ad infinitum.

(‘Above the fold’ on a website or screen is whatever is visible when the page first opens. Information that is ‘below the fold’ becomes visible only when the user scrolls down the page.)

With a non-responsive website, we already have a high bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who enter a site and ‘bounce off’ ie leave, rather than continue to view other pages) for users accessing the site using tablets and smartphones. Research by our online acquisition team last year found the bounce rate was 58% for mobiles and 50% for tablets, compared with 39% for desktop. The team also found that platforms more associated with desktop computers had a much higher download rate for PDF than platforms associated with mobile and tablet.

…So much so that no one is actually reading them!

What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

This provocative question comes from the Washington Post, in an article with the fantastic title: The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads. In fact, I think the title so wonderful, and so apposite, that I’ve blu tacked it to the wall behind my desk!

The World Bank releases hundreds of – long and highly technical – reports a year in PDF posted to their website. In answer to the question Is anyone actually reading these things? they analysed their web traffic data, and found

Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record. 

Wall Street Journal, The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads 

Well, that’s not quite true for CIPD’s research reports. Actually quite a lot of people are reading them – some of the most popular reports get around 1500 downloads, approximately 11% of our total membership (which proves there is great stuff in there). But that’s not as many as might read the research if the content was available in more formats, on a responsive website, in more easily digested chunks, distributed across more channels.

Re-use is extremely difficult

Re-use is difficult when you don’t know what content you have. But also, the research reports are developed and laid out in unstructured and inflexible formats (Word, InDesign) which makes extracting the text and images for re-use in other products, and other contexts, extremely difficult.

Often the entire report is re-used, impacting print costs, and wasting students’ timeResearch reports are often re-used within other products and by other departments at CIPD, mostly in our training courses and course materials, so there is an existing appetite, and a need, for re-use. But that re-use is manual; updates are ad hoc and uncoordinated. And because it is difficult to re-use the relevant excerpts, it is often the entire report that is re-used, impacting print costs, and students’ time.

A single distribution channel and format limits reach

Search engines will only index the research report once if it only appears in one place (ie on the report’s landing page). Search on ‘trust in organisations’ and you would hope to find the CIPD research report: Where has all the trust gone? but it doesn’t rank on Google’s first three pages.

To make content findable it needs to be available in as many formats, on as many channels as possible, and shared as widely as possible on social media.

A single distribution channel and format limits sharing

We have to ask ourselves not only how many people will read a 96-page report, but also how many will want to share it? Although we have the ShareThis social media button at the bottom of every research report’s landing page, users can only share a link to the entire research report, ie to the PDF. People are more likely to access and to share if there are more digestible content types available.

A single publishing format limits choice

Generally speaking, CIPD’s knowledge capital is published in flat, slightly dry, longish academic papers. They are not easy to digest for those who are time poor, for those whose learning preferences or styles do not favour dense academic argument, or for those who just prefer to consume content in other, less formal ways.

Increasingly customers expect to have many choices about how they consume content, appropriate to their needs, preferences and contexts: podcasts, videos, infographics, full text HTML on responsive websites, e-books, as well as print and PDF.

OK we get it: PDFs suck! What about that proof of concept? 

What is a proof of concept?

I find the first place to start, when I’m struggling with anything, is with a definition. According to Wikipedia, a proof of concept is:

a realization of a certain method or idea to demonstrate its feasibility, or a demonstration in principle, whose purpose is to verify that some concept or theory has the potential of being used.

So the proof of concept must set out to demonstrate in principle the feasibility of re-using CIPD’s research reports – the text and graphics currently locked away in PDF – in other products.

So we don’t need a proof of concept, but rather a paradigm shift

Although it is certainly of tremendous importance, we can’t build a sophisticated, systematic and innovative re-use capability at CIPD by simply(!) breaking up the text into chunks and managing it in DITA XML in a CCMS.

The text and graphical content alone isn’t ‘rich’ enough, isn’t sufficiently malleable, to meet all of our digital ambitions and our customers’ expectations.

Therefore the way that we currently produce and publish our research reports does not readily lend itself to a re-use model – there is no proof of concept per se that can be built out from our current research publishing activities.

Rather we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about the creation, publication and distribution of our research content.

Re-imagination: the new publishing paradigm

We still need to publish the in-depth research report, for those who want to access the academic research and to provide the bedrock of evidence to anchor CIPD’s reputation and the overlying strata of products and offerings.

But to get the full benefit of COPE, and to remain relevant and discoverable, we must develop a broad asset base of multimedia content around each research theme, to satisfy users’ varying content consumption choices, to extend CIPD’s reach, to innovate, and exploit new commercial opportunities.

We must re-imagine our research content.

…Treat anything you develop as pieces of a larger whole. View all of the pieces of content you plan to create as expressions of a single bigger idea. Or alternatively—if you are starting with something larger, like a white paper or ebook—think about how you can create smaller chunks of sharable content from that single content asset.

Ann Hadley and CC Chapman, Content Rules

We can, and should, approach this re-imagining from both ends: as well as breaking up the research report itself into reusable chunks of content, we should plan for and generate an ecosystem of rich media assets around a research report or topic.

But let’s first look at creating smaller chunks from the larger asset.

Breaking the whole into chunks: text and graphics

Developing a content model (ie the structure of how we break up the research reports in to logical chunks), applying rich metadata, and managing text and graphics from within a CCMS will allow us to:

  • Find content that already exists
  • Identify gaps and commission only what we need
  • Re-use text and graphic content in other product streams, eg training courses
  • Publish efficiently in new formats – full HTML on the website and ebooks (as well as catering to the demographic that still prefer PDF and print)
  • Translate text and graphic content
  • Manage content creation, editing and review workflows

That content has more flexibility, more re-formatting and re-use opportunities and output options. But this model still only leaves us with the text and the graphics we’ve created for the research report.

Develop a complimentary ecosystem of multimedia assets

Building an ecosystem of multimedia assets and resources around a single topic is relatively straightforward. We could record audio and video interviews with the CIPD research advisor, the authors and case study participants; take photos; produce infographics; blog – both during the development process (following John Stepper’s concept of working out loud), as well as to coincide with publication.

In fact we can, with relatively little effort, generate a third tier of assets associated with the research reports. CIPD runs numerous events and conference seminars that are tied to our research output. We could capture video and audio interviews from key speakers, record panel discussions, take photos, conduct vox pops with attendees, and so on.

We already take quite a bit of footage at CIPD events, but we’re not collecting these satellites of rich media assets in any coordinated, systematic way. Nor are we storing or tagging them in a way that means they can be easily found or associated with other related content.

Reimagine; don’t recycle. Recycling is an afterthought; good content is intentionally reimagined, at its inception, for various platforms and formats.

Ann Hadley and CC Chapman, Content Rules

With a little investment in the necessary hardware (which are relatively cheap; the smartphone in your pocket has high quality audio and video capability) and software, and some kind of media asset management system, we can intentionally re-imagine.

(Of course, we mustn’t forget that to comply with accessibility guidelines, video must include closed captions and transcripts must be provided for audio files.)

Use re-imagined assets to create enhanced and freemium products

Multimedia assets gathered during the development process can be included in a number of enhanced and freemium products, for example enhanced (ie EPUB 3) ebooks, digital training courses, MOOCS, themed collections, digital conference programmes.

So, there’s our proof of concept. Not really a proof of concept after all, but rather a plea for a fresh approach to developing, managing and publishing our research content – what Hadley and Chapman call ‘re-imagination’.

And what can we do with all those ‘re-imagined’ assets? Well, the only limit to re-imagination is our imagination.

Create Once, Publish Everywhere: what does it all mean?

Create Once, Publish Everywhere. COPE: a great acronym and a lofty ambition. But what does it actually mean? And what does it mean for the organisation that I work for – CIPD?

The name we’ve given the initiative to introduce COPE at CIPD is ‘Project Athena’. (We like to use Greek Gods as our project ‘code names’ at CIPD! We already have Caerus and Aurora in the pantheon.) Athena is the goddess of wisdom and the goddess of war, which seems appropriate, as we’re going to war on the chaos of content.

I’m currently working on the business case for COPE at CIPD. We’re looking for a large investment: not just in terms of money, but also time, resource and organisational change. Which means it had better be a convincing business case!

In this first blog post, I’ll explore the philosophy behind COPE, and in subsequent posts I’ll be rehearsing some of the arguments I’ll be using in the business case. Many of these are arguments and scenarios that we’ve been using for a while to help colleagues better understand the concept and how it will benefit our organisation.

What is COPE?

COPE: a great acronym and a lofty ambitionThe term Create Once, Publish Everywhere was devised back in 2009 to describe the content management strategy Daniel Jacobsen and his team were developing at US National Public Radio. (See Jacobsen’s blog post for a full account of COPE at NPR.)

COPE is a philosophy rather than a blueprint; it is, as Jacobson says ‘agnostic as to the build or buy/integrate decision’. COPE is a single source, multi-channel content management approach based on the following principles:

  1. Content should be encoded with semantic meaning, but be free of display and system-specific formatting.
  2. Content should be broken into, stored and managed as modular units.
  3. Content should be managed via a CMS (content management system) rather than from web-publishing tools.
  4. Content is published via an API (Application Program Interface) distribution layer.

COPE has become the benchmark for content-rich organisations that wish to originate and manage content from a single source for distribution in many combinations, across multiple platforms, devices and channels.

Diagnosing the problem

sick twitter bird icon

Infobesity: a cute name for a debilitating condition (Alex Ewerlöf)

CIPD is an organisation with a lot of content: a veritable chaos of content! We’re suffering from an ‘infobesity crisis’, corporate cognitive overload.

Our corporate knowledge assets are isolated ‘content islands’, stranded from one another, managed in many versions, in different formats on shared drives. We have no way of interrogating our content, often resulting in re-commissioning of content that already exists, and making it difficult to speak with a consistent voice, confusing customers and damaging the brand.

We need our content to do a lot of things for us, to educate, inspire, inform. We have a diverse portfolio of content – learning, research, informational, textbooks. And a diverse range of content outputs, formats, channels and platforms that must satisfy a broad range of customers with increasingly sophisticated digital habits and expectations.

It is increasingly difficult for our current content management workflows to support CIPD’s strategic objectives.

At CIPD, we’ve been working with Content Strategy consultancy Mekon to come up with a COPE framework that will work for our business.

How will we COPE at CIPD?

The four foundational principles of COPE at CIPD are as follows:

  2. Global metadata and taxonomy
  3. Content models
  4. CCMS and API layer

These map to NRP’s COPE principles in the following way:

  • DITA XML and the global metadata framework encodes content with structural and semantic meaning, but leaves it free of system-specific formatting.
  • Content models allow for content to be broken into, stored and managed as modular units.
  • The proposed tools and technology will manage the primary content in a CCMS rather than a web-publishing tool, or e-learning platform, etc.
  • An API layer will handle distribution to onward channels: website, Virtual Learning Environment, etc.


A much healthier looking avian: the DITA birdie.

A much healthier looking avian: the DITA birdie.

Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an open source XML data model for marking up and publishing content. It takes the name ‘Darwin’ because it has been built so that it can evolve to support a broad range of information types, from technical communication (where it originated) to books, journals and educational materials.

DITA supports the re-use of content. It treats content as discreet ‘chunks’, so that product might be built by pulling the relevant topics together by means of a ‘map’. Topics can then be included (reused) in many maps (documents).

Compared to other XML publishing standards, such as DocBook or NLM (for journals), DITA is more agile and more suited to the modularisation required of COPE and multi-channel publishing.

The other significant advantages of DITA XML are that it supports the automated updating of that re-used content, cascading changes to wherever the topics are referenced, as well as audience profiling, allowing for the filtering, flagging and display of content according to certain audience attributes (e.g. persona, qualification level, job type).

Global metadata framework

Metadata is the encoded knowledge of your organisation.

Metadata is the glue … that allows computers to be ‘smart’. It’s the stuff that makes ‘intelligent content’ intelligent.

Ann Rockley

Metadata provides additional context or information that tells software programs how to handle content. XML is not concerned with display; it is the presentation layer (CSS or XSL-FO) that uses the instructions encoded in the content (the metadata) to deliver the content in a specific way according to the device and platform it is being accessed on. It encodes structural, descriptive and administrative information (for the CCMS and workflow tools) so that organisations can retrieve, track and report on their content. Metadata enables customisation, to target specific chunks of content for particular devices or audiences segments. It helps internal users to find content and external users to find what they are looking for, chase elusive ideas, and make connections.

CIPD already had a metadata framework in place before we began our content strategy initiative. But metadata was applied to the web pages in the Web CMS rather than the source content. Only a small subset of CIPD’s content is managed in the WCMS, so it is impossible to interrogate the corporate content assets as a whole.

The implementation of COPE at CIPD includes a global metadata framework that can be applied across all content, systems and enterprise documents, and a new corporate taxonomy.

Corporate taxonomy

We’ve been working with information strategy consultancy Metataxis on our global metadata framework. As part of that work they’ve been developing a new corporate taxonomy.

A taxonomy is, in its simplest sense, the words we use to describe ourselves and the areas in which we operate. Our ‘domain space’ if you will. Our taxonomy will be fundamental to our ability to search our content within and across all of our internal and customer-facing content platforms. Coupled with a smart CRM strategy (which we’re also currently embarking on at CIPD), taxonomy will enable us to make connections between customers’ experiences and preferences and the content we deliver to them.

The taxonomy we’re currently building is of course a snapshot of CIPD in 2014. So we’ll be investing in a ‘Thesaurus’ metadata management tool, and setting up workflows, governance and QA processes to build the agility to flex and adapt the taxonomy as our domain space – CIPD and the world of work – changes.

Content models

One of the founding principles of COPE is that content is broken into, stored and managed as modular units. DITA works particularly well in this regard, based as it is on the precept that content is managed as topics. A content model describes the framework for how to architect and ‘chunk’ the content into intelligent components, so that it might be managed, re-used and re-assembled.

Content models should always be the output of a dialogue between content technologists and the business Content models should always be the output of a dialogue between content technologists and the business, and involve an audit of existing content and a judgement as to what an organisation might want to do with its content going forward. Content modelling must ask the questions:

  • Where and when might we want to re-use these chunks of content?
  • What are the potential destinations and audiences?

Content models also act as authoring templates to ensure content types are consistent and ‘on brand’.

CCMS and API layer

We’re currently reviewing candidate Component Content Management Systems (I’ll be blogging on this process in a few week’s time). But whichever platform we end up investing in, the principles are the same.

  • Content will be authored in a simple tool – authors will be writing in DITA XML, in chunks, but they won’t see any code.
  • Within this authoring environment our Subject Matter Experts – the people writing the content – can add the right taxonomical labels (the terms that describe what it is that they are creating). And assuming our onward channel delivery platforms are interoperable, based on open standards, that structure and meaning will flow through the content value chain, on its journey to our customers, however they find or consume it. (See my forthcoming post on Open standards and open platforms.)
  • The CCMS will handle version control, workflow, updates, and re-use. And when we say create once, ‘publish everywhere’ we mean publish everywhere. We will be able to efficiently manage translation and localisation workflows, supporting CIPD’s international ambitions.
  • The XML is sent to a transformation engine (DITA OpenToolkit) for conversion to different outputs – to e-book and PDF. And from PDF we can print.

But to truly exploit the potential of the CCMS – what I like to think of as the ‘foundational’ content technology – we will need to invest in an API layer, some kind of content server that can handle delivery to the various platforms and destination channels. This is what’s known as dynamic publishing, real-time delivery of targeted, personalised content to customers based on their individual interests and preferences.

Come along for the ride

So this is the journey we’re embarking on at CIPD. I’ll be blogging about it as we navigate the highs and the lows (hopefully not too many lows). I hope these posts will be of use to you if you’re interested in content strategy, or if you’re trying to implement something similar in your own organisation. If so: good luck and <foreign xml:lang="fr">bon chance</foreign> ;-).