We all like to believe that knowledge is important, and possibly even accurate as well. Once that knowledge is documented, however, its value becomes fixed. Documents do not improve with age. If anything, they decline in value.
Now suppose I told you – in the mysterious voice of a magician, of course – that I can increase the value of your documents without actually touching the documents themselves?
The reveal: A good information strategy.
First of all, I can help you find those documents. Findability is something most people are willing to pay for. One industry estimate suggests that 14% of our workdays are spent looking for information; others say it’s more like 23%, 25%, 30%, or even 35%. IBM suggests that 42% of people use wrong information to make decisions, while IDC suggests that 40% of corporate users can’t find the information they need at all – and that 50% of intranet searches are abandoned. This is the world into which every document is born. Improving findability with a user-focused information strategy can give all of your documents a huge boost in value – or, if you prefer, those few documents you think deserve special treatment. Remember: If you can’t find it, you might as well not have it.
Findability by itself, however, probably isn’t good enough. You want to find things quickly, download quickly, and process quickly. Obviously I’m talking about speed. Technologically, you’ll need someone to address the actual physical-world speed with which content can be obtained, but increasing the speed between “it’s in here somewhere” to absorption is a strategy problem. Having a document show up in a list of 150 search results is not convenient; multifaceted search and well-designed search refiners add value by again reducing all that time wasted by looking for things.
Now I’ll go a step further and offer you timeliness. This is just a fancy way of saying “speed in context.” You want your information delivered so fast, and in the right-sized chunks, that you didn’t even have to request it. Maybe you didn’t even know you needed it! Real-time human-computer interactions, ranging from GPS devices to video games, are clear examples of delivering users “what comes next” without a need for a formal query. The IFTTT app is a great user-customizable example. In between these two are business workflows, big data applications, and automated compliance systems, all of which require some heavy-duty information strategy during development.
Now don’t forget accessibility. You might be getting what you need exactly when you need it, but it needs to be readable (and usable) under the circumstances, too. The ability to download, print, view on a mobile device, tweet about it, or report on it are value-add requirements that tend to be discovered quickly at the start of an IM project. Cloud-based technologies, responsive design, and touch interfaces are relatively new approaches for adding value through improved accessibility.
What do timeliness and accessibility have in common? They address context. I will now remind you of the most important kind of context out there today: personalization. Delivering content to the correct audiences (at the right time, in the right formats, using the right interfaces), when done well, really does feel like magic. To get halfway there, you’ll need to know information about your users and their tasks. To get the rest of the way there, I’ll have to talk to you about the structure of your content. By subdividing your content into smaller assets (e.g., using DITA), you open the door not only to maximizing content reuse (and reducing production costs) but also to more-personalized publishing and search systems. (Of course, this involves messing around with your documents, which violates the hands-off premise of this article. Oh well, maybe another time.)
For the grand finale, I am going to take this idea of context to the ultimate level. Personalization is only about people. I’m going to offer you interpretation. Semantic meaning is the holy grail. What does each document mean to any one person, at this time? If the information strategy contains enough smarts to read the user’s situation (timeliness), then it should also have the smarts to know what that situation means in the larger context of the user’s environment, the business. A highly interpretative system means you can manage all of the associations between all of the content and all of the users’ contexts.