Tuesday, February 10, 2009

State of the quest

It's been a long road advancing publishing technology. What started in earnest for me about 10 years ago has become something of a career track. I've played it on many sides, from development to management, to executive oversight, to consulting, to sales. What has remained constant in all of this activity is essentially an intense vision and pursuit of an ideal publishing environment. That ideal environment can be made up of systems, applications, formats, scripts, as well as people, vendors, and processes. But for business purposes, it should be judged as a whole.

It seems worthwhile to briefly review the ideal publishing environment at this time. What are its core features?

1. Frictionless. Content transformation is essentially effortless. Digital and print content of all kinds can be produced repeatedly without the use of manual production (whether performed by editorial, internal production, scripting support, or offshore teams). Producing a publishing product in any required format is essentially effortless once the environment is up and running and configured to do so.

2. Empowering. Empowerment of content developers, such as editorial, to concentrate on their work. This includes the use of the most powerful tools for writing and editing, and the best tools for design or media production. But it also includes an elimination of any production tasks performed by content developers, including file management, routing, tagging, etc. It must be noted, however, that an ideal publishing environment cannot be achieved with a laissez-faire desktop publishing mentality. Though desktop publishing creates the empowerment ideal, it comes at a cost for all of the other features of the ideal publishing environment. Some adjustment of how content producers and others work may be required. Finally, empowerment means that the publishing environment itself should not be so complicated as to get in the way of content development.

3. Immediacy. Ability to publish approved content immediately, with no delay of any kind and no time wasted on content production tasks. This can include no delay of any kind prior to publishing, in passing content from one user or group to another. This does not, it should be noted, mean any additional pressure on editorial or design to produce content faster, though the environment should, when necessary, be able to adapt to a higher pressure situation. It does mean that throughput is the fastest possible required to produce a normal publication.

4. Availability. Availability of content to the right people at the required time. Searching for content should be effortless. Retrieval of content should be at a level of granularity that requires no additional browsing of search results or within the retrieved content itself. Metadata such as rights information should be immediately available at the point of need - including at the point of editing content at any granular level. Additionally, no irrelevant metadata should be provided to users at various points in the process. Finally, availability may mean ease of content access among various devices and software applications.

5. Flexibility. The ability to reuse or customize content at an appropriate level of granularity to create new products. But this can also mean the ability of the environment itself to be quickly reconfigured for new purposes and product types. This in turn implies the ability of an environment to quickly, effortlessly, and iteratively adjust any its components to allow continual improvement of the publishing process.

If these are the 5 fundamental characteristics of the ideal publishing environment, how does your own environment rate? How do the CMS, DAMS, web and desktop applications, rights management systems, etc. that you are considering rate? How do they rate individually, and how do they rate as an integrated environment? Yes, this is more a forest through the trees exercise - how does the forest rate? I would like to propose that your current environment is measured, analyzed and rated in each of these 5 categories. Then you can come up with a strategy for taking your organization to the next level.

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