Technical communication and technical writing have become a constantly evolving field, from providing support for products to a knowledge-centered field that focuses on contributing knowledge that adds value to an organization. As it evolves its needs have become more complex and dynamic, hence the need for content management systems.
This article summarizes the role and advantages of a component content management system (CCMS) in technical writing.
- What is CMS and CCMS?
- Features of CCMS
- The benefit of CCMS in technical writing
Content management systems, Component content management systems, technical communications, Technical writing, technical documentation
Technical writers produce diverse content, from business documents to technical manuals, marketing materials, and a wide range of other textual and audiovisual data. The way these contents are saved, organized, and modified can have a big impact on the productivity and efficiency of a project.
Content management systems (CMS) are platforms designed to save, collect, organize, modify, and publish content in diverse mediums. They can be described as text editors run by a relational and searchable database. A content management system enables technical authors to know what exists, where it exists, if it even exists, and who published it.
Common CMS editors for technical documentation include:
- MadCap Flare
Component content management systems (CCMS), on the other hand, are a type of CMS that segments content into discrete, self-contained components that can be easily shared and reused across a wide range of publications and channels. They enable technical writing teams to create, manage, publish, and store content at a granular level (component).
Common CCMS editors for technical documentation include:
- Oxygen XML-Author
- Adobe FrameMaker
The primary difference between a typical CMS and a CCMS is the level of content management. A typical CMS manages content at a document level, while a CCMS manages content at a component level.
Components here refer to self-contained, structured, and reusable information that has "the ability to be recycled in numerous outputs for multiple audiences."
Within CCMS, content is managed at the level of words, paragraphs, topics, concepts, or assets, usually through the use of an XML-based data model like Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) or DocBooks.
Two main features that separate CCMS from other content management systems are metadata and granularity. Metadata enables CCMS editors function regardless of scale, while granular control of components distinguishes and adds special functions to CCMS.
Until the emergence of CCMS and other component-based authoring tools, Microsoft Word was the most frequently utilized tool for documentation. In that era of Microsoft Word-based documentation, technical writers had to worry about both content and layout, which were tightly intertwined. Changes to either content or the layout usually caused problems with the later, hence an additional publishing application is usually necessary to generate sophisticated formats that Microsoft Word does not support, such as EPUB or CHM.
If documents shared information, the most common method of reuse was copying and pasting. When the reused information was updated, it had to be manually updated everywhere it was used, which resulted in inconsistent and out-of-date content.
When documents were written for users who spoke a variety of languages, the manual burden of copying and pasting increased as the number of languages increased. Also, documents were often kept on the local computers of technical writers and were not uploaded and shared until they were completed, creating barriers for technical authors to reuse information written by others, limiting access to other departments, and generating safety and knowledge management issues. This kind of technical documentation process, which produces inefficient effort, inconsistent and out-of-date information, and dissatisfied users, could be resolved using a content management system.
CCMS empowers organizations and technical writers to:
The capacity to reuse information using a single-sourcing technique, which prevents information inconsistency, saves the time spent updating information, and lowers the cost of both authoring and translation, is one of the major benefits of adopting CCMS. CCMS also has a variety of built-in, branded templates and corporate taxonomy alignments, which can eliminate design inconsistencies and improve the end-user experience.
CCMS enable technical writers to search for a keyword in a publication and jump to a specific page without logging in to multiple systems. The built-in reporting system, enable authors to see exactly where each piece of content has been used (and reused). Also, thanks to metadata tagging, technical authors can track content lifecycle and tag properties at the component level (paragraph, image, question table, etc.). Data is provided at the most granular level, which can state; who authored a specific piece of content, to when it was last modified, expiration dates, and more.
With centralized, reusable content, built-in publishing templates, collaborative processes, and seamless upgrades at the component level, CCMS reduces publishing time. Also, translation costs are reduced and communication is streamlined with collaborative review sessions, real-time feedback, as well as the ability to track activity at the version level to gain an accurate picture of content and user histories in order to support legal discovery, simplify audit requests and facilitate regulatory compliance.
The cost of adopting CCMS can be a pain for many companies, but in reality, it saves you a lot of money in the long run. CCMS offers a better way to create, store, and deploy content by automating and simplifying the workflow of documentation, which enables you to leverage information assets and promote collaboration on a fundamental level.