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August 2015 Chapter Meeting Summary: Suzanne Mescan on Component Content Management Systems
2015, Q3 2015, Q4 (September 02, 2015)
By Catherine Sprankle, Chapter Member

Catherine Sprankle
Catherine Sprankle
Suzanne Mescan, Director of Marketing at Vasont Systems, gave a presentation at the August STC Carolina Chapter meeting on “How a Component Content Management System Can Save Your Sanity.” Her presentation covered what a component content management system or CCMS is, how it works, and how a company’s implementing one can benefit the technical writer.

A large company might have dozens of different products, each having documentation describing operations that might be similar across many products. These descriptions all need to be consistent with one another and use voice and vocabulary consistent with the company’s style. Suzanne began her talk by describing the difficulties that might be encountered if you’re using Microsoft Word to manage all these documents:
  • If a single sentence used in 50 documents changes, it will take about 2-1/2 hours to make that change in the Word documents by copying and pasting.
  • Your previous version won’t be preserved after you make the change.
  • You’ll still need to make the change in your online help and ePub editions.
  • You’ll need to make sure the change is made in every language that your documents are published in.

How can a CMS help?

A CCMS is a database-based system that can greatly simplify these processes by acting as a “control tower” for your documents and processes. In a CCMS, content is stored (typically in XML) as individual components rather than full documents; these components become the building blocks for your publication. Writers develop topics rather than books, and they are free to focus on content quality rather than formatting, because formatting is automated as part of the downstream component processing.
Advantages of a CCMS include:
  • Everything is in one repository: no more searching on multiple servers for a document, or asking a colleague for something that’s stored on her hard drive.
  • A single component can be reused in many documents, and each instance can be kept current by editing the component just once.
  • Content can be edited, reviewed, and approved as it’s ready rather than having to wait for the whole document.
  • Ownership and editing rights for certain content (such as legal text) can be limited to certain users or groups.
  • Repetitive processes are automated, saving time and money.
  • Systems include powerful search engines that can help track content.
Vasont Systems has conducted studies of the efficiencies that can be realized by implementation of a CCMS. Clients have reported cost savings of 52% in editorial and development, 58% in production, and 78% in translation. Clients have also reported reductions in cycle time of 59% in editorial, 80% in translation, and 85% in production. The bottom line is a 55% reduction in resources to produce the same content.

How can writers benefit from a CCMS?

Suzanne closed her presentation by describing the opportunities that a company’s implementation of a CCMS might open for a technical writer. The first step, she emphasized, is being on board with the transition. Use of CCMS is going to become more common, especially for large companies, as the efficiencies are realized. Roles for writers in a CCMS environment include:
  • An information architect or content strategist knows how the content is organized and styled and understands the business’ strategy and goals.
  • A documentation team leader defines new procedures.
  • A senior level writer or project manager oversees modular content and images.
  • Other roles include technical editor, content management specialist, conversion specialist, and localization manager.
The best way to get experienced with a CCMS is working for a company that uses one, as these systems tend to be highly customized. Vasont typically initiates interactions with a client by asking them to fill out a questionnaire about their needs and planned uses of the systems so they can properly plan for the initial demo.

To watch the meeting recording and view Suzanne's slides, see http://stc-carolina.org/Save+your+sanity+with+a+CCMS.

Catherine Sprankle can be reached at cssprankle at yahoo dot com. Read more articles by Catherine Sprankle. End of article.

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