Teachers need content management systems, too

The Guardian has an article today called “Teachers and parents criticise ‘robotic’ software-generated school reports“. It explains teachers are finding report writing software isn’t meeting their needs:

“It often frustrated as none of the options would quite capture what he wanted to say about a child and the end product was never satisfactory.”

It states, as an alternative, some teachers have a comment bank, which they use to cut and past into school reports. One teacher said

“I’ve got a bank of literary comments, maths comments and general comments. You can pick one that sounds about right, whip it out and plonk it in.”

A better solution might be a content management system that could contain a single-sourced comment bank, templates and some advice of what to write where.

As the spokesman for the National Association for Head Teachers said:

“Headteachers invest a lot of time and effort into making sure this happens. Technology can help that process but it should never get in the way of a truly personal report for each and every child in the school.”

How much content can you actually re-use when you move to single sourcing?

One of the challenges when considering moving to a single sourcing authoring environment, such as DITA, is determining the Return on Investment. This often boils down to a key question: how much content can you actually re-use?

Organisations typically attempt to answer this question in a number of ways:

  • Conducting a semi-manual information audit of the existing content to identify the number of times the same chunks of information is repeated. Unfortunately, this can be a large and lengthly exercise.
  • If the content is translated, getting reports from Translation Memory tools indicating where content might be repeated. Unfortunately, if you’re not translating your content, you won’t have this information.
  • Using benchmark industry measures. Unfortunately, these can vary enormously (from 25% to 75% content re-use), and your situation may be totally different.

In an ideal world, you’d be able use an application that could look at all your content and give you a report telling you the where content is repeated. It could do the “heavy lifting” in the information audit automatically for you. This programmatic analysis of reuse within existing content, at an affordable cost, is now starting to become possible.

Continue reading “How much content can you actually re-use when you move to single sourcing?”

Tackling the challenge of writing sales proposals and RFQs

Standards and processes permeate nearly every area of business today. They enable management to control, direct and delegate, giving people the ability to focus attention on the more difficult issues the business faces. Processes drives predictability, consistency and efficiency.

Despite all these benefits, sales departments have been much slower to move down this path. Sales people usually baulk at the idea of processes, complaining that “form-filling gets in the way of actual selling”.

Yet, according to Dario Priolo and Bethany Schultz, from sales training company Miller Heiman,

Our research clearly shows that “Winning Sales Organizations” take a much more scientific approach to selling and sales management than others. While there will always be a certain art to selling, it’s an increasingly sophisticated business world…How much better would a CEO sleep at night if he knew his sales force had a consistent, professional approach to interacting with customers! An improvement in these factors helps drive revenue predictability, reduces cost of sales and increases sales force productivity—all critical business objectives.

Miller Heiman argues that a sales process can help sales people “sell more and sell faster”.

Any successful initiative must include tools to streamline the process and remove any barriers to change. In this context, it makes sense to streamline one of the most time consuming aspects of selling – responding to Request for Quotation and other forms of sales proposals.

As we mentioned in our post “Building intelligence into business documents“, it’s now possible to create a system that can build the bulk of the document in a matter of minutes, leaving the writer with the task of customising the information to suit the requirements of each particular situation. These systems can even include training videos and text to guide a writer through the process of developing a new document, as well as enforce consistency and standards.

In the near future, we’ll be providing details on some the solutions available to organisations that want to improve the process of writing sales proposals and RFQs.

What does a Help Authoring Tool give you over Drupal?

Comparing Help Authoring Tools (HATs) with Drupal is like comparing apples with oranges.

HATs are used by Technical Authors to create content in various formats for end users to read. Drupal is open-source software that is used to create websites for users such that they can contribute to the content (for example: blogs, personal or corporate websites, e-commerce sites and intranets).

That said, if you are a HAT user and then have to work in Drupal, it is useful to be forewarned of the main differences. The top 3 things that a HAT user will miss when starting to use Drupal:

1. The most frustrating thing about using Drupal, having come from a HAT background, is having no summary list of pages (topics) available in a different frame.

As an Administrator in Drupal, you can view a list of pages, but you can only edit the properties of one page at a time. There is no multiple-selecting and no drag-and-dropping. So topic management can be very labourious.

2. Out of the box, there is no way of managing links. So, for example:

  • If you delete a page then all links pointing to it will break, and there are no messages to warn you.
  • When creating a link in a page you have to know the path and name of the destination page – there are no helpful lists of available pages.

There are modules you can install, which can help. The “Links” module is the most complete on paper but, in Drupal 6, it can cause a programming error (i.e. not an error in the way I installed it).

3. Out of the box there is no WYSIWYG editor. For the majority of HAT users this is a must. You can only write your content in full/filtered html.

I highly recommend installing the “Wysiwyg” module. This module makes it much easier to install WYSIWYG editors. Some of these are less successful than others. If you are interested in keeping your underling code clean (i.e. free from unnecessary <span> tags created by inline styling), I recommend the “TinyMCE” editor.

Video of a simple report writing solution

Here’s a video of a proof of concept prototype we’re putting together for a client. The system automates the creation of field reports. It creates a skeleton document, with key content populated. Many pages contain guidance on what to write.It is probably the lowest cost content management system we’ve put together.

If you can see the video below (there’s a problem viewing it on the main page of the blog) you can view it here.

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AuthorIT Live!

Ray Duncan from AuthorIT was in town this week, and I had an excellent chat with him yesterday afternoon. It was a great opportunity to throw out some suggestions for their product, and to get an update on what’s due out in the near future.

AuthorIT Live!, which is due out very soon, sounds really exciting. It should offer a great environment for collaborative authoring – a flexible environment for professional technical authors and a controlled environment for engineers; access to the system wherever there’s a PC with broadband access; plus all the other existing AuthorIT capabilities.