Digital Transformation: The Content Modularization Problem

This is the fifth post in a series looking at what keeps financial services organizations from creating more of a TurboTax-like experience for their customers—i.e. a guided experience model, making use of the individual customer’s input to personalize the experience that customer then has in his or her dealings with your organization.

For those of you who came in late, I identified a total of seven problems that the average financial services firm faces in trying to improve customer experience (click here for my introductory post, and brief summaries of each of the seven problems):

  1. The Demographic Problem
  2. The Process Problem
  3. The Business Case Problem
  4. The Technology Problem
  5. The Content Modularization Problem
  6. The Compliance Problem
  7. The Digital Transformation "Tunnel Vision" Problem

We are now down to #5 on this list: The Content Modularization Problem.

When it comes to digitally transforming a data capture process, two things are critical, going forward:

  • First, that content creators conceive of content as modular components, capable of being reused (and updated when necessary) as individual elements
  • Second, having a good information architecture in place by which to organize and classify those modular components of content to facilitate that re-use (and updating)

Together, these can be the difference between success and failure. You can get every other part of the equation right, and if the content elements aren’t sufficiently modular, and the information architecture organizing those elements doesn’t work, then the entire thing will be nearly impossible to operationalize---never mind providing a delightful customer experience.

For detailed discussions of modular content, see “Modularizing Your Content for Simplicity and Productivity” by Tom Roberts (for how to plan your modular content approach) and “Challenges with Communications in the Retirement Services Market,” by James Watson (for an overview of one particular market where intuitive, guided customer experience is very much needed).

As for information architecture, what is it, and how does it impact the digitization of data capture?

Information architecture is, in the words of Richard Saul Wurman, “the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work—the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear.”

For our purposes, that means thinking about the way data capture environments are designed, irrespective of channel, so that only the essential elements, and nothing else, are delivered to the end user—for instance, your customer, sitting out there at a Starbucks, filling out a form. When done correctly, content modularization and information architecture can drive the creation, maintenance, and delivery of data capture through paper, PDF, mobile app, etc., through a single design environment. In fact, modern design tools such as Adobe AEM Forms or Intelledox have this way of thinking baked into the toolset. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have some serious work to do internally if you want to get it right.

In this post, I’ll contrast some of the old ways of designing data capture forms with a modern approach, and provide you with a model to begin thinking about content modularization and information architecture to drive digital transformation.

Traditional form design is not capable of supporting reuse of common components across form types and channel types. Under such design approaches, form templates that were not complete duplicates were handled as unique artifacts. Achieving digital transformation requires deconstructing the content which comprises existing artifacts, analyzing it to identify and isolate the constituent content modules, then rebuilding the information architecture for the library in which these modular content components will be stored, organized so that they can easily be re-used across multiple forms. Templates then pull the necessary content modules from the library to constitute the appropriate form, on the fly. If a change is necessary to a particular component, that change can be made in the individual component and then be populated across all of the templates which contain it. Going forward, future content is conceived and developed as modular components.

Note that a component can be a logo, a data element, or even a block of text (e.g. regulatory language). For instance, take the common example of a document that has regulatory requirements which differ by state. Under the old model, each state would have its own template. But with more advanced thinking, you can imagine a “parent” template which has variable data specific to each state. Now, it might not be realistic to have only one parent with 50 “child” relationships, corresponding to the 50 states. But organizations that have begun this journey have been able to find an operational middle ground between 50 parent documents (the current state) and one parent document with 50 children (the hypothetical future state).

The key terms of art for a modular approach to forms development are:

  • Templates define the layout of the content.
  • Rules define what variable to include (data rules) and how to alter layout, based on the amount of content in the generated document (layout rules).
  • Content refers to the text, graphics, and other objects that can be included in a document. Modern forms tools allow these objects to be highly granular, with the ability to re-use the same component across multiple templates, which simplifies maintenance and updates.
  • Data refers to the information (typically from line-of-business systems) that’s used to either populate the documents or to trigger rules.
  • The library manages all the templates, rules, and content components that are used and re-used at run-time to present forms or deliver documents.

The necessary content elements can be pulled from the library and then be used to generate a pre-populated PDF that the customer can either print and sign or e-sign. It can also be used to develop a guided experience similar to Turbo Tax so that a user need never realize that as they provide the requested information, they are filling out a form. But at the conclusion, the system is able to generate a form representing the transaction in question, which can then be memorialized internally in long-term archive.

Modularizing content and building this type of information architecture requires a combination of business analysis and design thinking. There is a level of art to getting at the data required for a particular transaction from a business perspective, along with the regulatory disclosures that need to be exposed and agreed to, while also maintaining an experience that is both intuitive and simple for a user.

Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.