Will Digital Transformation Destroy the Concept of Content?

Digital Transformation redefines the concept of content.

What does it mean when you apply Digital Transformation to the content management space? You may be shocked, but one of the most important affects of Digital Transformation is that destroys the very idea of content all together.

Let me give you an example: the classic case of account onboarding. Past processes depended on the client using paper or electronic forms, some form of signature (ink or electronic), and then lots of manual processing to extract the data, open the account, and distribute the appropriate disclosures and notifications back to the client either through paper or via electronic means. (See Digital Transformation: The Process Problem.)

Digital Transformation takes business processes and converts them to capture and automation channels based on data.

Digital Transformation has moved content from a business-process stream and interaction with the client to capture and automation channels that are based purely on data. The content, if there needs to be any, becomes relegated to the role of a receipt that proves that the transaction took place in the first place. That receipt serves as an official record. But nothing about the transaction itself depends on a particular piece of “content.”

In the Age of Digital Transformation, it’s easy to imagine what the business world looks like without content. The customer uses an app or web based interface to open an account in the example above. Authorization is handled through the company’s secure sign-on and not by any form of signature. And process automation handles the computation of the data. Even those pesky disclosure notices are distributed via the channel of the company’s (or customer’s) choosing. (Read, also: Digital Transformation Shakes Up ECM Priorities.)

A world without (traditional) content.

But what does this no-content world look like for a process that appears to be entirely based on content? How is content destroyed in such a process?

Let's use the example of an operations manual for a heavy piece of machinery. Today, it’s usually the engineering team responsible for product design that creates manuals.

In a pre-digitally transformed world, a variety of tools might be used for authoring, depending on the team. A manual might be created using everything from simple Microsoft Word documents to more complicated Extensible Markup Language (XML) technology. Either way the review and approval process for the manual typically is handled through e-mail (the poor man's workflow tool) and in-text-editing. When the manual finally is published, either electronically or in paper form, it is a static document.

Making content intelligent, where changing conditions affect the information.

But what if we wanted to design a manual that was intelligent? Instead of the user needing to know that there are a different sets of procedures for operating the machine, say in extremely cold temperatures, the manual itself would know the weather and alert the user ahead of time that there are unique SOPs embedded in the “standard” manual that could cause a delay in their work for the day. In order to operate the machinery, then, in cold weather, we go back to destroying the content artifact. A slightly revised manual, tailored for current conditions, is created.

Aligning metadata frameworks around content snippets.

Of course, we still need human-readable words that exist as text snippets. These either can be read on the screen or read by an automated assistant like Siri or Alexa. The critical work, therefore, is creating a metadata framework around those snippets—creating a rule set that aligns the appropriate content snippets to a variety of conditions that impact the operations of the machine. The whole process builds an engine that pulls location-aware data from external sources, and applies that process in a consistent manner. When updates need to be made they can be applied as a patch to the original manual and not as a wholesale swap.

The work of Digital Transformation in content management is all about destroying the content. This will be difficult for those organizations that have never even fully digitized their content or even are attempting to play catch-up to get to a state that, in reality, is already out of date.

How Doculabs can help with Digital Transformation—and redefining how you work with content.

That’s why the smart thing to do is to evaluate opportunities in your own environment where you can leapfrog from a static- or paper-based process beyond the simple digitization of content. You need to begin designing tools that can serve your customer's needs based on data—and not based on content.


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