Digital Directions: 8 Tips for Driving Digital Change in Your Company
Here are the best ways to begin or continue to get traction in the digital realm in 2010.
1.Have a three- to 30-month digital plan.
Map out a plan for digital initiatives that will take place between three and 30 months from now. Include activities related to content conversion, digital process innovation, digital asset conversion and management, digital product development and digital marketing. Why three to 30 months? The next 90 days is already committed, and too much will change in the next 30 months—there are too many variables.
2. Make greater use of Word templates.
I know this one sounds terribly mundane, but hear me out: Digital content assets have more value when they are well structured. Content that adheres to a well-defined structure will support content reuse and management. One simple way to generate highly structured textual content is with the use of a set of standardized Word templates in the editorial workflow. The standardized use of Microsoft Word templates is the most readily accessible approach for creating well-structured content, without completely reengineering your editorial workflow.
Systems that support automated, scalable processes require data files to adhere to predefined formats. When digital content is developed with the use of a predefined, well-structured Word template, it can be automatically processed, including—but not limited to—conversion to XML.
3. Think mobile in 2010.
The mobile platform is our third delivery medium, after print and Web. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the market often perceives Web-based content as an offering that is or should be free. Mobile applications and services do not have that unfortunate baggage. Consequently, the mobile platform may be more able than the traditional Web to support services that can generate incremental revenue. Make the commitment to do something mobile, salable or otherwise, in 2010.
4. Tend to your metadata.
Metadata is the set of data fields that describes your content. It may be bibliographic in nature or semantic, identifying the subject matter of the content. Metadata adds value to content, and aids in content organization and distribution. It should be well defined, well populated, standardized and regularly maintained. Metadata should go beyond the bare-bones set of fields necessary to support ONIX feeds, but should provide a detailed description. Is your metadata all it can be?
5. Create a digital steering committee.
Digital technologies are necessitating the fundamental transformation of publishing organizations. An important tool in successfully navigating this transformation is in the formation and support of a digital steering committee, a cross-functional body that is charged with identifying and addressing issues related to digital media, including digital asset management, digital distribution and product development. This is about fundamental change, not just “IT issues” or “the Web site” or “Kindle.” Every functional department needs a place at the table. And while we are at it, don’t fill up the group with just senior management.
6. Create audience-centric digital offerings.
Reading digital versions of physical books on proprietary e-book readers is not a very compelling vision of the digital future. There is a tremendous range of new options available in determining how content can be delivered: how it is chunked, how it is formatted, how users interact with content online … even the device on which it is viewed. How do you decide which way to go? Listen to your customers. Your audience should drive the direction of digital delivery. Ask questions (and listen to answers!). Watch how people interact with content, how they use it. This is the way to creating breakthrough digital products that respond to the marketplace.
Focus groups and surveys are a few of the more conventional ways of collecting this customer insight. Other ways include analysis of activity on your Web site or partner sites, such as Amazon.com. Some of the most interesting cues into product strategy may well come from outside the traditional sphere of books, such as from the world of social media.
7. Deepen your digital talent pool.
Digital publishing requires new skills and capabilities. This goes beyond the obvious IT talent needed—and calls for new skill sets in editorial, design and marketing. How do you do that when you’re in a hiring freeze? First, invest in training for your most talented staff. Second, build a roster of contract talent to bring in when needed. It’s not necessary to have every skill set on staff, but organizations that make digital-talent development a priority will have a clear competitive edge.
8. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
In the current climate, fiscal prudence is an absolute necessity. However, paralysis by analysis or over-caution may well be a fatal organizational disorder at a time when fundamental change is taking place. Developing successful digital production and digital content-delivery programs often requires exploring alternatives and refining them over multiple iterations. Begin initiatives on a limited basis, discover what solutions work best, and ramp up the best approaches.
A wait-and-see attitude may seem appropriately parsimonious, but organizations that are waiting on the sidelines will likely lose advantage in 2010 to competitors that are further along the learning curve.
Andrew Brenneman is founder and president of Finitiv, a provider of digital content solutions. He has been leading digital media initiatives at major media and technology organizations for more than 20 years. Contact him at Andrew@Finitiv.com.