Editorial November/December 2020

From the Guest Editor

Information-Enabled Organizations: Building Content Capabilities to Support Exponential Growth

 

By Scott Abel | STC Associate Fellow

A new breed of institutional organism is changing the way you live and work. They’re called Exponential Organizations, and they are 10 times better, faster, and cheaper to run than others. They’re capable of scaling their operations at many times the rate of traditional companies, using considerably fewer resources.

In this issue of Intercom, I bring together a group of internationally acclaimed thinkers and practitioners to discuss the changing future of organizations and the role that information will play in their exponential growth. This issue’s focus, information enablement, is a little-known and infrequently used term that means something different to everyone you ask.

For our purposes, an information-enabled organization is one that can put its information and data to use for any business purpose, on demand and at scale. That’s a lofty goal that requires us to develop a suite of information-based capabilities powered by accelerating technologies. It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

In This Issue

In “Information Enablement and Exponential Growth,” sought-after strategist and best-selling author Salim Ismail introduces the information-enabled enterprise concept and shares three ways that companies become information-enabled. Ismail, the cofounder of Singularity University, has spent the past few years studying organizations that grow exponentially, and he highlights the scalable capabilities needed for businesses to survive and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In “ContentOps as Information Enablement for Exponential Growth,” content operations guru and STC Fellow Rahel Anne Bailie challenges us to understand that exponential growth means not only changing how we produce content but also transforming our organizations. Bailie makes the case for acknowledging that digital transformation “is not a trivial effort or cosmetic change. It’s a metamorphosis in the same way that a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly.” She points out a natural synergy between the methods used in the production of technical documentation and the needs of organizations that aspire to grow exponentially. Bailie says, “Technical communicators have been scaling content production for years, using more and more sophisticated tools and techniques.”

Megan Gilhooly builds on the topic of scalability in “Lessons Learned from the Trenches: Understanding How Organizations Scale,” her from-the-trenches interview with executive coach and Harvard Business Review columnist Karen Walker, who shares her knowledge and experience helping global organizations to scale. Gilhooly documents the three essential things that Walker says technical communication teams must do to produce content at scale.

Also on the subject of scalability, technical documentation maven and content strategy expert Sarah O’Keefe helps us understand why organizations invest in building scalable content production capabilities in “Investing in Scalability: The Capability That Helps You Remove Friction from Your Content Lifecycle.” “As an organization grows,” O’Keefe says, “so too does the need for scalable content operations. Failing to develop the capabilities needed to scale content production can result in your organization falling behind, unable to meet the needs of the prospects you hope to convert and the customers you aim to serve.”

Selling the need to develop new capabilities is challenging if you don’t focus your pitch on the right things, as intelligent content consultant Mark Lewis describes in “Selling the Value of Capability to Leaders.” In it, he shares with us his “huge mistake” attempting to gain approval for funding from management: “If I had focused on selling him a capability that mapped to his desire to bring in more revenue (the result he cares about), he might not have dismissed my request abruptly.” Lewis’s lesson learned: “Don’t waste time trying to sell the solution. Sell the capability to adapt. Sell the ability to adjust as an enterprise capability, a scalable capacity that spans departments.”

Far too often, technical communicators speak in a language that’s foreign to business leaders. While we claim to be masters of communication, we tend to miss the mark when it comes to selling the value of the changes we’d like to see. Copywriter Tim Ludwig shares his thoughts on how to clearly communicate the value of capabilities when making the business case to leaders—especially when asking for money—in “Selling the Value of Content Deliverability: Translating ‘Tech Comm Speak’ for Decision Makers.”

Enterprise content strategy expert and member of the Consortium of Personalization Professionals Kevin Nichols explores content personalization—an ability nearly every organization today needs—in “Content Personalization Provides Valuable Capabilities Across the Enterprise.” Nichols provides a solid overview of the benefits an organization can expect when developing personalized content experiences at scale. He helps us understand how to better explain the value of personalization by providing three use case examples.

Global content strategy master Val Swisher and experienced technical communicator and content strategy whiz Regina Lynn Preciado provide us with a quick lesson on personalization in “Quick Lesson: The Key to Delivering Personalized Content Experiences at Scale.” They share the secret recipe for personalizing content at scale by exploring the subject of their new book, The Personalization Paradox. Their ideas might initially seem counterintuitive, but once you understand how the five dimensions of standardization allow for personalization, it all makes perfect sense.

Many Thanks

Long before anyone heard of COVID-19, I proposed this theme and agreed to guest-edit this issue and curate content from knowledgeable contributors. As it turns out, recruiting and managing content production projects can be difficult under the best circumstances. Competing priorities often get in the way of contributors meeting deadlines. Sometimes unexpected things happen.

To pull this issue together, this issue’s contributors overcame various personal and public obstacles—everything from irritating inconveniences, like intermittent power and internet outages, to disaster-related emergencies, like evacuations due to hurricanes and raging wildfires.

I want to thank our contributors for making this issue of Intercom a reality. Your unswerving willingness to share your knowledge and expertise with our readers is appreciated.

 

References

Swisher, Val, and Regina Lynn Preciado. 2020. The Personalization Paradox: Why Companies Fail (and How to Succeed) at Delivering Personalized Experiences at Scale. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press.

World Economic Forum. 2016. “What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” YouTube, 18 July 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpW9JcWxKq0.

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