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Making the Case for Content Management

Rahel Anne Bailie Nina L. Junco
President, Intentional Design Inc. Technical Communications Supervisor, A-dec Inc.

Knowing intuitively that we can benefit from a content management system is not enough to convince management to open their wallets. Assembling effective metrics is one part of the equation, along with creating a compelling story and garnering executive support. We need to demonstrate the benefits and make a business case that justifies the cost and effort, if not for our management, then for ourselves.

What brings us to content management is inevitably a pain point in our organization-a need to fix a business problem or forestall a potential problem. We may be drowning in information, going through a corporate restructuring that leaves us doing more with less, adapting to an accelerated business model, or participating in a risk management assessment that includes accuracy metrics for user support material. No matter what the trigger might be, we are usually responding to a need within our department or organization to find a better way to manage corporate content.

Aligning Content Management with Corporate Business Drivers

Understanding corporate business drivers is an important factor in making the case for content management. The business logic is relatively straightforward. Organizations are in the business of making a profit. Organizations value initiatives that contribute to profitability. Organizations support what they value. Organizations fund projects they support. It follows, then, that to make the case to fund a content management project, we need to garner corporate support on an initiative that management recognizes as contributing, ultimately, to the profitability of the organization.

Our challenge, then, becomes to find the business drivers that resonate with management. The business drivers can be quite diverse, from increasing market share to reducing time to market, from decreasing operating costs to increasing perceived value, from mitigating legal liability to regulatory compliance. Once we determine what the business drivers are within our organizations, we can propose content management to align with the other initiatives are on the corporate roadmap.

How convincing we are depends on the way we express the need for content management in relation to those other initiatives. Figure 1 illustrates ways to demonstrate how content management supports business drivers within our organizations.

Executives Need Metrics

Articulating how the investment in content management supports the particular business drivers of our organization is one part of the equation. The second part is supporting our position with data that predicts how content management improves profitability.

The basic measurements of value fall into two categories:

  • Return on investment (ROI), the difference between the cost of the investment activity and the expected measurable change, which is expected to result in an increase in revenue.
  • Internal rate of return (IRR), the difference between the cost of the investment activity and the expected measurable change, which is expected to result in a decrease in costs.

For example, investing in content management could have two different effects, which would be expressed in different ways. In an ROI scenario, the content management system might allow the same number of staff to create and maintain a new communication channel that increases sales. In an IRR scenario, the same investment may not affect sales, but allows a department to create the same amount of material with less staff.

By providing metrics to management, we provide them with the ammunition needed to make an informed decision. To paraphrase the vice-president of a company eager to implement a content management system: "The executive team had totally bought in from the first presentation, but until the analysis phase was done and the consultant had run the numbers, there was no way we could go forward until we'd done our due diligence." The final presentation was only a few slides long, and the focus was on comparing end value to the company. Shown were actual costs, projections without content management, then the same projections with content management, plus implementation costs. What was demonstrated, in this particular case, was that the time and cost to meet the business requirements would be cut by over sixty percent, after the cost of implementing the content management system-a very strong rationale for going forward.

Some of the metrics needed to make our case can be determined on our own, but there is a strong case for collaborating with management. First, managers must make calculations on a regular basis for all sorts of budgetary and planning purposes. They may have ready access to existing metrics, or offer advice on how to present metrics for management credibility. As well, the process of involving management in preparing metrics also prepares them for our presentation. By the time the presentation date comes around, the material will be familiar to them, and they can help interpret the metrics to other audience members.

While there is no definitive measurement that will convince management to act, making our metrics meaningful to our audiences will increase our chances of success. [1]

Creating a Compelling Story

Getting management to understand exactly what we want to accomplish, and why, is an important aspect of getting their buy-in for a content management project. The power behind abstract concepts is limited by the vocabulary of the audience. Until management really understands the concepts behind terms such as content reuse or unified content strategy, they will have a hard time supporting the project, even with a sound business case.

It's not enough to run through the concepts once. Communication theory tells us that to accommodate the various ways our audience members absorb information, we need to repeat our message seven times in seven different ways. Sometimes, the understanding of content management is a tenuous one at best. While we may not have seven opportunities to make our case, we can certainly use multiple story-telling techniques to get our message across.

For visual learners, we can reinforce the concepts we want to demonstrate by using the tools at hand: representative content management software, online help software, or a static mock-up animated using presentation software. The concepts will be understood by interpreting how the workflow takes place through a software interface. For auditory learners, using storytelling techniques is a way of reinforcing how content management works. Here, the concepts are presented in the context of the tasks in the production process.

Combining these techniques will engage management, capture the interest of the decision-makers, and help them understand both the business problem and the proposed solution.

Getting Corporate Support

When faced with the opportunity to make the case for a content management system in one organization, we combined visual and auditory presentation techniques to ensure we reached both visual and auditory learners within the management team. Our presentation demonstrated the concept of content management by using a series of screen shots. After mocking up a small section of several documents that contained a common text paragraph, we walked the management team through the steps of editing the document, showing them how changes to a chunk of content were reflected throughout several documents in which that chunk of content would normally be included. Using two storytelling genres, the Slice-of-Life (showing a streamlined editing cycle) and Utopian Tale (showing the ease of re-using content), we brought the presentation to life and helped management understand the implications for their organization.

During the presentation, we introduced management to concepts of content management and the related vocabulary, helping them to envision how content management could improve the way they did business. By the end of the meeting, they were comfortable articulating the principles of content management and were enthused about the possibilities. Later, one executive confessed that one of the participants had been convinced to take a position that he'd not wanted because responsibilities included maintenance of a large and messy document set. After our presentation, the fellow could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so we added staff as one of the benefits of implementing a content management system.

Making the Business Case

Expressed linearly, the steps to making a business case are to:

  • Assess the situation
  • Formulate a problem statement
  • Identify process improvements that support business opportunities
  • Make a convincing proposal

In the example that follows, we walk through these steps to illustrate how we made the case for implementation of a content management system.

Assess the Situation

Our first step was to assess the current content creation process to determine what was working and where we could identify room for improvement. At the end of the assessment, we found several areas that needed to be addressed-and could be addressed-by a content management system.

  • Content silos: Lack of shared information resulted in creating and recreating the same content for different purposes, sometimes with complete duplication of a single document by multiple authors.
  • Communication gaps: Authors were unaware that content was available elsewhere within the organization. This led to the same content being created multiple times.
  • Lack of standards: The content being created was often inconsistent in tone and format, making re-use awkward and content tracking a burden. Illustrations were tracked through an awkward spreadsheet, while rewritten text was not tracked at all.
  • Lack of audit trail: Reviewer edits and subject matter expert sign-offs were given in many formats, and their collection and storage could not be tracked with the desired effectiveness.
  • Over-engineered processes: In the resource-intensive processes, writers created content, which was reviewed by multiple subject matter experts and returned to the writers for editing. The linear reviews meant that writers incorporated sometimes contradictory edits, resulting in multiple editing cycles.

Formulate a problem statement

After assessing the situation in a frank and honest way, we clarified the concerns and were able to create a problem statement that we articulated in the language of our audience. Using the language of our audience was an important part of making the business case, because the less energy they spent "translating," the more energy they could spend concentrating on the message.[2] We crafted the following problem statement:

A problem in the production of technical communication material is that inefficient business processes do not support effective content development. This negatively affects external and internal customers, the impact of which affects perceived market value. The challenge is to provide clear, complete, concise, and correct documentation in a timely manner that supports current and future customer needs, complements the corporate branding message, and offers greater flexibility in meeting needs of the various audiences. A successful solution would increase the company's ability to produce and maintain product documentation at static staffing levels, develop products with less labor and production expense, and provide a rapid-response vehicle in changing market conditions.

Identify process improvements to support business opportunities

The team determined that the successful implementation of a content management system would provide a way to advance the corporate goals of introducing new products into the market with enough lead time to maintain the company as industry leaders, gaining market share by expanding to new offshore markets, promoting brand loyalty, and earning a substantial return on investment.

To do this, the team identified several areas where improved processes would be seen as advantageous:

  • Efficient content management allows source-language documentation to be ready at the time of product release, with language variants available soon afterward, entering markets as quickly as possible.
  • Creating a definitive source for content ensures that users receive the most current, accurate, and applicable piece of approved content, maintaining leadership in the market.
  • A clear audit trail supports regulatory requirements, reducing legal liability in the case of product misuse.
  • Reuse of content across the documentation and training materials decreases production time, providing support for rapid product development.
  • Clear, consistent, and attractive presentation can be produced with existing resources, promoting brand loyalty at a lower cost.
  • Content reuse provides a searchable information base for the customer support group, allowing them improve customer service response times.

Grasping the need for a content management system left us to propose a methodology for the project. Of the various options considered, the Rockley method [3] was chosen as a comprehensive process that could be tailored to the organization's needs.

Anticipating a management concern that the process and implementation knowledge might be lost upon project completion, we adapted the methodology to a coach-mentor model, intended to offer support and guidance, and transfer the knowledge to staff as the project progressed. The proposal needed to be clear that the consultant would be involved in the project half-time, for two weeks each month. The consultant's role would be to help staff begin each leg of the roadmap, teaching them how to carry out each task within the context of the larger project. Upon the consultant's return, the deliverables would be checked and, assuming success, the next task begun.

Armed with this information as a framework for additional information gathering, we used the main points as an outline for the proposal.

Make a convincing proposal

The purpose of the proposal is to demonstrate the value of moving to a content management system and to provide justification to move the project from informal to official status. Our proposal outlined a plan to implement a content management system that would manage information for end users, a network of dealers, installation and maintenance technicians, and internal audiences such as customer support. The information was to be delivered in various formats, including print and web-delivered documentation, training material, a digital image library, and a knowledge base for internal use.

The proposal followed the format described here, with sections to cover the assessment, problem statement, process improvements, business opportunities, and, most importantly, a recommendation on whether to proceed and how. While the metrics were available as supporting material, management was given summaries only during the presentation, a high-level view of the situation. While the printed presentation took a relatively formal tone, the oral presentation was supplemented with evocative narrative meant to engage the audience and punctuate the message.


Making the business case for content management takes time and effort, and its impact cannot be minimized. Aligning the rationale for a content management system with the organization's business drivers helps management understand the value proposition of the project. Calculating the metrics that show return on investment or internal rate of return allows us to make our case for content management with confidence, and using an engaging presentation style helps the audience connect with the material. By the end of the presentation, management should be able to make an informed decision when asked to support the project.


[1] Phelps, Bob. 2004. Smart Business Metrics: Measure What Really Counts & Manage What Makes the Difference. London: Financial Times Management.

[2] Cole, Kris. 2002. Crystal Clear Communication: Skills for Understanding and Being Understood. Frenchs Forest NSW: Pearson Education Australia.

[3] Rockley, Ann, Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning. 2003. Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders.

Copyright 2005, The Rockley Group, Inc.