by Liz Fraley

This is the fourth of a series of articles based on the talk I gave at the Content Management 2005 conference. These articles focus on extending single-sourcing systems and activities to integrate content-generating organizations enterprise-wide.

Profiling Customer-Specific Purchasing Information

The customer price list is an obvious target for integrating with Marketing. What if you could automate creation and publication of the customer price list? A price list tends to be a complicated, dynamic document. Prices are adjusted based on the customer, the geographic location, the business segment, just to name a few. In addition, different customers may have different discount levels, based on any number of factors.

If you were to dynamically generate the price list, you could produce accurate, up-to-date focused price lists for every customer every time. Simple filters applied to the same information can produce different views. Profiled data turns a single data source into customized price lists for your customers.

In fact, taking this one step farther. Most websites require their customers log in to get pricing data. As long as you know who’s looking, you can profile your way to displaying targeted pricing data: you can put their most likely purchases at the top of the list, and, depending on how good a customer they are, you can alter their discount to make purchasing more attractive.

How about the parts list? You can provide customized parts lists to your customers if you integrate their purchasing history with the parts database. Mission critical custom tools can bridge systems through the simple application of XSLT to XML data acquired through XML interfaces. You get documentation stubs for free, that an author or editor can polish and deliver directly to customers.

In addition, you can improving customer experience by integrating purchasing data and portal personalization. XML web service technologies can help coordinate information for customers. Use customer purchasing data to delivers product updates, white papers, and data sheets. The profile connects the docs, linking in field articles relevant to the products customer has ordered in the past or may be interested in today.

Separation of Form And Content

The separation of form from content is particularly important for marketing. Separating form and content makes changing look-and-feel very easy. This applies to more than just the CSS stylesheet applied to a company’s web pages: this includes any PDF documentation, any text (README) type files, any presentation slides or self-service, knowledge base articles. Each one of these is content clothed in a particular look and feel that can and will change over time.

The average company changes the look and feel of it’s external website every 4 or 5 years. The more tightly integrated the content is with look and feel, the harder it is to upgrade your look. At Juniper, the marketing team outsourced a new look-and-feel to a web services company. It took nearly 9 months to migrate all the pages to the new look. It took another year to convert the pages to more easily maintainable ones.

The web services company had traded maintainability for precise look-and-feel. As a result, they had little pixel gif images all over the place, embedded throughout every single page, so the page would “look perfect” every time in every browser. As it turned out, it didn’t look perfect in every browser; it didn’t look right in half of the FreeBSD-Mozilla browsers internal to the company. And it made updating pages, with changing content lengths extremely difficult.

On the other hand, if they’d automated page generation, updating pages would have been a breeze. Update information in a stub-page, send the stub through a generator, and boom! You’ve got a well-formatted page that fits the new content. What you don’t have is a lot of manual effort to tweak all of the various little spacers that the web services company threw in just to get one page to look just right.

Finally, a few ways to include internal business processes

  • Services to support Sarbanes Oxley activities
  • Audit trails
  • Branding turnover
  • Acquisitions
  • Connecting to operations, manufacturing, and document control systems
  • HAZMAT database integration
  • Universal Business Language (UBL)

Look for places that create source data that is repackaged for different audiences and different purposes. All of these places are potential targets for cost savings through XML tool development.

We’re all sold on structure—that’s why we’re here

Remember:

  • Structure is added work
  • If you make structure onerous or make adding it hard/expensive time-wise, people will not do it
  • You need to be careful about what you choose to do or you will end up with structure that may not really be useful: <temperature>47C/104F</temperature>

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