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.

Time to Integrate Training

Training materials are perhaps the best example of repackaged data. On the one hand, training materials are perfect targets for reuse: content can come from published manuals to customer support to sales and marketing collateral. Training is the one place that you want to ensure information consistency. Customers pay for training and expect that what they learn in training will always be of value.

At the same time, the training materials themselves are a perfect example of repackaging data based on the idea of varying levels of detail. From one source, you can create scalable training materials:

  • Student materials
  • Instructor’s materials
  • Presentation slides

In addition, with very simple tools, you to go up and down—increase or decrease—the level of detail.

For example, one of the best trainers I know teaches the skills required to do exactly this. G. Ken Holman teaches XSLT and XPath, the language that transforms XML data. He prepares one large XML document with all relevant, tagged information. From this one document, he can produce the student materials, the instructor’s materials, and his presentation slides. He can switch from one to the other dynamically to address questions on the slides or in the materials, right before the students’ eyes, with a simple click of the mouse.

At the same time, he can produce the individual student name plates, the registration materials, and the student contact information sheets just as quickly. He creates one large document with all required information tidbits. Because he can generate all the output files, he can process registrations and provide accurate data to the students and his class helpers right up to the last minute. One quick transformation and he can print out the latest information for distribution 5 minutes later when the class begins.

It’s powerful stuff.

Special benefits for training…

Training in an organization happens at a number of levels—internal, external, and management training classes. Most training classes get canceled because not enough people sign up.

What would happen if you aggregated the schedules of all available training opportunities? You’d get a master schedule of training classes—one-stop shopping for training, if you will—that everyone could consult. That way, employees can find classes that fit into their existing schedules, reducing the amount of time that training impacts their day-to-day deliverables while at the same time reducing the overhead costs of less than full classes.

When you combine aggregation with profiling, you can generate schedules on-the-fly for different audiences simultaneously:

  • This Week, This Month, Next Quarter
  • Internal, External, Management
  • Certification, Webinars, Tutorials, Online Training

A trainer I know does this on an inter-company basis. He gives training classes himself, and licenses his training to other people to deliver. He posts an XML version of his training schedule; his licensees post XML versions of their schedules. Each one also has a filter that pulls in the other person’s information at run time.

This means that whenever someone clicks on Ken’s class schedule, that person sees not only Ken’s deliveries, but Laurie’s too. Ken only needs to modify his own schedule: he never needs to update the master schedule. The master schedule is updated whenever a potential student clicks on Ken’s schedule link: XSLT fetches Laurie’s latest data, integrates it with Ken’s, and displays both to the student. The customer is served: the student can always find the best class that fits his or her schedule.

It’s a simple scheme that works because all business units can participate with minimal effort.

Just a note about RSS

RSS is a family of XML file formats for web syndication used by (amongst other things) news websites and blogs. The RSS formats provide web content or summaries of web content, links to the full versions of the content, and other meta-data. In addition to facilitating syndication, RSS allows a website’s frequent readers to track updates on the site using a news aggregator.

Different news and weblog sites use RSS feeds that are automatically updated whenever a new article is posted. The site determines how much information is posted to the feed—the whole article, a teaser, or just a headline. Readers can use their favorite RSS aggregator to access everything that interests them without having to visit every single site. It’s a great way to keep your customers up-to-date and connected to you.

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