Why manufacturers must embrace content automation

By Gavin Drake, VP of Marketing, Quark Enterprise Solutions.

Manufacturers of consumer and business electronics, machinery, transportation, apparel and many other goods are under pressure today to deliver fast and accurate product information to customers and employees across print, the web, and digital devices. As manufacturing continues a transition away from print-centric communications and embraces digital channels for creating, approving, publishing and distributing content, one issue remains: how to automate this process to save time, reduce costs, improve efficiency and ensure consistency across channels.

Recent research from InfoTrends demonstrates just how much of a problem this remains for the manufacturing industry and what businesses in this sector must do to effectively develop and disseminate content to digital audiences. The study found technical documentation is the top type of content being developed by manufacturers and demand for content across more channels, web and mobile, is an issue they are looking to combat more effectively. It's clear organisations understand the importance of getting this process right, but many are still struggling to evolve.

In this article, I aim to address the ways in which manufacturers are falling short and why they should eliminate manual processes and embrace content automation, in turn, creating a better experience for their audiences.

The death of manual processes

The way people find and read content has changed beyond recognition, but in many businesses the processes for creating and distributing content have simply not kept up. The InfoTrends research found 30 per cent of organisations find it difficult to configure their content management technology to meet specific requirements, which is likely to include digital and mobile content delivery.

The birth of the internet was the first sign that traditional content processes might not work. Instead of rethinking their approach, many businesses simply added duplicate teams to be responsible for the web. When totalling the cost of creating, reviewing and approving content, running compliance checks, publishing and distributing the content, and then making updates to that content, it adds up to a significant allocation of resources. When manufacturers consider applying this same content process across multiple channels, the cost is prohibitive.

Organisations could simply decide not to support all of these channels. However, the rise of digital content and mobile devices – even wearable tech like the Apple Watch – has resulted in more empowered, better-informed customers and employees with high expectations that need to be met. Customers not only expect content across multiple channels, but also want it to be immediately accessible, relevant and engaging.

So what must manufacturers do?

The only real answer to the challenge of creating, publishing, and delivering content to multiple channels today is to automate the process. In a nutshell, this is what content automation does: it automates the assembly, management, publishing, localisation and delivery of content for multiple media and audiences. In the same way that the manufacturing industry embraced automation to meet the insatiable consumer demand for products, it now needs to automate the content process to meet consumers' demand for digital content.

Although automation sounds simple – and conceptually it is – it requires some substantive changes to how businesses create, manage, publish and deliver content.

Take a datasheet for example. A datasheet is an essential sales tool; however producing thousands of unique versions that sell and differentiate products can be labour intensive, error prone, and costly. By automating processes, manufacturers can improve the entire content workflow by eliminating the constant manual duplication otherwise needed to present information in a format that meets the needs of customers, be that in print, PDF or an interactive format on the latest digital device.

By embracing automation, staff move from authoring documents to creating reusable content components. Instead of creating one-off documents where content is locked into a specific document and format, authors create content components that can be assembled and delivered to multiple channels. By eliminating copying, pasting and rekeying of product information, manufacturers can be sure there are no conflicts between documentation, datasheets and other collateral that is delivered to multiple channels – print, PDF, Web and mobile. It also makes it simple to create localised product datasheets, making it more cost effective to enter new geographical markets and explore business approaches with real-time, on-demand content, customised for a specific customer or partner.

Another core benefit of automating content is that by tracking major and minor versioning, user logs and content reuse, manufacturers can be confident the latest content is being used, making the review process across legal and other departments more streamlined.

Getting a good return on investment

Automobiles PEUGEOT is one organisation that conducted an in-depth review of the production process for its global product catalogues to identify areas that could be improved.

The company's priorities were to reduce the costs associated with proofing and translations while also addressing the need to fulfil an increasing number of requests for online brochures and high definition PDFs. Furthermore, the company's marketing teams were aware that the production and correction monitoring process did not give the opportunity to have an overall, real-time vision of the production chain.

By embracing a content automation platform that is accessible through a web browser, master templates of each catalogue for each vehicle model are now accessible for editing using predefined rules. Teams are able to modify photos, load content directly, localise figures in tables and make other regional changes directly. The platform also manages schedule monitoring by triggering alerts to report any delays to delivery schedules.

Three years after going into production, each project manager, regardless of where they are in the world, is able to download a brochure from the platform, edit it to suit their territory and language and request for a print for distribution to the different parts of the sales network.

The challenge of multi-channel content publishing applies to every organisation, and content automation can act as an ideal solution – especially when creating content at a large scale. When automation is appropriate, the results and the return on investment are extremely valuable. Productivity goes up, time to market is reduced, and a company can support more information products without adding resources, and subsequently improve the quality of published content for better customer and employee engagement. It truly has the power to transform a business.

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