Magazine article Communication World

Building Intranets on the Fly: Welcome to a Whole New World of Content Automation

Magazine article Communication World

Building Intranets on the Fly: Welcome to a Whole New World of Content Automation

Article excerpt

Imagine: The media relations department has finally received approval for a new product release. Along with normal channels of distribution, the release is sent, via e-mail, to the company intranet server. Within minutes the release is available internally and externally. Furthermore, when an employee clicks on the company's "Daily News Digest" page, the first paragraph of the release has been turned automatically into a news brief, with a dynamic web link to the full release. No webmaster has had to code the page or update any number of links. All the content and navigation necessary to view the release, whether by an employee or an interested investor browsing the external web site, is dynamically created by the corporate web server.

Now imagine this process is repeated over and over in dozens of different ways for different information - from policy directives to news from world-wide affiliates to create a dynamic, fully automated internal web site, where employees receive information based on who they are, what their interests are and when in the day they might be retrieving it.

Sounds too good to be true, but a new generation of Internet applications for automating content management is making this level of sophistication and page composition a reality, enabling content providers to dramatically reduce the cost of distributing focused messages to targeted users on their web sites.

While these industrial-strength tools for web production are in use primarily in external sites today, they will soon be part of the standard tool kit for intranet development as well. The reason is simple: They are critical to lowering the extraordinary cost of maintaining a content-rich site; a site capable of keeping up with the ebb and flow of corporate change, from information to company demographics, while providing ever-increasing levels of customized information. In fact over the next several years, producing web sites without these tools will be much like trying to produce an annual report using a word processor and spreadsheet instead of professional design tools such as QuarkXpress or PageMaker.

Streamlining Production and Reducing Costs

Research suggests that the high-end content providers on the World Wide Web can spend an average of U.S. $1.2 million in developing a site, nearly a third of which goes to managing content. While many corporate intranets are developed for a fraction of such a budget, the cost of constantly updating and maintaining a site, in terms of money and resources, can severely limit development. What the new applications do is shift the development, from flat and static web pages to dynamically composed pages. The result reduces costs and opens the way for a greater and greater degree of automation in producing the site and customizing its information.

Most corporate sites today follow a fairly traditional model for content production: The company newsletter or magazine, a model most communicators find familiar. Content is created by writers and editors, approved and forwarded to designers for layout, approved again and sent to print. Similarly, most web sites are static enterprises. Content is written, edited and approved, sent for layout and HTML coding, then shipped to a webmaster for placement on a site.

As a result, each viewable page within a site corresponds to one HTML file on a web server. When the site is a small one, say 100 files or so, with few internal links, keeping it updated and under control is a relatively easy task. But few corporate sites are that small or simple. And the task of managing these sites with thousands of files of multiple links and intricate interrelationships is daunting, if not almost impossible.

The issue is further complicated because most site management and development tools today do not address the essential problem with file-based sites. As the company adds files, the site's complexity grows exponentially. …

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