Technical standards make the world go around. They form the backbone of so many things we tend to take for granted relating to safety, reliability, quality and interoperability of goods and services. Historically, paper publishing has dominated the world of technical standards in many fields, but this is now changing rapidly.
Today, the consumption of standards material extends to a wide range of digital formats and devices and as such, standards must be managed in a form that allows them to be published in a wide array of digital output formats. Increasingly, standards content is also ‘born digital’ and will be consumed digitally – without ever being printed.
For Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) this need for multiple electronic outputs is necessitating a rethink of paper-centric publishing processes to meet the changing expectations of increasingly digital consumers of standards.
Structured approaches to content management and authoring are gaining momentum due to the benefits they can bring in allowing publishers to deliver content in multiple formats across multiple channels without needing to re-enter the same information.
XML is a common standard format for this sort of structured content. As Propylon’s Head of Design, David Suttle, covered in a previous article, this can lead to the quite natural assumption that the XML itself must be created using structured XML authoring tools. These tools can pose a steep learning curve for the non-technical writers and subject matter experts who abound in the world of standards.
Leaving the authoring question to one side, XML clearly has the potential for real value creation for producers of standards, such as speeding up publication time and creating outputs in multiple formats automatically. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the value that XML can bring to SDOs.
The evolution of information management
Today, many businesses are using Content Management Systems (CMSs). As well as being a more efficient way to manage content, CMSs help ensure that everyone in the organization is utilizing the most up-to-date information.
Companies that consume standards often work with large volumes of material that is subject to revision over time. A key challenge many of these organizations face is understanding the impact of changes to standards and integrating them into their internal systems and documents (policies, procedures, guidance, manuals, etc.). These companies are now increasingly looking to CCMS technologies or Component Content Management Systems which allow them to manage content as smaller components – sentences, paragraphs, sections – and can help solve the change management problem.
XML in and of itself does not address the change management challenge. The same is true for industry-standard schemas such as NISO STS. It is at the CCMS level that change management features need to be placed to obviate the need for manual change management processes which can be error-prone, time-consuming, and indeed, relentless as the number of updates continue to increase year-on-year.
Leveraging the true value of XML for Standards
Adopting an XML model like NISO STS provides obvious advantages for SDOs including:
- Easier single-source and multi-channel publishing
- Reduced time to publication
- New publication opportunities
However, the real value of publishing in XML for SDOs is not to be found in the production of static materials which are essentially digital forms of traditional paper publishing (PDFs, websites, etc.).
XML, once coupled with the right CCMS, can be used to create ‘live’ content components that can be incorporated into a Microsoft Word document or Excel spreadsheet in ways that retain their digital connection back to the SDOs’ master documents.
This unlocks value for the consumers of standards as it can be used to automate the change management problem – no more copy and paste. It also unlocks value for the SDOs publishing the standards by creating a new, truly digital product that simultaneously enriches and protects their intellectual property.
From static documents to agile information products
As SDOs continue to innovate in order to meet users’ evolving needs, we at Propylon believe that there are opportunities on the horizon to deliver new products to market that help consumers work with standards in a truly digital fashion.
We have built our CCMS publishing platform from the ground up to make it easier both to create laws, regulations, and standards, and understand the impact of changes to this type of material.
Propylon’s TimeArc technology allows governments and legal publishers alike to publish their content both in the traditional form of outputs such as PDFs and website portals and also into ‘live’ Microsoft Word or Excel environments where content becomes ‘smart’ – in other words, environments in which the content knows where it was published from; environments where content automatically maintains links back to its original source; environments where content can tell when it needs to be updated and can generate change alerts automatically. In short, environments that make standards content smart in ways that unlock value for standards producers and standards consumers alike.