November 21, 2011
Conferences can be interesting events. At the very best of them, themes emerge that were not entirely planned and they emerge somewhat spontaneously out of the interaction of people thrown into chance encounters. This seems to have been the case with the LavaCon 2011 conference that was convened in Austin, Texas on November 13 to 16, 2011.
This gathering brought together an interesting mix of people, many of whom have strong roots in the field of technical communications (TechComm). I have written a couple of posts specifically about this community of practice (see Intelligent Content and the Future of Technical Communications and The Fusion of Business Analysis and Technical Communications). There were other people in attendance, naturally, with there being a solid representation of web content strategists, social media entrepreneurs, localization specialists and visual communicators.
Photo by Darin R. McClure - Can you spot the chief troublemaker?
At LavaCon 2011 the theme that seemed to leap forth was that of "integration". The integration theme took several forms and this is what made it so interesting. One form was the importance of integrating the various communication disciplines into a coherence and holistic approach. With so many new devices appearing on the market, and so many new markets opening up around the world, it was widely conceded that while technical communication will continue to cover a wide range of channels, there will be an increasing emphasis placed on communication strategies that foreground graphics, photographs, audio and video. This shift in emphasis is in turn being driven by a number of pressures - not least of which is the decreasing amount of time users have to "read the documentation".
Another form taken by the integration theme was particularly strong and this was the focus placed on integrating content resources into the core business processes of the organization. This trend was itself set within the yet larger trend within organizations towards finding, and realizing, each and every opportunity to integrate offerings and activities into a unified and highly efficient whole.
Following my usual practice, I spent the early parts of the LavaCon conference taking in the ideas being addressed in presentations, workshops and lounge discussions and then feeding them into an evolving version of my keynote presentation. This practice is a slightly risky one in that it can spawn a lot of work in revisions and additions to the planned presentation. And this was very much the case on this occasion. On the positive side though, this practice can adapt the keynote to fit into, and amplify, the ideas that are in circulation given the people that have come together. At LavaCon 2011, what I picked up on was the rising importance of "integration" and consequently my keynote address, delivered on Monday November 13, 2011, cast integration as the most important of the major trends being observed.
This emphasis also seems timely given the concurrent rise into prominence of the idea of Content Strategy. I asked the conference, in rather stark terms, to consider how strategic their strategy really was. Citing a number of case studies, I warned the attendees to be wary of confusing low level tactical plans with a true enterprise content strategy. Tactical plans, which might address specific needs around improving the efficiency, or effectiveness, of technical communication investments, must not be mistaken for an enterprise strategy.
An enterprise content strategy looks primarily at how content resources, and processes, need to be integrated with the core business processes of an organization and with the organizational structures governing its primary products and services. Integration is in fact the key concept here, I argued. A content strategy that connects to, and fastens onto, one or more of these "central nerves" in your business will get lots of executive attention. Conversely, an approach to content that is too tactical, as will often be the case when the "strategists" involved have only been exposed to the working levels of technical communication, will in fact work at cross purposes to an integrated content strategy. An overly tactical approach will tend to spawn yet more silos in the organizations and the optimization of these silos will often prevent their integration with other areas of investment. This is something to be avoided.
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