Reusing Content Without Starting From Scratch

Pervasive XML-based management is years away, but McDonald's, Hilton International and Emerson Process Management are making the most of more conventional content by improving access and componentization.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 10, 2005

14 Min Read

Some companies seem to have multiple-personality disorders. Their print ads and product literature say one thing, their Web site another and their call center operators are oblivious to it all. Just as organizations struggle with data inconsistencies across disparate applications and data stores, the same problems crop up when content is developed and deployed in a spotty, uncoordinated way.

Organizations should be creating content once and reusing it wherever possible. Think of it as a "master content management" or "content hub" approach that provides a single source of internal documentation, training materials, graphics, product photography, marketing and sales messages and more. The strategy not only instills consistency across all forms of internal, partner and customer communications, it saves time and money on content creation, approval and translation.

XML-based management has the potential to put reuse in high gear, but as detailed in "Content in the Age of XML," page 24, until recently this nascent technology was largely confined to technical publishing applications. "It's only in the past two years that content management solutions that support multichannel publishing have really expanded on their XML support," says Kyle McNabb, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "[XML-based] content management is still in the early stages of adoption, even among the Global 2000 companies."

XML isn't the only route to labor- and time-saving content reuse. McDonald's, Hilton International and manufacturer Emerson Process Management have learned that the real payoff in content management is in leveraging the content as well as the management platform.

McDonald's is Lovin' It

To reuse content you first have to find it, which can be difficult if you have multiple document, Web content and digital asset silos. In fact, 78% of companies have more than one content repository and 43% have more than six, according to Forrester Research. Many companies have eased access to multiple content sources through portals, yet users may still have to search across and drill down into multiple portlet windows.

Content integration software does the portal one better by providing a management layer above multiple content repositories. You can search, view and download content (within your access rights) from several different sources within a single interface. In some cases users can even check out, update and check content back in with all the security and version controls of the native management system—a big advantage over simple search-based access.

Part portal and part content integration layer, McDonald's "AccessMCD" gives 1.6 million users in 119 countries access to two core document repositories, hundreds of different intracompany Web sites and thousands of product images and logos. Before deployment began in 2002, the fast-food giant struggled to provide consistent product images and information to its corporately owned restaurants, independent franchisees and business partners worldwide.

"We had a phenomenal amount of content replication," says Steve Wilson, senior director of global Web communications. "Not only was content being developed in isolation, but each platform was different. For example, our owner-operator extranet was straight HTML while our corporate intranet was in Domino. We had all these competing platforms [and] documents, and literally thousands of points of replication."

Because McDonald's lacked a common repository, the same products would often be photographed countless times by franchisees around the globe. When users did share images and documents, network bandwidth was taxed, e-mail stores were swamped and version-control problems surfaced.

Many of AccessMCD's core features are built on Communiqué, an enterprise content management (ECM) and content integration system from Day Software. Using the software's digital asset management capabilities, McDonald's built an AccessMCD Media Asset Center (see screen capture below) that connects users to images—everything from point-of-sale signage, packaging and marketing materials to newspaper and magazine advertising. "As we establish a global brand image, it's very important that we're using the same approved images and logos," Wilson says.

AccessMCD was deployed to four departments in July 2002, encompassed the corporate intranet by early 2003 and was extended as an extranet in mid 2004. Communiqué's content integration component gave AccessMCD a common front end through which employees, franchisees, suppliers and business partners could access legacy content management systems. Day's licensing model is based on CPUs rather than the per-seat licensing common with many ECM systems. According to Day, pricing starts at $42,000 with no concurrent-user license limitations; the number of CPUs required varies depending on data complexity and usage patterns.

Day's content integration interface provides access to three centralized content repositories: a FileNet repository managing McDonald's legal contracts and licenses, an Oracle database managing electronic documents and the Communiqué -managed Media Asset Center (see screen capture above). In addition, more than 100 intranet and extranet "micro-sites" and the Internet site are managed by Communiqué. The intranet serves nearly 15,000 users daily while draws more than one million visitors per month.

McDonald's created a global taxonomy to overcome regional language variations, such as the fact that a sandwich might not be called a "sandwich" in a literal translation to another language. The taxonomy has 17 categories and 255 subcategories that drill down to the "piece part" level, differentiating content about buns, for example, based on whether or not they have sesame seeds. The company deployed two-level search: a Verity-based application that performs federated searches across AccessMCD and a second system from Day to let users search within microsites.

Translation is an important issue, too, so the system automatically routes documents to hundreds of translators and approvers across the globe when corporate authors indicate the need for translation at check-in. Those translators also localize content for regional customs and menus. Customers in India, for example, can buy "Maharaja Macs" (Big Macs made with chicken instead of beef).

Wilson wouldn't divulge McDonald's total investment, but he says the Media Asset Center alone has eliminated contracts with several third-party image hosting services around the world, saving $1 million and delivering a four-month ROI on that phase of the AccessMCD project.

Serving as a single source of corporate information, AccessMCD brought business benefits that are hard to quantify. The portal had been in place in Canada for just seven weeks when mad cow disease first made headlines in that country. "If someone had a question at the counter [in a restaurant], they were getting the same information that we had at corporate headquarters," Wilson says. The system has also cut franchisee costs. For instance, a photo shoot typically costs $10,000, but the franchisee advertising cooperatives can now download imagery paid for and approved by McDonald's.

Same Content in Any Language

If you want a consistent brand identity and online experience, it's best to centralize site design and administration as well as the bulk of content creation and approval. That way, you can invest in a shared management infrastructure and let smaller, in-market teams customize the content as necessary. The big hitch, however, is need for content globalization and localization, which covers translation and culturally sensitive refinement for specific regional and national markets.

XML-based management cuts translation costs by providing a componentized approach so only new and revised chunks of text are translated rather than entire documents that may contain few changes overall from previous versions. But even with the aid of technology, translation is such a specialized, challenging task that many companies outsource it. Watford, U.K.-based Hilton International outsourced translation so it could focus on customizing and localizing content in support of a global e-commerce initiative.

In the hotel business, an online reservation system is no longer a differentiator, it's a competitive necessity. In the United States, where online booking has been most successful, 20% of all reservations were made on the Internet in 2004, and the practice was growing 7% per year, according to PhoCusWright research and the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Outside of the United States, online bookings currently account for only 10% of all reservations, but growth rates are higher, according to

Hilton International couldn't capitalize on gains in online bookings because, the site it then shared with U.S.-based Hilton Hotels Corp., was only available in English until 2003. That year, Hilton started planning geographically targeted sites with centralized management for lower cost and consistency, yet sufficient local control for the more than 400 properties outside the United States.

In early 2003, Hilton implemented Interwoven's TeamSite content management system to support sites at the regional, national and individual property level. A "globalization management system" called GlobalLink was added from Interwoven partner, and within three months, Hilton deployed eight individual Web sites for the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and a pan-Scandinavian site in English. The sites deliver translated corporate content as well as local content and customized pages for each property.

Today, about 300 distributed users have content creation and Web publishing responsibilities. When content is checked in to the central TeamSite repository, contributors indicate whether it needs to be sent out for translation. GlobaLink pulls content tagged for translation out of the workflow as XML files and sends it to, where it is translated and then checked back into the system, a process that currently takes less than a week (and spares Hilton from the complexities of translation and XML-based content management). All hotels have at least their introductory pages translated into seven languages. Additional pages for each property are translated at the discretion of site managers and property owners.

"It's almost a no-brainer that all London hotel information needs to be translated, but some of the outer-market properties might need input from revenue management [before going to that expense]," says Ian Sloan, Hilton's director of content management, meaning the extent of translation is dictated by the extent of visitation from other countries. Translation costs vary by language, but median costs in 2004 ranged from 17.4 cents per word for English to Spanish up to 29.1 cents per word for English to Japanese, according to translation consulting firm Common Sense Advisory.

Translation must be followed by localization because phrases such as "no-brainer," may have different or negative meanings in other languages and cultures. Sloan says's work is literally accurate, but once the translations are checked back into TeamSite, they're routed to "localizers" familiar with both linguistic idiosyncrasies and local customs.

The go-live cost of Hilton's Web site project was $8.8 million, which included the cost of the CMS platform and BEA WebLogic servers as well as development of the eight regional sites, pages for individual properties and translation. Sloan won't reveal revenue figures, but he says the project is ahead of ROI projections, with Hilton International's online business increasing from 2% of total reservations in 2003 to 7% in 2004. He predicts the company's online bookings will reach 20% of total reservations by 2008.

Componentized Content

Some view ECM in terms of technology—a strategy focused on leveraging a single management product and architecture that can keep tabs on all forms of enterprise content. Others believe ECM should be about content rather than technology. In this approach, the focus is first on understanding and modeling enterprise content, and then designing processes that enable it to be reused in multiple applications.

Emerson Process Management has embraced both philosophies, and like many companies, the industrial consulting and manufacturing firm can trace the roots of its enterprise content strategy to a departmental deployment. In 1998, Emerson's Fisher division, which makes specialized valves, deployed a Stellent content management system to cut down on the production and distribution of product literature, which was costing the company an average of $250,000 per year. The deployment soon expanded as a collaboration tool for everyone involved in product development, and today, roughly 1,000 users access and contribute to an Emerson corporatewide extranet and a sales and marketing intranet built on the same platform.

Early decisions at Fisher ultimately fostered content reuse. "We stored images, tables and other content associated with product documentation as separate components," says Mark Heindselman, knowledge network and information services manager at the Fisher division. "We did that primarily because those components were also needed for presentation materials and other literature." The content elements can be reused within PowerPoint or Word documents for internal users, PDFs for rights-managed distribution to trading partners or HTML documents for online use. Fisher has also refined its approach to identify and tag reusable "fragments," such as logos, Web page search boxes and boilerplate language.

Previously, Fisher had difficulty sharing CAD drawings and documents, ensuring design and document version control and automating approval routing. Today, engineers access and update documents and initiate approval workflows via the extranet. Digital collaboration, content reuse and process automation save Fisher about $50,000 a year, Heindselman estimates.

PDF- and Web-based document delivery has cut Fisher's paper-document distribution costs in half over the past three years, for cumulative savings of about $375,000. Emerson copied the electronic distribution approach, increasing document downloads fivefold to 500,000 per year and saving $1.2 million in printing and distribution costs annually.

No Boundaries

By eliminating barriers and reusing information wherever possible, McDonald's, Hilton and Emerson have ensured brand and information consistency while saving time and money on content development and approval. The technology approaches—ranging from McDonald's portal and content integration to Hilton's centralized Web content management and Emerson's extranet collaboration and Web publishing—fall short of the ideal of componentized management and content reuse across the enterprise. XML was used only in limited ways, supporting, for example, Hilton's outsourced content translation. All three companies, however, succeeded by identifying and sharing conventional content that could be reused across departmental, corporate and national boundaries.

DOSSIER: Content Reuse and Multichannel Publishing

the brief



Michael P. Voelker is the Principal of Equinox Communications.

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