Out with the old, in with the nearly new (maybe)

This weekend we changed email systems in the office. Out went a rather old version of Outlook (97 I think) and it came some untraceable version of Lotus (now IBM I suppose) Notes. I’ve been using Outlook for longer than I can remember and using MS Mail for even longer than that (I have vague memories of MS Mail 3.0 sometime around 1989 on an early Mac). Needless to say, there are some differences. Things that I used to do one way I have to do a whole different way. Some things I don’t seem to be able to do at all.

This change got me thinking about what we’re about to introduce to some government departments – a brand new content management system, otherwise known as a “structured writing tool”. This is change in a big way. As far as I know, most content is written in Word (or similar), passed to the “techie” team who look after the website who then massage it a little and then upload it somewhere into the departmental website. This is good for the folks writing the content – the tool they use is perfectly structured for writing; it’s good for the techies who have complete control over their environment. Now we’re going to turn that on its head and give the writers a tool that constrains them a little (but provides other benefits, like giving them control over the page), introduces a workflow that means that there is more discipline over the compilation and publication process and gives the techies a new role in things like designing information architecture. Pretty much everyone wins with this, but they also lose a bit – much the same in every “change”.

While I was thinking about that, I came across an article on CMSwatch (which is a good site for finding out what people are doing with content systems), that talks about exactly this issue. What’s needed is some understanding, on both sides of course – those implementing as well as those being “implemented on” … and a lot of thinking about how to get the adoption strategy right. This is a pretty big change for government content owners – those people that write policy and guidance for the public. If we get it right though, it leads to a dramatic improvement in those websites that everyone says are horrible.

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