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Was Mom right about always sharing?

James McLeman
October 12, 2021
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The benefits and drawbacks of content sharing within a document template framework.

To effectively communicate with their customers, most organisations manage many document types, or templates. Often, there is a lot of content that is common across the documents such as logos, headers, terms and conditions etc. If all these templates are managed separately (for example by using folders full of Word documents) then it becomes very difficult to keep consistent branding and messaging, there is a lot of duplication of effort and changes can be very expensive.

One of the powerful features of a modern composition system, such as CSF, used by Airdocs, is the ability to construct content from objects and then to re-use these objects in different templates and contexts.

The simplest example would be defining the organisation logo as a single image object that is shared by all templates. To change the logo, just change one image.

CSF supports content fragments, or messages. These allow a rich set of content including complex formatting and business logic to be shared between multiple templates. A business can then re-use the investment in things like policy wording or marketing messages across a range of communications.

Sharing objects such as Style Sets, and Data dictionaries also assist the business in reducing development and maintenance time and improving the consistency of communications.

Shared objects do more than just reduce duplication. They also allow an organisation to split roles and responsibilities for creating and managing content. For instance, you can create a shared business rule called ‘If Gold Class Customer’. This rule can be used by non-technical users and applied to any objects that need conditioning. A technical user can do the heavy lifting on the business rule and write and maintain the actual logic.

Splitting a template into components also allows the organisation to assign rights to different portions of the template. For instance, Marketing can be given complete control of the marketing messages content of the template but not to the policy wording content.

Another less obvious benefit is that segmenting a template into smaller, sharable pieces can reduce the risk of change. Because change happens at the object level it is easier to identify which areas of a template have been affected by a release and what level of testing is required.

So, is it all good, was mom right, should we always share? Well…

Sharing objects can have some challenges that should be considered in design. The most significant of these is the impact on change management. If all templates share common objects, then you need to think about how the templates are deployed. Are the objects just shared in the development environment (i.e. the content editor) or are they shared in the production engine as well. If it is just in the editor, then the organisation can decide when the change will be published on a template-by-template basis. If it’s shared at a production level, then changing an object can affect all content generated and this means that change management and regression testing may be a significant issue.

Another side effect of sharing can be increasing the complexity of content. For example, terms and conditions can be shared between multiple documents in an organisation. If they are always identical, then this works really well. If there are significant difference in usage, you can end up with content that is heavily conditioned to change words or paragraphs to meet each document or business units’ requirements. In this context it may be simpler to create a unique set of T&Cs per document or to split the terms and conditions into smaller fragments so that the need for excessive conditioning is minimised.

Conclusion

Mom was right most of the time – sharing can significantly reduce the cost of development and maintenance and improve consistency and branding, but it is often useful to create boundaries for sharing so that sharing takes place within a set of content that is controlled by the same area in the business.

James McLeman
Chief Technology Officer
James McLeman
Chief Technology Officer
I am responsible for Airdocs’ architecture, platform development & solution design. My speciality is high volume, data driven document management for 30 years now. I am passionate about merging the worlds of high-volume client correspondence & the new cloud-based SaaS technologies to make real personalised communication available to the organisations large and small.

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