Last week I had the opportunity to do a quick interview with Noz Urbina, head of Urbina Consulting and the chief organizer (along with the folks at Mekon) of the Congility conference and workshops happening shortly in Gatwick, U.K. later this June. We talked about what exactly “Congility” is and what to expect from this year’s conference.
Also, if you are thinking of attending but haven’t taken the leap as yet, check out the special deal for DITAWriter readers at the conclusion of the interview.
DITAWriter: Tell me about what “Congility” is, and what you expect from this year’s conference.
Noz Urbina: I like to say that Congility was ahead of it’s time for a while, and now the general market is really understanding and engaging with the issues that drive it. The name is a mash-up of “content” and “agility”, and it aims to help people unlock content from formats and processes that reduce its ability to be (re)used intelligently and efficiently across diverse business needs. The conference also features one of the most enviable speaker line-ups of any conference going – for DITA users or other kinds of communicator. This year we’re tackling silos that affect customer experience.
We’ve seen many conferences where speakers talk about content silos, but most of them discuss silos from within the siloed perspective. Few try to invite a cross-silo audience to network and discuss common challenges. Congility is looking to bring together different types of communicators to facilitate real exchange, as we all have so much to learn from each other in this challenging marketplace.
There’s a long history of technical communicators dismissing marketing communicators as fluff-mongers and shills, and marketing communicators dismissing technical communicators as brand illiterates. The user suffers this rift, and the market is losing its patience with this kind of departmental pride. Users want answers and they expect the organisations they partner with to work as an integrated whole, delivering them value throughout their pre-sale and post-sale experience. Methodologies like Agile, LEAN and Kanban all have a greater emphasis on agility and cross-functional collaboration. These trends meet in the middle and are squeezing communicators of both types such that the market now sorely needs a cross-functional event.
So Congility is not a conference only about this or that type of communicator—although it has long and deep roots in technical communication—it touches all the big areas: content strategy, technical communications, content marketing, user experience, localisation and training. Its specialism doesn’t map to a specific department or job role, but instead aims to deliver value to any communicators or line managers who want to intelligently structure their content for reuse and delivery that is more effective.
As a personal comment, if I can address the technical communication community specifically for a moment, I think we’ve spent a few years building up a strong technical communicator identity. This was in part a reaction against the lack of interest and understanding from our colleagues and managers. However, while we’ve spent years building up arguably much-needed technical writer pride, this happened in parallel to market forces pushing communicators from all departments to swallow their pride and reach across the aisle. It’s not betraying the cause to admit we have lots to learn for our colleagues if it’s for the benefit of end users.
This goes both ways of course. Other groups have a lot to learn from technical communicators as well. Our experience and skills with managing granular reuse, automation, data integrity, and multi-format publishing are well ahead of the curve, especially when compared to most non-techcomm communication groups.
To answer the second part of your question more explicitly, at Congility this year you can expect a solid base of sessions from experts in your field, if you are in either technical or marketing communications. The event organised into tracks, so you can mix and match, but it is designed to be a chance to meet people who you’d never expect to have anything in common with who are all networking and discussing the modularisation, personalisation, metadata, structure and reuse of content.
DITAWriter: How has Congility evolved over the years? How have the speaker topics changed?
Noz Urbina: Congility started back in 2006 under the name “X-Pubs”. At the time, “XML Publishing” was a great focus, but it was very niche. We soon realised the event was one of the world’s first content strategy events, before content strategy became as popular a term as it is today. X-Pubs sought to look at the business, strategic and user experience value of structuring information, not just savings on translations or time shaved off creating PDFs.
As we were trying to get the attention of more managers and a more diverse range of communicators, we decided that both “XML” and “Publishing” were too narrow as terms, and rebranded in 2011 as “Congility”, with an explicit content strategy focus. I’m going to talk about DITA later, but it’s always been a major feature and continues to be so today.
We have not changed speakers or topics so much as we’ve changed the balance of speakers and topics. We were almost exclusively XML to start (and DITA as a flavour thereof), but overtime, we started to branch out. We started with JoAnn Hackos and Ann Rockley as our inaugural keynote speakers (when was the last time you saw those two names headlining the same event?) and have had a “Who’s who” of structured content speakers since the first year. Michael Priestley (who is a keynote speaker this year), Rahel Anne Bailie, Kristen Eberline, Ellis Pratt, Don Day, Michael Boses, Scott Abel, Joe Gollner, Tony Self, Joe Gelb, Bernard Aschwanden, Amber Swope and many, many more.
This year we’re adding some new names you may not have heard, but who are shining lights in their areas. They’re trying to bring a compatible message to the marketing, training and localisation communities. People like Jonathan Colman (of Facebook, who recently was featured by slideshare.com for getting one million shares of his work), Jeff Eaton, Mike Atherton, Liny Roux, Lucy Hyde, Kevin Nichols and more that come not from the same DITA/TechComm camp, but are passionate about the same core issues—structure, metadata, and improved processes. They bring a very valuable perspective on how things work in other areas of our companies, the techniques of analytics, SEO and digital delivery, and commercial pitfalls that we have to navigate as our content goes on the web.
DITAWriter: How much of the conference focuses on DITA?
Noz Urbina: Most, if not every last one, of the sessions at this year’s conference should be valuable to a DITA author. That is by design. We drove speakers – regardless of whether they were DITA case studies or not—to address things in a way that you could apply to a DITA approach.
For major DITA names, I would highlight:
- Michael Priestley as our Day 2 Keynote, presenting on Lightweight DITA and HDITA for the first time in Europe, and the first time in Europe at all for many years
- Kristen James Eberlein presenting on the features of DITA 1.3 for one of the first time and the first time ever in Europe
- Tony Self, author of The DITA Style Guide, on responsive web design
- (Ahem) myself…
For DITA Case studies we have:
- Priscilla Buckley of SAP, on dynamic content delivery from DITA
- Jang Graat on metadata-driven links and DITA
- Anthony Davey of the UK Rail Safety Standards Board talking about modularising communication standards
- and more.
And all three workshops should be valuable to DITA writers as well.
An interesting related session to check out is Michael Priestley’s webinar “Does DITA Need XML?“. In it he asks the kind of controversial questions we like to tackle head on. He talks about decoupling the DITA standard from its XML serialisation (the specific tagging format) and allowing valid instances of DITA to be tagged up using other languages, like HTML5. I think the potential of making HTML-native, yet DITA-compliant files is fascinating. It’s something that would probably have little place in a “traditional” DITA implementation, but in a more diverse one involving more content sharing across teams, it could be very valuable.
Finally, getting up on the latest technology is always a great feature of a conference, and we have a whole exhibitors track to attend, mostly dominated by DITA tool producers from among our sponsors. This includes well know names like Syncro Soft (makers of oXygen), Adobe, IXIASOFT, Bluestream (makers of XDocs), XTM International, but also new names like FontoXML and Intuillion.
A special for DITAWriter.com readers: Congility’s Platinum Sponsor, Adobe, has supplied some funds to promote their workshop and are offering DITAWriter.com readers to register for this year’s conference at a 30% discount off the usual entry price. This includes access to the Adobe workshop, one other workshop and the full two conference days.
To take advantage, just register on the site using this discount code:
To make things more interesting, and to motivate people to decide before the last minute, the first person to use the code will get in 75% off and a free copy of Noz’s recent book.