Ann Rockley’s Keynote Presentation at Congility 2011

Just came back from hearing Ann Rockley’s keynote presentation of the 2011 conference. This was the first time I have had the opportunity to hear her speak at a conference, and she gave a good presentation that was aimed at firms that are considering the move to DITA or some other type of structured authoring. She gave a good presentation which was informed by a number of interesting examples which she has clearly encountered with her clients, which helped ground her talk in the practical realm. Here are my notes from that presentation (any ramblings, disconnected thoughts or typos are entirely mine and not reflective of her presentation):

Intelligent Content
Conference Chairperson Noz Urbina introduced Ann Rockley, calling her the “mother of content management”. She has been working on content management issues for over twenty years, and these days she says that she is spending more time on bringing together content management and strategy into what she phrased “intelligent content”.

She defined Intelligent Content as being:

  • Structurally rich
  • Semantically categorized
  • Easily discoverable
  • Efficiently reusable
  • Dynamically configurable
  • Completely adaptable

Structurally rich: adding structure to content makes it possible to manipulate what was previously static content to data which can be now be filtered, published to multiple channels (i.e. web, brochures, online help, etc.), and made available for searching.

Semantically categorized: deliver the information that is appropriate to the specific content for a particular context to an individual’s circumstance. Can now build personalized content based on metadata, which enables the content to be published to wikis, can be mashed-up, and reused in an increasing number of ways

Easily discoverable: structure and semantic tags facilitates content retrieval and discovery. If using XML you can use query languages like XQuery to provide additional means of access making it easier to deliver content on demand.

All of this leads naturally to the content being Efficiently reusable. When content is designed for reuse, there are supporting technologies and online services that increasingly supports how and where and in what context content is reused.

Dynamically configurable: we can’t know all situations in which information may be used ahead of time, and structured content can be reconfigured for novel situations and platforms.

Completely adaptable: supports unplanned usage, enables use for content components to be used in mashups environments.

Understanding Users’ Requirements
Ann also emphasized that you have to get to know what your customers need in order to better determine their requirements. She said that all too often we create content in isolation, and that we rarely get to talk to end-users directly. The traditional tack has been to hold things like focus groups and doing surveys, but social media now allows us other means of interacting with our customers, such as via tweets. This may encourage greater interaction and can result in customers interacting and helping each other as well as opening the lines of communication to you.

Content Modeling
Ann noted that DITA provides a good content model, but it does not define how we should put our content together. This is where content modeling comes in, which helps determine how information is currently composed and then determining where you want to take it, improving it and making it better. Too often she finds that people try to fit in their existing content to a DITA framework, stuffing what they have into a structure which may not work with what they have. One of the things her consulting firm does is to examine and audit the existing content a firm produces and then instructs the writing team on how to efficiently remodel how their information in a way to properly take advantage of what structured authoring models such as DITA have to offer.

Don’t Pick the Tool First
In terms of technology strategy, she said one thing I firmly believe in, which is “don’t pick the tool first”. All too often in her experience she finds organizations which chose a solution and only then try to figure out what to do with it. (This has often been my experience as well when I teach my Information Architecture course, as many of the students are using CMSes that they did not have any input on using). Ann emphasized that tech doc groups do the analysis/audit of their content first and then define what technology solution best fits that need, rather than the other way around.

She went on to talk about a couple of interesting case studies that her consulting firm had worked with, and concluded with a brief plug of her DITA 101 book, along with her latest title eBooks 101.


"DITAWriter" is Keith Schengili-Roberts. I work for IXIASOFT as a DITA Specialist/Information Architect. And I like to write about DITA and the technical writing community. To get ahold of me you can email me at:

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One thought on “Ann Rockley’s Keynote Presentation at Congility 2011

  1. Wow, that sounds really interesting and much along the lines of what we’re doing with clients too. I’ve taken to really teaching the best practices with regards to topic-based writing (whether DITA or not) just to start people out right. It’s so easy to just stuff content as is into the structure, which makes it just barely more useful than it was originally. I love the idea of getting direct feedback from end users, although I’m not sure Twitter’s the best medium for it, but maybe it can be a way of opening a dialogue. My last company actively discouraged tech writers talking with end users. It was…discouraging. And very short sighted.

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