Future-Proof Your Policy Management System with Content Strategy


Compliance teams are paying more and more attention to policy management. From bribery of government officials to sexual harassment and data security, companies have a vested interest in knowing that employees are doing the right thing on their behalf.

Many employees are happy to do the right thing, if the information on what to do is readily available. This information is generally contained within our policies and training programs, yet making this information easily accessible is growing ever more challenging. New devices seem to come out every month. Communication with employees is difficult enough without the playing field changing underneath us!

I recently attended a presentation by Karen McCrane at mLearnCon, the Mobile Learning Conference, which made me consider the following question:

How can we create policies that recognize the employee’s device and then format themselves to fit that device?

The Evolution of Publishing

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the evolution in the publishing world over the last few decades. Thirty years ago, the written word was published on paper alone. The first applications to allow authors to create documents for printing were word processors.

But as technology evolved, publishers required more advanced capabilities. Desktop publishing provided more powerful layout, typesetting and image setting tools than word processors, and was adopted by media companies as the standard way to create printed content.

Then the Web came along.

Now content needed to be formatted for the internet as well as for paper. Desktop publishing products, designed specifically to create content for printing, ceased to be enough.
At first, media companies provided simple text-only versions of their content on the web, while others delivered a PDF of their print publication online. Reading a PDF of a full-size page online is clunky, requiring scrolling up and down, zooming in and out, and other unnatural behaviors. Technology can do so much more.

Then the Web got even more complicated.

Contrast this experience with the modern web. Most publications are available in a pleasing interface, formatted specifically for the web. Recently, with the advent of smartphones and tablets, many are also formatted for mobile devices, meaning that you can seamlessly access the same piece of content on your laptop, tablet, and iPhone, without a minimal or nonexistent decrease in user experience.

In short: you can now read things on your smartphone without making this face:


Mobile Complications

In fact, today, if a publisher only delivers content for a web browser but fails to provide a nice experience for mobile devices, consumers are likely to go elsewhere. In a recent study spearheaded by Google, we discovered a few interesting things:

  • 50% of people said that even if they like a business, they will use them less often if the website isn’t mobile-friendly
  • 48% of users say they feel frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that’s not mobile-friendly
  • 36% said they felt like they’ve wasted their time by visiting those sites.

Another study by KISSmetrics concluded that,

“Mobile users expect a browsing experience on their phone comparable to what they get on their laptop or desktop computer.”

They’re also only waiting 6-10 seconds for a page to load before they leave – a near impossibility if the site isn’t designed for a mobile-friendly browsing experience. (Also noteworthy is that yet another study put the “loading buffer” – the amount of time someone will wait for your site or mobile app to load – at only 2 seconds.)

Content Management Systems Are Key

How do content companies ensure they’re on the positive side of the ledger?

The answer is that they expend extra effort on the front side to capture the content, as well as its meaning, separately–separating content from form. In the publishing world, desktop publishing systems built for print were displaced by content management systems built for the web.

With information captured and separated, a content management system (CMS) can interpret the information and display it appropriately for various screen sizes and device types. This is one of the primary functions of a CMS. By using a CMS, the author doesn’t need to do anything in order for the content to be displayed in a visually attractive, easily consumable way on a website, a printed page, or a tablet.

With the advent and popularity of Bring-Your-Own-Device, we are losing control of the display size our employees use to access our policies. Karen McCrane, author of the book Content Strategy for Mobile, puts it this way:

“You don’t get to decide which device people use to access the internet: they do.”

Policy Management Systems Need To Evolve Into Policy Content Management Systems

With this in mind, at The Network, we believe it’s time to think about policies as content, rather than as documents. On the compliance side, requirements related to ensuring policy ownership, audit trails, periodic review, acknowledgment and certification all remain important.

From the employee’s perspective, though, things have changed. The display of policies needs to be given proper attention, recognizing that your content should look different depending on the device, while still delivering the same message.

Today, there are great use scenarios for viewing policies on tablets. At some point in the future, there may be real demand to view policies on phones. Your system should manage the content to make that transition easy if and when that becomes a need.

How do we get there?

In order for a system to control the layout, the system has to understand semantics–what each of the elements means. To do that, content elements need to be captured separately. Here are a few illustrations of how that principle can be applied:

  • Section headings should be in a separate field from the section text. Links should be in a separate field from the text as well as from the headings. The owner’s identity should be a separate data element than any of those content elements. By separating, the system can display the elements appropriately on a horizontally-oriented laptop, but also on a vertically-oriented tablet. And differently still on a laptop accessing the policy on the web.
  • Images and video should be captured with their captions as an independent element, rather than being stored within the text area like in a Word document. The reason is that when screen orientation changes, the system needs to reformat the display to account for the multimedia. When the element’s location is defined within the Word document, the rendering software lacks the freedom to display the elements as needed.
  • Tabluar data is an especially interesting. What looks good on a tablet in landscape orientation may be overly compressed when the tablet is rotated to portrait. Displaying a data table exactly the same way in both circumstances will not be equally effective. To support proper adaptation, tabular data should be captured in a separate container than the text, so that the system can render the table in the best possible way for the display size.

These are new concepts within the world of policy management, but they make all the difference when it comes to ensuring your policy content will be displayed appropriately on your employee’s device. Over time, employees will control what device they view policies and other compliance content on. For now, we know about tablets and smartphones–but what’s next?

Think about investing in a policy management system that is built from the ground up to handle the popular devices of today, as well as those of tomorrow.

PS: If content strategy is a new concept for you, view Karen McGrane’s excellent content strategy presentation, Content in a Zombie Apocalypse, below. This is her presentation from Movable Type Idea Exchange 2013, generously shared by Movable Type. You can also download her slides here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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