By Marcia Riefer Johnston published May 11, 2015 Est Read Time: 7 min

An Intel Team Takes On Intelligent Content – and Customers Love Them for It

Intel-intelligent-content-customer-love

Good product documentation has always served as a sales tool. Back in the days of face-to-face sales calls, well-designed user manuals sometimes rode along in the salesperson’s briefcase to be pulled out at an opportune moment, helping to clinch the deal. These days, I hear a lot about product documentation as a marketing asset. The difference is that the documentation now resides in that big briefcase in the sky, and customers rarely need the salesperson any more.

How can documentation serve an organization’s marketing goals by making customers happier and potentially winning new customers? A team at Intel recently figured out a way to accomplish this by using intelligent content strategies.

I share Intel’s story here based on a white paper entitled Optimizing Mobile-Device Design With Targeted Content, which Intel IT published in April. (Unless otherwise specified, the quotations in this article come from that white paper.)

The old approach

Intel makes, among other things, sophisticated, powerful chips that go into mobile devices. Device manufacturers who use these chips need documentation to help them design their smartphones and tablets. For years, Intel provided the documentation in the form of PDFs.

Loooooong PDFs. As long as 20,000 pages in some cases.

It’s easy to imagine that those Intel customers (mobile-device designers) had trouble finding the information they needed. And it’s easy to imagine that Intel engineers spent a lot of hours guiding those designers to the right information.

A team involving several Intel groups – including a technical communications group, a content management and training group, and some folks in Intel IT – collaborated to tackle the problem of document length as well as other problems, like these:

  • Related information was “spread across multiple documents and content repositories,” making it nearly impossible for Intel’s mobile-device-design customers to find what they needed on their own.
  • Documents were “fragmented” and “required multiple manual touchpoints to maintain,” making updates difficult and costly.
  • The amount of documentation was growing, exacerbating the problems.

This old approach wasted Intel’s resources and made customers unhappy, and the situation was only going to get worse unless major changes were made.

The new approach

While the Intel white paper doesn’t use the term intelligent, the new approach it describes fits the classic definition of intelligent content in that the topic-based components this team now provides are structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.

An intelligent approach was the only way that this team could have hoped to provide flexible, dynamic web-based delivery of their design documentation – improving the customer experience.

These were the team’s high-level goals:

  • Reduce the amount of time Intel engineers spent helping mobile-device designers find the appropriate documentation.
  • Help those customers bring more solutions to market faster.
  • Increase the number of customers.

How Intel did it

To meet its goals, Intel’s team designed a new content repository, a new customer-facing portal, a new content structure, and new processes. Here’s a peek into each of these aspects.

New content repository

Whereas the old documentation comprised huge PDFs stored in various places, the new documentation consists of XML files stored in one content management system. The documentation is developed in standalone, reconfigurable topics using DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture). The source files include no formatting information – one of the beauties of XML; the content can readily be adapted to various uses.

New customer-facing portal

Whereas the old approach required mobile-design customers to log on to separate portals, the new portal, called the Intel® Mobile Design Center, gives customers a single “consistent, interactive, and highly visual user interface” through which they can easily search, compile, and subscribe to topics of interest.

Customers serve themselves, finding and assembling the documentation components they need. They no longer require as much help from Intel engineers.

Intel-portal-intelligent-content

The new documentation portal, called the Intel® Mobile Design Center, “delivers a targeted user experience based on customer permissions and goals.”
(Image used with permission. Copyright Intel Corporation.)

New content structure and processes

The team created a content structure that supported accurate, self-directed searching.

Team members decided to create all new content in topic-based DITA XML format. They couldn’t justify the effort it would have taken to convert all the legacy content – hundreds of thousands of pages – to this format, but they did convert the most critical legacy content. And they figured out a way to make even the old PDFs accessible through the portal so that it could serve as a one-stop shop for customers seeking documentation on mobile-device design.

The team determined what metadata needed to be assigned to each piece of content to enable customers to filter their searches and zero in on the topics they need. After finding the desired topics, customers can collect them in a virtual binder. They can even convert their binder of topics to a PDF, building their own books.

To help customers learn how to use the new portal, the trainers on the team developed a set of short videos. The videos available to choose from vary with each customer’s permissions, making the content adaptive in the sense that the system changes what it serves up according to what it knows about the recipient.

Let me say that again: The system changes what it serves up according to what it knows about the recipient.

What the system knows.

What does it mean to say that systems (machines, computers) know things? I leave that question to philosophers. Here’s the connection I invite you to make: When people talk about what computers know – or about content that’s self-aware – that’s one tipoff that they may be talking about intelligent content.

What do your systems know about your customers? What do you wish your systems knew? How would that knowledge improve customers’ experiences with your content? What can you do to move things in that direction?

The payoff

What’s the payoff for this presumably expensive effort at Intel? Customers can now “easily find” and “bundle” the desired content “into custom documents” mostly on their own.

In other words, thanks to intelligent content strategy devised by a cross-departmental planning team, the new approach to content does a better job of getting the right information to the right people at the right time in the right format.

How did the Intel team do on its goals (as listed at the beginning of this article)?

  • Intel engineers can now spend more time doing their jobs and less time playing librarian. Today, each customer project requires “less than one Intel engineer,” whereas previously “projects often required the help of multiple Intel engineers.” I’m not sure what “less than one Intel engineer” means, but clearly this improvement in the use of resources gives Intel executives reason to celebrate.
  • Customers who design mobile devices are bringing more solutions to market faster. The white paper doesn’t quantify this claim, but it makes this point repeatedly, so customers must be telling their Intel contacts that the new portal has made them more productive.
  • Customers are happier. Customer-satisfaction scores increased from 69% to 80% after the introduction of the new portal.

Intel_intelligent-content-user-experienceIntel’s new portal prompted a sharp rise in customer-satisfaction ratings.

The results from this project have inspired others at Intel to consider adopting similar strategies.

How might the content strategies in your organization be changed to increase satisfaction for your customers? What can you do to help promote that kind of change?

Summary

Content strategists have long held that content professionals must connect silos (or break them down “in a good way”) and work together across an organization. The cross-functional team that revamped Intel’s documentation of mobile-device design gives us an example of how it’s done – and of the benefits that can result. This team designed an intelligent content strategy that enables computers to do what they do best so that people can do the same.

Developing and implementing this strategy took time, collaboration, creativity, persistence, persuasiveness, and openness to change. Intel had to invest in new technologies. It had to train its teams to create, manage, and deliver content in new ways, and it had to train its customers to use that content in new ways.

Intel is now reaping the rewards: more-productive engineers, more-useful and more-sustainable documentation, and happier customers.

How have intelligent content strategies paid off in your organization? Leave a comment below – we’d love to hear your story.

Full disclosure: I helped develop the Intel white paper referenced here as part of a team of writers, editors, and designers who work for the Portland-based communications agency Kaia Communications.

Love geeking out about intelligent content and content strategy? Sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a former member of the CMI team, she served as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

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