“Uplifting” to a Content Management System

Migrating unstrctured content to structured XML offers plenty of challenges.

Migrating unstrctured content to structured XML offers plenty of challenges.

When it comes to migrating content from an unstructured paradigm to true XML-based authoring in a component content management system, the challenges include changes in content architecture and navigation, forcing you to make important decisions about the design of your content well ahead of migration.

Unstructured content, including what is stored on intranets, can differ dramatically from content that is prepared and approved for distribution to customers in both form and function. According to CMS Wire, those looking to transfer content from an intranet to a CMS are likely to run into one or more of these issues:

  • Complex or counter-intuitive data distribution.
  • Data that is transactional or with a narrow application (and thus incomplete or incomprehensible outside of context).
  • Information that is client-specific or author-specific, requiring careful review and perhaps specific permissions for publication.

Each of these challenges represents an aspect of migration planning that must be addressed by the enterprise and the content architect.

“Each of these challenges represents an aspect of migration planning.”

‘Lift and shift’
So how should enterprises approach a content migration? The simplest answer from an organizational perspective is what many CMS experts dub the “lift and shift”: the manual re-entry of unstructured data into some kind of XML structure. This effort consumes significant man-hours, and often the data quality is compromised by the repetitive, tedious nature of the task.

Automation could be the answer to some migration woes, but before you set about re-keying unstructured data as structured content, developing a coordinated plan of attack is key. Here are the four main steps for planning the most efficient migration possible.

Step one: Content inventory
Understanding the breadth and scope of your migration will give you a sense of the resources required and a potential timeline. Access your existing content library, making sure to include any additional repositories that may be included in the structured system.

Inventorying content requires identifying:

  • Content permissions and authorship requirements.
  • Locations of content.
  • Content formats.

It should be noted that an inventory is just that: a moment prior to a migration where you take stock of what you have. The next step is where you take a more evaluative eye to the content that you will (or will not) be migrating.

“Content auditing involves looking at the content on hand.”

Step two: Content auditing
Content auditing involves looking at inventoried content and making decisions about its relevance. Often, this is where an enterprise puts its content to the test, identifying it as worthy of migration or earmarking it for deletion/archiving.

“Chances are, you have quite a bit of content out there that nobody — user or owner — has looked at in a long time. It happens to everyone,” Alicia Backlund, Product Strategist at Level Five Solutions, told Nielsen Norman Group. “An intranet redesign is the perfect reason and opportunity to take a good, hard look at your content and move only what makes sense to move.”

When auditing, ask:

  • What is the age of the content?
  • When is the last time this content has been accessed, either on its own or as a component of another piece of content?
  • Is this content still relevant/accurate? Is it incomplete on its own?
  • Could the user interface for accessing this content have been more intuitive?

Step three: Mapping
Once you’ve made sense of the content – where it currently exists and what data you need to transfer – you need to map your data into the new XML structure. This includes determining pathways to shared content as well as the basic usability plan of the new component content management system.

Consider the migration sequence of your content. Is there operationally essential data that should be moved to the front of the line, giving you leeway to complete the rest?

Get your plan in place, and then start your migration. Once initiated, track where content ultimately ends up and compare it to your original plan to help ensure that the process is a success.

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