by Kyle McNabb.

We’ve interviewed a number of enterprises over the past few months to understand what makes their Web operations tick. We want to understand how Web teams are organized, what key roles they have, and what lessons learned they can share with others. Our findings will be published later in Q1 2007, but we’ve found one particular important role that we believe every enterprise should pay close attention to – the content architect.

Most enterprises have content locked away in channel specific silos such as the corporate Web site, email campaign management systems, the call center, and in some cases direct mail (print) channels. Each channel’s often supported by its own operation – people, process, and technology. The end result? Customer confusion as they receive inconsistent, often different information from the enterprise depending on what channel they work with. For example, a customer may go see a campaign (content) on a self-service site, but when they call the call-center to find out more information, the call center hasn’t been informed of the campaign and can’t answer.

Many enterprises have attempted to tackle this multi-channel content issue with technology, only to run into numerous people and process roadblocks within each individual channel – people and process changes just doesn’t happen overnight. Some that we’ve spoken to have armed themselves with content architects, usually within their ebusiness groups, that:

          Work across channels to help the enterprise define content architectures such as the definition of content types; how content should be structured; how content’s related with different channels (email, CRM, call-center, Web sites)

          Work within each line of business / channel to understand the channels’ content requirements; define and enforce standards such as tone of voice; how to write for a specific channel; and how content should be used in the channel.

          Work across each line of business / channel to highlight how content’s being reused or used differently, and point out opportunities to improve how they can share content and improve customer experiences.

Content architects don’t have to be technologists. The few we’ve spoken to have a mix of IT and business backgrounds. They all understand the importance of separating content from presentation. They all see the value in defining and managing content as XML – so long as the end users creating content don’t have to learn XML to get their jobs done. And yet they all seem to spend most of their time preaching the benefits of content management and working to convince different channel owners to think differently about their content.

The enterprises with content architects point to incremental improvements in their multi-channel experiences, as well as reduced operational costs associated to duplicated or inconsistent content issues.

Who’s your content architect?