Content Management, I think (Long)

Subject: Content Management, I think (Long)
From: "Marie C. Paretti" <mparetti -at- vt -dot- edu>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 08 Mar 2002 11:29:38 -0500

I'd search the archives or the web on this, but to be honest, I'm not really sure what I'm looking for, and that's where I need help. If someone could point me in the right direction, I'd be thrilled. Searching on things like "Single Sourcing" and "Content Management" open a pandora's box, so I need to narrow my approach. It could be that the current discussion on databases is what I need. Right now, I'm looking for a direction to investigate.

Here's the situation: one of my long-standing clients wants help streamlining their writing process; they produce and maintain/update something like business plans for their customers. My client has ~3 people (not writers, and while not computer-illiterate, not wiz-bang techies either) producing/updating these plans. My client wants two things:

1. A series of boilerplate documents that his people can then open, save to a new file, and edit as necessary. The plans they write will have any number of common pieces (the boilerplate text), but each plan also gets tweaked based on the customer's situation. In addition to the text, each plan may include maps and other GIS data, and reports generating from another program that is itself build on an Access database. The plan gets printed (nicely formatted of course) and handed to the customer.
- This part is at least doable. I can create the boilerplate docs in Word, make them read-only, give my client's employees a down & dirty on styles, and show them how to insert individual files into a single document, and probably even work around incorporating the material from other programs - I need to look at their GIS system to be sure. Worse comes to worse, that info is a separate appendix (that's what they do now - print from the relevant programs and tack the printouts on to the end).

2. The complicated part - the client wants an *easy* system for putting the finished plans on a password-protected web site, and updating the web version of each plan sort of on the fly. That is, suppose my client is maintaining 75 plans, each made up of 4 documents: A, B, C, and D. Let's assume A, C, and D are customized versions of the boilerplate that are different for every customer, while B is a fixed text - say, current market pricing information. If the market price info changes and my client updates document B, he wants to not only be able to generate a new printed version when the time comes (they update printed versions once a year for every customer), but be able, in one fell swoop, to update all 75 plans on the web in "real time" - i.e. update the web version of B and have that change all web versions of the plan.
Part of what makes this complicated is that this is something his employees (again, not professional writers, not people up on all the latest writing-related software or on HTML) need to be able to do regularly (probably biweekly or monthly). They need to be able to quickly create the web version of each plan from the print version, and readily make changes. Word is the writing tool of choice, though if I could come up with another *easy-to-use* system, that might fly as well.

The options I've come up with so far:
- Word's Save as HTML feature, which produces . . . shall we say, "weak," code but which might serve this purpose (but might not, the printed docs will have extensive formatting and all kinds of things would like get screwed up)
- Word to PDF, with embedded links referencing the various documents. This is what I'm leaning towards.
- Some sort of content management system or database structure that I admittedly feel at a loss on developing (but there's no time like the present to learn new skills).

Either of the first 2 I can handle, but if you think the third one is my best bet, I need help getting started. Before I launch myself into the content management fray, I'd like to know whether or not that's the direction I need to go, or if the Word to PDF option would be equally (maybe more) effective.

Note, too, that my client is a small company without a lot of $$ to invest in new software; budgets are tight all the way around.


Dr. Marie C. Paretti
Assistant Director of Professional Writing
Department of English
Virginia Tech
mparetti -at- vt -dot- edu

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