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by Emerson Welch  |  June 8, 2023

What’s with XML Schemas? They’re Critical to a Successful Enterprise Content Strategy

XML Schemas

We recently wrapped the second episode of season 2 of our “Close the Content Loop” webinar series which talks all things content lifecycle management. This episode, titled: ‘Why Are XML Schemas So Critically Important to Enterprise Content?’ peeled back the onion of XML schemas, content structure and Smart Content.

We were fortunate to have a special guest, Quark’s senior vice president of enterprise products, Amit Sood lead our discussion. As a 20-year expert in structured content, Amit helped to clear the mist and fog around XML schemas and expose their true nature and simplicity.

XML Schemas – the basics

Communication is effective when it is structured and XML (which is short for eXtensible Markup Language) is a simple text-based format for sharing structured information. However, the structure of the communication is dependent on the purpose and target audience, each having a unique use case. For example, a research report differs significantly from a standard operating procedure (SOP).

The XML schema defines this structure, organizing the information into a modular content hierarchy using XML elements or tags. It defines attributes or metadata that adds semantic meaning and describes content, along with the sequences and relationships that make the content types suitable for the specific purpose. It also ensures the content adheres to the constraints, so it is fit to be processed and automated between different apps and systems. This results in standardized, consistent and compliant enterprise content that can be easily scaled, and the well-formed XML is appropriate for high value business communications between people, as well machines and programs.

Why enterprises need XML-based publishing processes

To be successful in today’s digital era, organizations must modernize their content operations to support their ability to scale their content strategies and deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time and via their preferred device for optimal consumption. This requires transitioning from creating flat documents to producing structured, modular, reusable, meta-tagged content. However, if XML is not viewed for its true value, a backend enabler for content maturity success, it presents challenges for organizations.

Most native XML authoring tools have a very technical user interface, which is not ideal for most of your non-technical authors across the business who want to focus on imparting knowledge, not learning about new technology. There are a few XML authoring tools that are designed to ‘hide the XML’ and facilitate the tagging of XML content, but these often require users to have a deep understanding of the domain they are working in and the tags they are using.

For XML to be successful, focus on “what” the content requires and not the technicalities of “how” the content works, namely the XML and the metadata tags. When the ease of use is established, the subject-matter experts (SMEs) can continue to create high value enterprise content in everyday software tools they’re accustomed to using, like Microsoft Word.

Busting through the XML schema challenges

The adoption rate of XML schemas across companies is still evolving. Businesses operating in certain verticals such as government and regulatory agencies have evolved and understand the need of structured, reusable content. And we’ve seen technology publishing houses adopting XML for content creation, but when it comes to mainstream content creation by business users there’s a huge opportunity. So, what’s holding them back?

Many schemas are extremely powerful but are also extremely complex to understand, create and maintain. But for a digital-first business, content written by financial and legal analysts or product marketing teams are not technical programmers. The key to a successful adoption is to provide the ease and usability of Microsoft Word with the power of XML i.e. structured content.

Also, there are many XML schemas for authoring and publishing in the marketplace. For example, the XML schema such as S1000D for aerospace and defense, and SPL for FDA drug labelling, are industry specific. There are also custom schemas which are targeted for an enterprise or use case, but there are generic schemas, based on open architecture, allowing specialization for multiple industries or enterprises.

When applying an XML schema, it must be in context of the organization’s content strategy and their target business outcomes. If the goal is to meet regulatory compliance for a particular market with a specific authority, then a targeted or vertical specific schema such as S1000D or SPL or MSL can be applied.

Many of today’s global enterprises have one goal: deliver excellent customer service. To be successful in meeting all customers, wherever they are, the business will have multiple information types, ranging from marketing collateral and policies & procedures to product documentation. Here, an open XML architecture with specializations such as Quark’s Smart Content, which can scale for enterprise-wide content, is the recommended option for them.

XML schema is the enabler technology to produce modular, reusable and semantic content. It is a pathway forward to addressing the complexity around content, especially supporting your organizations’ ability to reuse content and global variations of that content.

Important reminders

The organizations’ content or information architect is normally the one responsible for defining and maintaining the XML schemas because they’re the ones who have the expertise in XML-based schemas, metadata & taxonomies, structured component management and data integration with wider content ecosystems. Content writers must understand the best practices of component or modular authoring and meta tagging but there should be no need of XML training or knowledge.

Also, the schema must balance the need for content structure with ease of use. It must be easy for content writers to configure, deploy, update and process with low-code / no-code tools. As it’s still very much XML, it captures semantics and becomes an enabler for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, which fuels your Smart Content strategy and allows your organizations to know if content created and published is achieving its desired outcomes.

To execute a successful enterprise content strategy, organizations must first take a look at their content creation processes and fuel content creators’ ability to take an XML-based approach for authoring. This structured content component strategy will support your ability to drive efficient production, reusability, omnichannel publishing, translation & regionalization and updated, compliant, personalized content.

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to XML schemas. Do your research, ask other organizations how they use schemas. This insight will aid in your ability to minimize technical barriers and develop a content strategy that works for your business and accelerates your time to value for all your audiences.

Quark Publishing Platform (QPP) NextGen minimizes the technical barriers by taking an open, low-code / no-code approach to content creation. It automates the creation of modular, semantic rich Smart Content components that can be reused throughout the content lifecycle.

See for yourself. Request a demo.

Look out for the next episode of Close the Content Loop and don’t forget to subscribe to our Quark Publishing Platform NextGen YouTube channel for all the latest webinars and videos.

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