December 18, 2023

Product Spotlight: Jo Lam on Image Handling in a CCMS

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Images like diagrams can be an essential part of documentation, and if you manage them correctly in a component content management system (CCMS) you can save time and increase efficiency. Jo Lam, Product Operations Manager at Paligo, explains how to switch from manual image handling to a more automated process.

Jo has several years of experience as an information architect, and as a solutions engineer at Paligo has helped customers get the most out of our platform. Jo is passionate about solving problems for Paligo users and says that image handling, particularly as part of a broader content plan, is an area that is often overlooked.

Image Handling

Why is it important to focus on image handling in a CCMS?

Jo Lam: When you’re learning about a CCMS, you often focus on the textual content. It’s important to remember, though, that images are an important part of supporting the text. If you don’t plan for how you are going to handle your images, it can cause chaos in your entire content management.

There’s a couple of common mistakes that people make, and a lot of the time they’re largely based on their previous understanding of how image or media management works. For example, if you’re used to working with Word or Confluence, those use very manual processes for image handling. But if you approach a CCMS using those same manual processes, you’re going to end up with a lot of duplications and disorder.

Can you explain a little more what you mean by that?

Jo: I think the most common mistakes with image handling in a CCMS relate to the combination of language, product and version variations.

Let’s say you’re going to add a new PNG image file in English, and you’re going to create variations for the image for three products, in three languages, with three versions. What people will usually do is drop all nine of those images into a folder. Then when they need to change one of those images, what people often do is manually upload another PNG into the folder, and then insert that image into a topic. This can quickly turn into a mess, since now instead of having nine images in your folder, you have 9 current or relevant images but many redundant ones.

This makes it difficult for someone else trying to manage and navigate your content. Someone might grab the wrong image file when trying to update content or delete the wrong file. This is a common consequence of this type of image management.

Managing images

What should people do instead of uploading images manually into topics?

Jo: Our Paligo CCMS has some really great functions for image handling. The way it works is that you upload those initial nine image variations in the example I talked about, and no more. Then you should use features in the CCMS to help automate the updating or replacement of images.

To manage images for product variations, for example, you could use variable sets. Variable sets will switch the product images automatically, so you’re not manually replacing them per product topic.

To manage the language variations for images, you could go into the media management settings for each image. In the settings you can insert and maintain language variations. When you publish, the image will automatically change based on the language you select.

For the last part, managing images for versions, let’s say you’re updating a version. You can go into the original image that you uploaded and replace it. When you replace it, the CCMS will automatically populate the image everywhere it is used.

If you manage your images like this, you will always have only relevant image files in your CCMS and no obsolete ones.

Do people have difficulty handling images in this way?

Jo: I think it’s a new way of working, just like some people might have a hard time with a paradigm shift into structured authoring. You have to understand that content is not a linear thing anymore. It’s all about relationships between different parts, different building blocks.

When thinking about how to manage your images, my advice is to look at them in the same way ‌you do your textual content. In other words, do the content audit (analysis), do the content plan, and figure out where those common points are for the media. You need to be very strategic and systematic before you start putting text and images into a CCMS.

Making a plan

If you’re doing a content plan that includes images, what would that involve?

Jo: Part of it is finding the common denominator with your images. For example, if you do a content audit and analysis, and you find that the content between product A, B and C share 80% of the same text, then logic says they should share 80% of the images. So you need to find out which images those are.

You also need to determine which images need variables, which need language versions, or which should be handled with filters instead of variables. Sometimes I hear from customers that their content is unique, that they can’t reuse content or create variables. You might find in your analysis, though, that you’ve been creating different images for similar content, when really the same images could be used.

How should people go about making a content plan and doing a content inventory?

Jo: It’s important to emphasize that Paligo gives you the tools to easily manage your content, but the tools won’t solve your problem if you don’t have a blueprint – and that’s what a content plan is. You can try throwing tools at a piece of wood, but it’s not going to turn into a table.

To create and implement a content plan, may want to consult an information architect, content strategist, project manager, and a business analyst. My recommendation is if an organization doesn’t have those skillsets or resources internally, they could always find a consultant. We have partners that we can recommend to help you with this process.

What other challenges do people have with image handling in a CCMS?

Jo: What some people might not understand when first working with a CCMS is that the published form of the content is separate from the content production, and this applies not just to the text but also the media.

For example, in the Paligo Layout Editor you can specify that all images need to have a certain size, ratio or style, and you don’t need to go in and manually adjust the image size or style per topic. That can be a hard thing for people to grasp, since in the content industry, people often think of media as a very separate thing from text when it comes to technical communication.

Another mistake people can make in technical communication is using images as the main form of communication. It should actually be the other way around, where text is the main focus and images are there to support it. This is a best practice in technical writing because you’re not just creating content so people can read it, but also so people and technology can search for it, reuse it, translate it, and more; and this is harder to do with images.

What do you like about working with images in Paligo?

Jo: Paligo makes it so much easier to manage images once you understand the process. It really saves you time, makes your images more consistent and reusable, and makes maintaining and updating images almost automatic. Paligo helps you build a solid foundation for image management that is easy to sustain in the long term and easy to scale up.

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