White Papers—Good and Bad

I just received a newsletter from ZDNet which has links to 2 white papers; one about Business Intelligence in Financial Services and the other about Business Technical Support. Between them they illustrate well what differentiates good white papers—the minority—from the rest.

The Financial Services paper contains all the critical ingredients of a good white paper:

  • Explains problem/opportunity: e.g. “Consolidation continues unabated, causing the competitive landscape to change frequently and dramatically”
  • Prescribes solution: e.g. “BI can significantly increase insight into customers, financial health, risk and compliance, and operational processes”
  • Gives examples: e.g. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and others
  • Describes Benefits: e.g. “Finalized their budget process sooner than they ever had before; ”
  • Is useful in its own right: e.g. explains the differences between strategic, tactical and operational BI
  • Has a point of view: e.g. BI doesn’t have benefit until someone acts on the insight—reducing the latency from insight to action is a key component of value
  • Is well written: e.g. well organized and doesn’t presume that the reader already knows the industry’s terms

Because it has all these things, although it was written in 2008, it is still one of ZDNet’s most downloaded white papers.

The other paper avoids saying anything useful at all. For example: “The first step in choosing the right metrics is to establish what is going to be measured… Properly selected indicators will provide a summary level view of how support is performing… These may change over time as the business needs change.”

I can’t use this to do anything, and neither can anyone else. Not without calling the author—a company, not a person, that happens to “specialize in helping companies develop and execute service and support strategies.” There are incidentally, no examples and no demonstrated benefits of doing things the way the paper recommends.

As I mentioned in my last post, our research shows that readers value white papers that are educational and non-promotional. Since papers like this second one aren’t valued, I am still wondering why people continue to produce them.

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