XPubs: DITA implementation in progress

Sarah O'Keefe / ConferencesLeave a Comment

Chris Hadley of Micro Focus
Noz Urbin of Mekon

Micro Focus
12 writers in four locations
rapidly growing team, but also 20-year company veterans

Content is in XML, written using XMetaL, stored in CVS, DTDs and XSLT developed in-house.

Acquired companies have content in FrameMaker and Word.

Delivery in CHM, HTML, Help 2.

Lots of reuse in places; none in others.

No localization.

Problem very interesting because second generation of XML implementations are beginning. System was developed in-house, which was cutting edge at the time but now showing its age. It is costly to maintain, and the experts have left. Company cannot manage, debug, or improve the processes that exist.

Cannot continue to rely on in-house solutions because of risks of breakdowns. Change was required.

Business case 1: Value to customer
Improve quality of content with reuse, consistency, and accuracy.
Improve search. (“Content is great…when I can find it.”)
Publishing to different formats.

Business case 2: Value to business
More accurate documentation with information easier to find means lower support cost due to fewer calls.
Lower cost on development. If support can find answers in documentation, there’s no need to ask development team. Development team also uses documentation.
Reducing time on non-writing tasks such as builds means more time available for writing content.

Business case 3: Value to doc team
Replace aging systems and processes before they affect ability to deliver
Sustainable and manageable systems that can work even if there is employee turnover.
Align with industry standards (key reason). Open source expertise is transferable from other organizations, helps with recruitment.

Project started at the end of 2007. They engaged Mekon to help with the analysis of the current situation. By February 2008, they chose a CMS (TriSoft). Engaged Mekon to convert content to DITA. Installed and configured TriSoft. Primary consideration was cost, and they were required to give a budget figure to their board before they knew what they were going to be doing.

Why a CMS? They needed software that was supported externally instead of being produced in-house. Secondary priorities were reuse (“a single version of the truth”) and publishing issues (multiple formats and audience, building and testing, link management).

Why DITA? Decision to DITA was very difficult. But the same arguments that applied to externally supported software applied to the DITA issues. Migration will be painful for acquired companies no matter what.

Why Mekon? Industry experience, skills range across the company, can talk about ROI, are independent, they are based locally (except Noz!).

Why the project will succeed. It must. Team is enthusiastic and motivated — no issues with change resistance and recognized that the old system was unsustainable, already knew XML and XMetaL. Company’s charter includes the phrase “debate passionately, get on board.” And they did. Buy-in from the executive board was critical. Had to get senior VP to understand, support, and present to the board for approval. Early wins — they already have demonstrable results. This is the right solution at the right time for this company.

Complexities and pitfalls
Didn’t know what the end product was going to be. How do you learn what you need to when you don’t know what you don’t know? No in-house DITA experience, limited CMS knowledge. Also need to demonstrate results quickly while learning. Couldn’t design perfect solution before starting, need to make changes during implementation. Balance between up-front research and management of progress expectations.
Content migration to DITA did not make the original timeline. Big reason for that is the “day job” — writing content. So the initiative has to take a back seat to getting content out the door. Geographically dispersed team is difficult — two locations haven’t even looked at XML. Don’t have a fully developed training structure yet.
The pilot project hasn’t quite happened yet.
Preparing for migration is a horrible pain. Don’t underestimate the cost of migration.
Publishing is complex, but it’s taking time to get to a push-button process and it’s not ready yet.

Planning to map to DITA, migrate to CMS. Will run old and new systems in parallel until they’re sure that the new stuff is really working.

Need to re-architect content, integrate acquisitions, and refine and improve the process.

Business case for documentation team is very different from business case to board. The doc team’s need for CMS needed to be presented in a way that would get approval.

This may not the right solution for everyone, but if it is, “get on with it.”

CMS licenses — some have high up-front cost but drop quickly per seat with bigger implementations. Others have low up-front cost but licensing per-seat doesn’t drop much with greater volume. Makes cost evaluation different for different sized organization.

Another very interesting presentation. A rather aggressive timeline and the unique circumstance of lots of high-end skills (like XSLT development) in the documentation organization.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe

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Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

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