Everyone wants to know how much an XML workflow is going to cost. For some reason, our prospective clients are rarely satisfied with the standard consultant answer of “It depends.”
This post outlines typical XML projects at four different budget levels: less than $50,000, $150K, $500K, and more than $500K.
The companies described are fictional composites. You should not make any major budgetary (or life) decisions based on these rough estimates. Your mileage may vary. Insert any other disclaimers I have forgotten.
First, some context. The numbers I’m quoting here include the following:
- Software licenses, such as a content management system, authoring tools, linguistic analysis, translation management software, and others
- Software installation and configuration
- Content migration from an outside vendor
- Content strategy, implementation, and training services from external consultants (like Scriptorium)
They do not take into account the following “soft” costs:
- Employee time spent on managing the project, reviewing deliverables, researching options, and negotiating with vendors
- Lost productivity during the transition
- Costs from any staff turnover that might occur
They also do not include IT costs:
- Hardware costs (that said, server costs are usually an insignificant fraction of the overall implementation budget)
- Network infrastructure costs (network bandwidth or latency issues need to be addressed if authors are storing content in shared repositories rather than their local file systems)
- IT resources to install, configure, and maintain a new system
$50,000 or less
This mid-sized organization has ten or fewer content creators who want to reduce the amount of time spent on formatting and increase their reuse percentage. Translation is required for FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) and CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).
The company uses a source control system to manage file versioning. XML is implemented using DITA with no specialization. The reuse strategy is straightforward and mostly at the topic level. Conditional processing is needed for a few audience variants. The organization pushes output to PDF and HTML, and content is published and translated a few times a year.
The localization vendor provides some support for translation management efforts.
The company moved away from a help authoring tool or a desktop publishing too, perhaps with single sourcing, because of increasing scalability problems. Over the next several years, the company expects to increase the number of languages that must be supported to more than 20.
Small XML workflow costs
- Authoring software: $5,000
- Information architecture/reuse strategy: $5,000
- PDF and HTML stylesheets: $19,000
- Content migration: $15,000
- Training: $6,000
This organization has 20 content creators and two production editors spread across four offices in three countries (and two continents). Authors create content in English and French. Translation is required into over two dozen languages, including Russian, Arabic, and Thai.
The translation effort is costing several million dollars per year, and at least 30% of that effort is in reformatting work. Although there is a lot of reuse potential, small inconsistencies mean that reuse in translation is only about 10%. The goal is to increase the translation memory usage to around 30%. Industry benchmarks indicate that this number is conservative; similar companies are reporting over 50%.
The company implements (relatively) inexpensive content management and translation systems and a reuse strategy intended to maximize reuse down to the sentence level. They choose DITA as the content model and specialize attributes (two new ones) and elements (five new ones) to support company-specific content requirements. Output is PDF and mobile-compatible HTML. Both outputs are required for all languages, so the stylesheets must include support for all languages.
Medium XML workflow costs
- Content management and translation management systems (including authoring software): $75,000
- Information architecture/reuse strategy: $15,000
- PDF and HTML stylesheets: $25,000
- Content migration: $25,000
- Training: $10,000
This organization has 50 content creators in half a dozen locations worldwide. Authors create content in English only. Translation is required for more than 30 languages.
The company implements relatively expensive content management and translation management systems, along with linguistic support software, which helps make content consistent as it is written. The cost is easily justified because of the large numbers of authors. For example, a 10% increase in author efficiency is equivalent to 5 extra full-time employees, or roughly $500,000 per year.
The planning phase for this XML workflow takes six months. The company builds out a formal business case and a content strategy document. These serve as the roadmap for the XML workflow. Vendor selection includes a formal Request for Proposal process.
The company reviews existing content and determines that rewrites are needed. This reduces migration costs.
Training costs are reduced by using a single delivery of a train-the-trainer class, along with live, web-based instruction instead of in-person classroom training.
The company is phasing out PDF delivery, but needs a basic PDF stylesheet, along with HTML output. The company is also building an app for iOS devices that customers can use to display content. Search functionality is a big concern because there is so much information available.
- Content strategy, along with information architecture and reuse strategy: $50,000
- Content management and translation management systems (including authoring software and linguistic support): $350,000
- PDF and HTML stylesheets: $50,000
- Mobile app: $30,000
- Content migration: $40,000
- Training: $15,000
More than $500,000
Take the $500,000ish version and expand it with more authors, more languages, and more output requirements. The line item that most commonly results in very expensive implementation is integration—such as a requirement to deliver XML content combined with data from product lifecycle management (PLM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
It’s quite easy to spend $500,000 just on software.
Difficult output challenges can also increase the cost.
What level of spending makes sense for you? Consult our XML business case calculator to find out.