tekom 2016: Götterdämmerung?

Sarah O'Keefe / Analysis, Conferences16 Comments

After the anti-DITA insurrection at tekom 2015, the 2016 conference took a turn in a different direction.

Here are a few highlights. Keep in mind that the conference is huge; it would take a platoon of people to cover the 250 technical sessions.

The overarching theme of tekom 2016 was intelligent content, which was covered in several complementary tracks:

Façade of the Stuttgart convention center with teton and intelligent information decals

tekom at the Stuttgart convention center // Photo: Alan Pringle

  • DITA Forum (English), organized by Kris Eberlein and me, focused on case studies and concrete implementation experiences in DITA. Alan Pringle of Scriptorium and Tina Meißner of parson AG discussed the development of the English and German versions of LearningDITA.
  • Intelligent Information (German) asserted that “dynamic delivery of user information is the future of technical communication: personalized information at the right time in the right location in the right format. Requirements to create intelligent information include structured authoring, component content management, metadata, intelligent delivery, use cases, and user experience.” (source)
  • Information Energy (English) largely focused on the need for Information 4.0 in response to Industry 4.0.

iiRDS standard

The tekom organization is working on a new standard, iiRDS, the Intelligent Information Request and Delivery Standard. The standard was introduced by Michael Fritz and a team of industry experts during the conference.

Here is the description from tekom, along with my translation:

Die Bereitstellung von Nutzungsinformation muss automatisiert werden, damit diese kontextabhängig und individualisiert geschehen kann und sich in Konzepte wie Industrie 4.0 oder Internet of Things integriert.

Um dieses Ziel zu erreichen fehlte es bislang an einem branchenübergreifend akzeptierten Standard. Diese Lücke will die tekom-Arbeitsgruppe “Information 4.0” aus namhaften Vertretern von CMS, Industrieanwendern, Beratern und Wissenschaftlern mit dem tekom-iiRDS schließen.

The delivery of user information must be automated to enable context-independent and personalized publishing and to enable integration with Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things applications.

Until now, we cannot achieve this goal because we do not have an accepted cross-industry standard. The tekom working group Information 4.0 intends to close this gap with the tekom-iiRDS standard, which is being developed by leading representatives of CMSs, industry, consultants, and researchers.

Ulrike Parson of Parson AG provided a detailed overview of iiRDS. She writes this:
We need to standardize the metadata that we deliver together with our documentation and which makes our content semantically accessible. Only this way can documentation content become exchangeable and usable for multiple producers. That’s the fundamental concern of iiRDS.
Tekom plans to launch the standard with a Request for Comments phase on March 31, 2017. The standard will be released under Creative Commons license. Currently, there is minimal information on the tekom site, but you can sign up for a newsletter.

It’s too early to provide any assessment of the standard still under development, but I have a few comments and questions:

  • The working group is a who’s who of German tech comm experts.
  • It’s unclear whether iiRDS will be a competitor to other modular standards, like DITA and S1000D, or whether those standards could be integrated with iiRDS.
  • There are a lot of flavors of Creative Commons licenses, and I’d like to know exactly what the license will be.
  • I’d like to know more about governance of the standard.
  • It’s fascinating to see the German CMS vendors support a standard after arguing vehemently at tekom 2015 that their various flavors of XML, bound to their individual systems, were Just Fine Thank You.
  • What differentiates iiRDS from DITA? (I think the answer is a metadata classification scheme based on PI-Classification.) Ms. Parson also says in her article that iiRDS will be a standard for interchange and not authoring.
  • Could that metadata be implemented in DITA? (Yes, via a metadata specialization and/or subjectScheme?)
  • Why choose iiRDS? Why not?
  • It is really open? Open source? Usable? Configurable?
  • Will the market support this new standard?

Information Energy

The Information Energy track focused on how information must evolve to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0. Briefly, the Industry 4.0 is the concept of the intelligent machine—a factory where machines are interconnected. The concept is related to the Internet of Things, but where IoT usually focuses on consumer use cases (the refrigerator that automatically reorders food), Industry 4.0 focuses on the business applications of connected machines.

DITA Forum

Interest in DITA was strong at tekom 2016. The DITA Forum sessions were well-attended. The DITA Forum offered several case studies (SAP, rail industry, e-learning), an overview of specialization concepts, and a panel discussion on DITA versus custom XML versus no XML.

Other DITA content

Confusingly, there were other DITA presentations in addition to those in the DITA Forum. Dr. Martin Kreutzer of Empolis provided an excellent overview of different ways to manage variant content in DITA. (Slides in German)

Meanwhile, Karsten Schrempp of PANTOPIX delivered a presentation entitled, Was wir von DITA lernen könnten – wenn wir denn wollten! …What we could learn from DITA—if we wanted to! (Slides in German) Please note the use of subjunctive mood (in both his original German and my English translation).

This was an interesting presentation. Mr. Schrempp outlined various DITA features and described how these features, if not the standard itself, are potentially useful even in Germany (where DITA is notoriously unpopular). There were a few assertions that stood out to me:

  • Several times during the presentation, he reminded attendees that referring to DITA advocates as the “DITA Taliban” was not very helpful or productive. It was quite amusing, even as the repeated reminders took on a tinge of “But Brutus is an honorable man…”
  • DITA versus CMS. Mr. Schrempp tried to close the gap. In Germany, there has been the argument that DITA is “merely” a standard for content development on the file system. He pointed out that DITA used inside a CMS is still a DITA system. In German tech comm circles, this is a controversial assertion.
  • Toward the end of the presentation, in almost a throwaway comment, Mr. Schrempp mentioned a key difference between DITA CMS systems and the proprietary XML CMS systems more popular in Germany: Purchasing a DITA CMS does not lock a customer into a specific content delivery portal. Some of the DITA CMS vendors do provide content delivery portals, but DITA content can be delivered in any DITA-compatible portal. By contrast, most German CMS vendors create both authoring systems (CMS) and content delivery systems. Because each CMS uses its own flavor of XML, choosing a CMS effectively means choosing the content delivery system at the same time. This selection is decoupled in the DITA market.

In a later discussion, I spoke with Mr. Schrempp in more detail about this issue. He pointed out that the new iiRDS standard could enable a customer to buy a CMS from one vendor and a content delivery portal from another vendor. iiRDS could provide the middleware layer to cross-connect the otherwise incompatible content models.

Politics at tekom

The US election, which occurred in the middle of the conference, was a topic of discussion throughout the event. A few serious conversations drove home the worldwide impact of developments in the United States. From an Indian participant, I heard concerns about possible changes to the H1-B visa program. From an Eastern European participant, there was grave concern about the US’s continued commitment to NATO and to former Eastern Bloc countries that are now NATO members.

 

The theme that emerged from tekom was the need for integration of information from multiple sources. This integration requirement is driving interest in standards. The iiRDS standard is clearly aimed at the huge German machinery documentation market.

Claire Parry of CMP Services has a tekom takeaways article.

What did you think of tekom 2016?

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe

Twitter

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.

16 Comments on “tekom 2016: Götterdämmerung?”

    1. I have no idea whether there’s going to be conref push or not. I sort of think that DITA could be the “content” part of the content/metadata combination, but I don’t know. See Markus’s comment below.

  1. Sarah, thanks for this recap. It’s extremely informative.

    Re iiRDS: of course it can be integrated with DITA, and of course it can be open — if its creators choose to do it that way. But I’m probably not be on the same side of the DITA Divide as them. Like you, I’d like to know more about the governance of iiRDS.

    Re content and Industry 4.0: I’m reading some utopian-sounding stuff, like the tcworld article that Vinish cited. But I’m also reading the “fake news on Facebook” coverage, and it’s hard to square the two. How can standards like iiRDS ensure that content will be used only in honorable ways? Can they? And who gets to define what’s “honorable”?

    Lots of questions. I guess the answers, for now, are blowing in the wind. Thanks again for this excellent article.

  2. Sarah,
    thanks for your POVs to tekom16 and iiRDS. I’m part of the iiRDS working group, so I try to explain my personal POV to iiRDS.
    I think iiRDS is not only targeting machinery industry. IMHO iiRDS targets Software; as Information 4.0/Industry 4.0 doesn’t work without software and machines can’t communicate without any piece of software. So why shouldn’t iiRDS work with any kind of software and why shouldn’t it be possible to draw a certain content in any Web application outside of a machine. Provide metadata and anything is possible.

    Main focus of iiRDS is exchanging content between 1:n systems. Easiest use case, and the most understandable (for Germans?) is connecting a machine to content. I.e. a machine raises an error and certain error description is displayed just in time. However, for me that is not all. There are many more use cases, where it is necessary to define a new standard for exchanging such technical content with systems authors do not know, when content is created. And especially in my opinion: if we talk about I40 we don’t talk about machines, we talk about control systems, services which manage ships, smart factories, etc.

    There’s no competition with other standards like DITA, native CCMS whatever. It is something, which is not really captured yet. In this discussion, we have to separate, what we already separated with XML: It’s about to separate content creation/management and publishing. For me iiRDS targets the publishing aspect and content management has to make this new publishing processes possible.

    To demonstrate this, I took pi-fan original content (www.pi-fan.de), which is based on Excel and Word documents. I transformed it to fit the iiRDS requirements. My result of this investigation is: people who are interested in Information 4.0 need a concept first. Perhaps they need DITA, perhaps they need CCMS or perhaps they need Word and Excel, this is another decision, but I’m sure it only works with metadata.

    If you want to see (my) iiRDS live, visit https://ids.c-rex.net/Package. There you will find a few samples and of course the pi-fan implementation. In this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzHPxeltbdM you find a certain use case, which demonstrates how you can make use of all this stuff in a smart factory (demo) app (German Speaker).

    I’m very interested in a discussion about information 4.0 and what the requirement in the near future are.
    Thanks for listening.
    Markus

  3. Thanks for the info Sarah. Can you recommend any sources of info about Industry / Industrie 4.0?

    Note: We have a good IoT meetup here in Philadelphia. The discussions I’ve heard recently don’t exclusively focus on consumer use cases (connected refrigerators, etc.). However, this is the 1st time I’ve seen the term “Industry 4.0.” It stands to reason that the commercial / industrial applications of IoT will likely be far greater than consumer uses. Looking forward to learning more.

  4. Hi, Sarah.

    Just a couple of responses to your questions and comments about iiRDS; I spent a lot of time talking to folks at tcworld about it — and I’m sorry that we did not get the chance to catch up about it before you and Alan left for Frankfurt.

    * It’s (deliberately) not a standard for authoring content, and so is no competitor of DITA or S1000D. It’s a standard for metadata, to enable content from different CMS to be able to be served up (or retrieved) by applications and users other than the CMS in which the content was originally authored, stored, and managed. (Yes, I’m glad to see that interchange (maybe even interoperability?) is now on the public agenda.)
    * It would be quite simple to build a DITA specialization for iiRDS metadata. Handling the question of who would own and maintain that specialization would be the difficult piece 🙂
    * I’ve just finished a translation of the slide deck and will be making it available shortly.

    Kris

  5. Marc Gravez, if you’re interested in pursuing the question of Information 4.0 please join our LinkedIn group, doc4 – Documentation 4.0, Content 4.0, Information 4.0 – the way forward. It’s a good place to share information, start discussions, and interact.

    Sarah, thanks for your recap, and thanks to Kris for the update. I think the question of interoperability is important. I also think that alternative schemes to DITA that use similar structure and need to use related metadata should be able to tap into something like iiRDS so that information can easily be ported from one environment to another.

    There are many reasons why information developers would prefer one scheme over another, different flavours of XML or even alternatives to XML. As we move into more and more personalized information environments with individualized customer experiences, we’re also going to see more and more personalized development environments with individualized author experiences. This is probably positive, but only if they can all talk to each other 😉

  6. FWIW, there was even more DITA related content at TCWorld, including my session “DITA Publishing – Overview” – which was thought as a response to last year sessions against DITA – I basically took the same DITA content and showed that published in a variety of formats, from basic HTML to advanced portals, simple PDF to professional PDF, electronic books, word processors, mobile, etc. – publishing options provided by a many vendors and showing open source, free and commercial options:
    http://conferences.tekom.de/fileadmin/tx_doccon/slides/1456_DITA_Publishing_Overview.pdf

    On a similar note, the DITA Interoperability panel took DITA content and showed that evolving with re-branding and specializations, used in authoring tools, moving to a CMS and different publishing solutions:
    http://conferences.tekom.de/fileadmin/tx_doccon/slides/1580_DITA_Interoperability.pdf

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