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November 27, 2018

High return on high-design in DITA

If you’re transitioning to DITA and have a wide variety of documents, it’s probably best to do a phased rollout. When you move into the second phase of that rollout, however, how can you best leverage the work that’s already been done to smooth the process?

Scriptorium worked with a client whose organization had mostly transitioned to DITA managed via a CCMS. The client had a small team that was still creating two types of documents in an unstructured desktop publishing application. The client’s goal was to get these highly-designed documents into DITA¬†and publish to PDF.

The problem

The client had two different types of documents: a product information sheet, and a maintenance record sheet. The product information sheet tells customers about new product features or recall information. The maintenance record sheet serves as a way for customers to prove that a licensed technician has performed maintenance on their equipment for warranty purposes.

Each of these documents was created in a desktop publishing application. Because of the strict layout requirements, the authors spent a great deal of effort manually tweaking the layout and applying overrides. The need for the hand-layout process increased localization costs, limiting the client to localizing into only one out of their more than ten target languages.

The team creating these documents was very small. With a limited ability to offload work, production pipelines became clogged. Because of the specialized nature of the work, training additional staff was not feasible.

The solution

Scriptorium built a DITA OT plugin that would transform DITA content into a PDF. The biggest challenges lay in the formatting requirements and finding a way to efficiently store metadata.

Formatting requirements

The product information sheet had a sidebar that contained additional information like required equipment, affected models, or additional information. Because of the narrow space, we had to ensure that content would not flow off of the page while also accounting for text expansion in localization. We achieved this by working with the client to determine the most effective formatting and spacing to make the use of the limited space.

The maintenance record sheet consisted of a series of checklists detailing maintenance procedures and recommended maintenance actions. They also had to fit on a single page, since they had to be filled out in duplicate.

Metadata requirements

During the first phase of the rollout, we had created custom domain and document type specializations for the client. We used the existing information architecture to accommodate the sidebar information in the product data sheet. This allowed us to simplify the authoring process by creating semantically meaningful metadata elements and also make the content more searchable within the client’s CCMS.

The results

The most immediate benefit was with localization. Content and string reuse reduced localization overhead. In addition, the PDF transform handles formatting automatically, eliminating the lengthy hand-layout portion of the localization workflow. This reduced the cost per language enough that the client was able to localize into all of their target languages. In addition, more of their authoring staff is now able to create this content. With fewer workflow bottlenecks, productivity has increased.

By moving these sheets over to DITA, the authors are also able to use existing specializations and custom handling developed for their other documents. Content like custom warnings or company branding is now standardized across the client’s publishing platform, ensuring that future updates will be more seamless.