Single-Sourcing Survey Analysis


August 2001

Single-Sourcing Survey Analysis

CIDMIconNewsletter Tina Hedlund, Senior Consultant, Comtech Services, Inc.

Despite the recent flurry of interest in content management and single sourcing, the majority of information-development organizations we surveyed are not using content-management systems, although 33 percent report using a content or document management system. Nor have organizations begun to redesign their information resources or their processes to accommodate a single-source, content-management methodology. Among those few using content-management systems, most report using their systems for less than a year.

Content/Document-Management Systems

The difference between content management and document management is the granularity of the content stored. Content management generally refers to systems storing smaller pieces of information, like a procedure, that can be mixed and matched to create a wide array of deliverables. Document management, on the other hand, refers to systems storing whole documents. With integration into the authoring tool, most document management systems can easily become content-management systems. What content management and document management have in common are library functions like versioning, workflow, and check-in/check-out capabilities.

Thirty-nine respondents report using a content/document management system, and Documentum is used more often than other systems (23 percent of those using a content/document-management system).

Thirteen percent of the organizations using a content/document-management system store information using Chrystal Software’s SGML-based system, Astoria.

Ten percent of the reporting organizations using a content/document-management system depend upon proprietary content-management tools developed by their own organizations.

Most organizations simply house their information resources on a file server and do not use any content/document-management systems.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents report reusing information within a deliverable and between deliverables (see below).


Authoring Process

To write information that can be reused, it is important that the authoring process takes information reuse into account. The most successful departments collaborate on authoring activities rather than having one writer responsible for single or multiple deliverables.

Overwhelmingly, writers author documents in the same way they always have done: one writer writes the deliverable independent of other writers in the department. There are very few departments collaborating on deliverables. Only 11 percent report collaborating on a book, and 8 percent report collaborating on an online help system.

When comparing departments that reuse information content to departments that don’t, those that reuse information using a content-management system are nearly three times as likely to collaborate on deliverables than those that don’t. (See the table below. Please note that the total percentage does not equal 100, because some departments reported working in a way other than the choices offered.)


One Writer Works on a Deliverable

Many Writers Work on a Deliverable

No reuse



Reuse by cut and paste



Reuse by FrameMaker insets or external reference



Reuse by a content-management system




External Information Reuse

To implement a truly useful content-management system it is important that all users of the information be addressed, whether the users are the technical publications organization, engineering, or training.

Many departments outside the technical publications organization reuse information from technical publications (see below); only 22 percent report that no one reuses their content. Training is most likely to reuse information from technical publications, with Customer Service and Marketing close seconds. Other organizations that typically reuse information include Development/Engineering, Technical Support, Sales, and other technical publication groups.



Content management isn’t the only buzzword on people’s minds right now. Another is XML. XML allows authors to separate style from content and single-source information more efficiently. Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of up-front planning and organization to make this distinction possible.

Fifteen percent of respondents use XML editors and are nearly evenly split between using the Arbortext Editor (6 percent) and XMetaL (5 percent). Of those not authoring in XML, 5 percent are currently reviewing XML editors but have made no decisions. A few others report using tools like HoTMetaL, plain text editors, and FrameMaker+SGML (see above).


Cost Savings

Validating cost investment through metrics is an important component of ensuring the future viability of a single-source project. It would seem to be obvious that cost savings are likely if authors are not re-writing content or wasting time on styling output, but metrics are necessary to prove those assumptions.


Many respondents reported that they have not been able to calculate savings because they were too early into their CMS implementation (see above). Those who reported savings focused on lower final production costs first. The second most frequent cost savings reported was the result of reuse. These organizations saved because they avoided writing the same information multiple times.