From FrameMaker to DITA: A Natural Migration


October 2007

From FrameMaker to DITA: A Natural Migration

CIDMIconNewsletter Carol Bumbaca, XyEnterprise

Birds fly south in winter, and salmon swim upstream, returning to tiny brooks to spawn. While some migrations are natural, others are simply logical. One such migration is the use of FrameMaker as the path to a well-managed DITA environment.

Many companies would like to take advantage of all that DITA has to offer but are reluctant to start because they’re unwilling or unable to commit to the ramp-up time and resources needed to ensure a successful implementation. What they may be unaware of is that it’s possible to make a gradual migration to DITA without breaking stride and losing productivity.

For many, the advantages of FrameMaker are proven, and the advantages of DITA are compelling. With the introduction of FrameMaker 8.0, we are starting to see more companies embrace structured XML authoring. The question, however, is “what is the best approach for managing this transition?” Increasingly we are recommending a phased migration that helps ensure that day to day production needs are met while the migration to a DITA-based environment is in process.

Recognizing that change takes time to implement and people are often resistant to change, a phased transition from a FrameBook orientation to a DITA orientation provides the best of both worlds: it allows you to ease into a structured content management environment, without disrupting the editorial workflow and familiar tools that your writers and reviewers are comfortable using. Because you don’t have to learn new authoring, editorial, and management processes all at once, it minimizes the amount of disruption to the people and the process and minimizes the need for retraining.

Frequently, the move to DITA is accompanied by the deployment of a Content Management System (CMS) to manage the process of component-based authoring and reuse that are core to a DITA approach. We recommend putting the value of a CMS into play early in the migration process. In that way, your team can immediately begin enjoying the benefits of a CMS–version management, search, controlled access, user roles, workflow, reuse, and the myriad of benefits that a central repository can bring to your authoring and publishing environments.

Using a content management system such as XyEnterprise’s Contenta, it’s possible to manage structured and unstructured data in the same environment. And because Contenta can support a variety of data types, both Frame data and DITA data can be stored in the same Contenta repository.  Documents that remain in FrameBook form as legacy data or data to be migrated to DITA in the future can be stored in the same repository as new DITA data under full CMS control. This integration makes the IT department happy because it reduces the number of systems that they must support, centralizes data management, and improves the efficiency of the publishing organization.

But first, let’s talk a bit about the CMS portion of the equation, and specifically XyEnterprise’s Contenta.

Contenta is a central repository that stores whole files or fragments of documents–in both structured and unstructured format. FrameMaker users no longer have to think of their content as distinct documents but rather as information assets that can be segmented into meaningful chunks of data; these chunks can then be repurposed and combined to produce different information sets, creating the foundation of multi-channel, revenue-generating opportunities.

Information assets include not only the actual content but a rich set of metadata that the user defines for each document or document type. Metadata enhances a document’s value by increasing accessibility via search processes and improves publishing automation. Managing the editing, reviewing, and approval tasks, Contenta drives the overall business process. It provides maximum editorial control, greater accuracy, and significantly reduced costs, while accelerating time-to-market goals.

By leaving your authoring environment in place while you introduce the CMS into the equation, not only can you focus on learning the CMS, your writers and reviewers can spend their time learning DITA without disrupting the editorial demands and deliverables of the department.

It allows more time for content analysis, while at the same time making tangible progress in your production environment toward your end goal. Whether it’s rethinking the way the data is structured, understanding the DTD/schema, or learning to write in a minimalist way, the phased approach to DITA provides a comfortable ramp up for learning XML and fully leveraging the benefits of DITA and a CMS.

Many of our customers have indicated that this phased approach proved to be a win-win for everyone involved in the implementation–the writers, the reviewers, the managers, and even IT.  Whether you implement DITA in a parallel process with your CMS or you choose a more linear approach, the resulting savings in time and decreased duplication of effort is measurable.

In addition, the financial benefits can’t be ignored. We’ve seen some customers implement Contenta in just 25 days–far faster and less expensively than typical installations. After just a few days of end user training, they were operational.

One such company is Sterling Commerce, a subsidiary of ATT, Inc. Sterling develops software and services that help organizations optimize the performance of their partners, suppliers, and customers.

All of Sterling’s approximately 40,000 pages of documentation were in unstructured FrameMaker. As they moved away from distinct product lines to more solution-based selling, Sterling would mix and match products into custom solutions to meet individual customer’s specific needs.

Sterling had a separate document set for each product, but it didn’t make sense to give the entire document to a customer when only one element was needed. Sterling needed the documentation to be flexible enough to be combined and customized on demand. The company realized that unstructured FrameMaker was not the best technology choice for them.

Sterling saw the need to migrate to XML. At about the same time, DITA was gaining traction and appeared to be the right solution. With DITA, data could be stored and accessed as topics or components.

“We couldn’t do a big bang and switch overnight,” said Sterling’s Information Architect, Bob Zebian. “It made sense to switch certain product lines to XML.”

Sterling experimented with converting some of their unstructured FrameMaker to structured DITA in-house.  With the clear understanding of how they wanted the conversion to happen, they were able to outsource the conversion of the targeted product line documents to a company that specializes in data migration. While the majority of product line documents will eventually move to DITA, some will remain in their existing Frame environment, based on business needs.

The changeover is still happening as Sterling converts selected books to XML. So far, about a dozen sets have been completed.

Zebian says that Sterling has enjoyed big productivity gains by being able to mix and match features. DITA “divorces” the writing process from the production process, so writers can focus on writing. By separating the tasks, productivity has increased.

Sterling is also using more conditional text than they had in FrameMaker. Zebian says it is now easier to do so. Moving forward, Sterling will develop their new documentation directly in DITA using conditional text capabilities. The content feeds multi-channel output needs and is the logical next step in their migration to DITA.

Sterling’s experience reflects an evolving trend. We have seen a steady increase in the number of companies who are pursuing a joint strategy of using FrameMaker, along with a DITA-based authoring tool to manage their entire data set within Contenta.  Sterling is using FrameBook for legacy content and XMetaL for DITA content. For the author who has ties to both the legacy and new content, it’s a real advantage to have one content management tool for both data types.

It has become quite clear that DITA offers some measurable benefits for technical publications departments and anyone producing large volumes of content. The savings realized in time, money, and personnel alone make DITA a solid business choice. Productivity improvements in the management and publishing of content mean writers and editors can spend less time on process and more time on content.  And as an open standard, whose foundation is based on extensibility, DITA provides further investment protection as a scalable solution.

With such quantifiable results, it’s no wonder that many companies are beginning to plan their DITA implementation.

But with such promise, there also comes a learning curve. We’ve seen remarkable results with companies who have chosen the DITA path but have kept their FrameMaker environment in tact while they make the transition. Call it a migration, a transition, or even a gradual evolution. The move to DITA and a CMS can be a simple, natural process. It’s been a smart, logical business option for many of our customers. Perhaps it can be the right solution for your company. CIDMIconNewsletter

About the Author


Carol Bumbaca

Carol Bumbaca has been a
customer advocate since 1984, having held a variety of customer-centric roles within XyEnterprise and its predecessor companies. She led the development of Xy’s well-respected project management practice and created the self-sustaining ProServ professional services business. In addition to managing maintenance, training, application development and consulting services practices, she is also the liaison to XyEnterprise’s independent user group.