February 2007

Global Standards for Information Development

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director

I have found it remarkable to follow the increasing focus on global standards for technical information development over the past few years. Fourteen years ago, when I was president of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), I urged our leaders to become more involved in the development of industry standards. At that time, however, there was little interest. People seemed to feel that no agreement could be reached nor would anyone pay attention to standards developed by our community. Nonetheless, we founded an STC Standards Committee, on which I continue to serve.

Annette Reilly, the committee chair, took responsibility for voicing information developers’ issues to the ISO committee that was developing standards for software documentation. The effort focused, for the most part, on documents that represent the software-development life cycle. More recently, the focus has shifted to the ISO committee working on standards for our information-development life cycle. Phil Cohen chairs the Project 11 committee that has been working for the past year and a half on a new ISO standard, ISO/IEC IS 26511. My responsibility has been creating the standard for analyzing users and tasks. I completed the draft document at the end of 2006. Phil and other ISO committee members will meet in Moscow, Russia to review the drafts and recommend the next course of action.

To quote Phil Cohen, “Project 11 has now entered its next phase, which is the bringing together of the developed material into a single draft standard, and the review and approval of that standard through to ISO 26511.

“One of 26511’s sibling standards, 26514, is already being moved through the ISO process, and it’s time for everyone who’s been involved in Project 11 (and anyone else who would like to be involved) to put theirenergies into helping the ISO process run smoothly.

“Involvement from here on in will be on a nation-by-nation basis (because that’s the way ISO is constituted). To get involved, you should contact your ‘national body’ (for the most part, national standards bodies such as ANSI and BSI).”

Phil is interested in identifying people who can attend the standards meetings. If you are interested and your department will fund your participation, please contact Phil directly at

More information about Project 11 is available at

In 1992, we began the development with industry leaders and major corporate departments of the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM). The IPMM was accepted as a model for information development with parallels to the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) that had been developed about the same time by the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. We have since revised the IPMM, first in 1996 with publication in STC’s Technical Communication journal, and this year with the publication of my latest book, Information Development: Managing Your Documentation Projects, Portfolio, and People. The new model is now available on the CIDM website at CIDM members continue to provide feedback on the model, leading to the addition of two new key characteristics: collaboration and change management. There are now 10 key characteristics that we use to judge the maturity of information-development organizations.

Three years ago, we became strong proponents of a new standard, this one for XML-based, topic-oriented information. The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) was approved as an international OASIS standard in early 2005. The standard is managed by members of an OASIS Technical Committee, chaired by Don Day of IBM. Committee members have been gratified by the increasing adoption of OASIS DITA by the international community of technical information developers. Never before have we had an international standard for the structured authoring of technical content, especially one with the steadily increasing influence of this standard.

The DocBook standard is also managed through OASIS. DocBook originated in the mid-1990s to provide an SGML/XML standard for computer hardware and software documentation. Its basic structure, as the name indicates, is the book. Thus, it provides XML elements to support content related to book structures, such as title pages, tables of contents, chapters and sections, and appendices. DocBook has been adopted by many large organizations. In the process of adopting DocBook, many organizations began with the standard and then created a subset to match their particular needs. The original standard has hundreds of elements, many of which are not needed by a particular organization.

At the same time, interest has increased in the S1000D standard for the documentation of any civil or military vehicle or equipment. The S1000D standard was developed by the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) but is quickly attracting interest in the US and globally. Like DITA, S1000D supports a topic-oriented model, in which topics or modules of information are designed to stand alone. A topic or module should be sufficient for a user to complete a procedure, understand a concept, or locate reference data. The S1000D has only recently attracted attention in North America, and it still remains centered on the defense industries in addition to aerospace.

Part of the problem with the adoption of S1000D, like the adoption of the DocBook standard, is its comprehensive nature. To apply it to a particular organization’s documents requires deleting elements from the massive standard. DITA, on the other hand, starts with very few elements, allowing most organizations to adopt it “out of the box” and only add elements when necessary to enhance the model. The specialization mechanism built into the DITA model allows organizations to share content even if they have specializations in place, which is less likely to occur with the “subsetting” process inherent in S1000D and DocBook.

As we work with technical publications organizations worldwide, we frequently hear senior management take standards seriously. They want their companies to comply with international standards and are anxious to support the adoption of standards by their technical publications organizations. Management appears to recognize the standards promote interoperability, increasing the opportunity for information to be exchanged within an organization and with its partners and suppliers. They also recognize that if related organizations all adopt the same standards, the cost of future mergers and acquisitions (the cost of change) will be reduced.

Management in technology companies also recognize that adopting standards is less costly than developing inhouse. In the standards community, individuals, representing their companies or themselves, contribute to the development. If companies adopt the standards, they no longer have to pay for their own internal development of the same systems.

Standards in technical communication are relatively new and are in the early stages of adoption. But the momentum is building worldwide as we see new organizations considering DITA, S1000D, or DocBook every day. We believe that everyone in CIDM should seriously consider adopting international standards for information design and information development. If you can claim that you are following a standard, you are less likely to meet resistance from your own management and from other departments than if you are developing on your own. CIDMIconNewsletter