New Content Management System Helps Ensim Stop Seeing “Double”
After analyzing their documentation set, the people at Ensim Corporation, the leading provider of management software for unified communications and collaboration infrastructure, began seeing double. Then triple. Then quadruple. Then they simply lost count.
During the analysis, Ensim identified a great deal of duplicated content among documents, particularly for its products Ensim Unify and Ensim Pro. There were feature descriptions that needed to appear in online help, release notes, marketing collateral, and product specifications. There were procedures that had to be incorporated into installation guides, upgrade guides, best practice guides, and online help. And there was a great deal of reference material, such as company contact and support information, that appeared in virtually every document.
The analysis was eye-opening. Duplicating the content increased the cost of writing, reviewing, maintaining, and translating content, as well as increasing the potential for inconsistency and inaccuracy. Ensim needed a systematic strategy for re-using content, especially across different types of documentation such as online help and installation guides. Consequently, in late 2005, representatives from Ensim’s Engineering, Product Management, IT, and Technical Publications departments met to discuss ways to reduce duplication and improve documentation.
One proposed solution was to develop a re-use strategy using the existing documentation software at the time, which included Adobe FrameMaker, Quadralay WebWorks, and Adobe (formerly Macromedia) RoboHelp to produce PDF and HTML versions of the documentation (RoboHelp was additionally being used to produce the online help). This solution had the least impact on resources and existing processes, but it also offered the lowest potential for reusing content. Sharing content between FrameMaker and RoboHelp not only necessitated a tedious and complex procedure, but it was difficult for multiple authors to use concurrently, especially with the company’s workforce distributed across the United States and India.
Ensim also considered switching to Quadralay WebWorks for online help. However, this would have required workflow changes, template design, and the migration of existing content, and it still would not have improved the management of shared content among FrameMaker documents.
The suggestion was then made to implement a content management system (CMS), which would manage the information generated so that writers could quickly find, maintain, and use it again. The system would also incorporate the concept of “single sourcing”—that is, having just one source of content and using it in multiple outputs instead of rewriting it. Despite the extra effort that would be required, Kate Wilcox, Principal Information Developer for Ensim, embraced the idea.
“Implementing a CMS would take more time, planning, and resources, but the promise of being able to reuse information in multiple documents from a single source and the long-term potential for cost savings and customer satisfaction, were quite compelling,” said Wilcox.
A CMS stores content in an SQL or relational database and uses templates to publish that content in the form of books and user guides (Microsoft Word and PDF format), online help (compiled help for client machines and HTML Help for the Web), XML, and other formats such as slideshow presentations. A key concept of content management is that it separates content from format. Writers apply styles to text as they write, but they do not format the content per se. Rather, formatting is applied automatically during the publishing phase, when the styles are mapped to the appropriate format for the output. The system makes these changes automatically, thus freeing writers to focus on content rather than on format.
Ensim evaluated a number of competitive CMS systems and even considered XML and structured-authoring solutions. According to Ensim, the ultimate solution would have to fulfill a number of specific requirements:
- Output: The system must produce PDF and HTML (plain HTML or WebHelp) output.
- Migration of existing content: Ensim needed to be able to migrate existing FrameMaker and RoboHelp content (special challenge: importing RoboHelp content with conditional text).
- Translation requirements: Ensim’s content had already been translated from English into other languages; the system would need to handle multi-lingual documents.
- Out-of-the-box solution: Ensim wanted a solution that could be implemented easily, with little or no need for IT intervention.
- Support: The system would offer excellent customer support and self-help resources.
- Maintenance and upgrades: The system would need a good track record for maintenance releases and upgrades.
- XML and DITA capable: Although Ensim did not plan to use these capabilities immediately, it wanted a solution that could produce this output if required in the future.
- Price: Ensim did not have a large budget for this project, which quickly eliminated many large enterprise-type CMS systems.
- Long-term solution: Ensim was looking for both a solution—and a “partner” company—one that would be around for awhile.
After considering the options and speaking with experts, Ensim decided to implement Author-it. The product—developed by a company of the same name—is one of the world’s most widely used content management tools. The philosophy behind the product is simple but powerful: write once, re-use many times, maintain in one place, and publish to multiple outputs.
Implementation involved multiple disciplines: planning, design, training, migration, and testing. The plan encompassed four phases, with the colorful code names Iceberg, Blizzard, Monsoon, and Harvest.
- Phase 1: Iceberg. The initial planning stage, representing just the “tip of the iceberg.” This phase included installing and setting up Author-it and the SQL server in Ensim’s Santa Clara, CA headquarters; analyzing current content and identifying opportunities for reuse; identifying customer requirements; developing a content model; developing new processes and workflows; and designing templates.
- Phase 2: Blizzard. This phase included testing templates and models and migrating existing content from FrameMaker and RoboHelp to Author-it. It also involved setting up Author-it for Ensim’s Technical Publications group in Pune, India. Output: The system must produce PDF and HTML (plain HTML or WebHelp) output.
- Phase 3: Monsoon. During this phase, Ensim began using Author-it to publish books.
- Phase 4: Harvest. This phase expanded content management to online help.
The implementation process was smooth but, as might be expected with a project of this magnitude, it did require some upfront effort. Implementing Author-it required changes to the Technical Publications workflow, including a fundamental shift in the way documentation was written. Instead of writing books from cover to cover, writers would create “chunks” of information; specific guidelines were developed and information models for this type of writing were established to ensure that this process was diligently followed. Further, writers would need to learn to assemble the information chunks into books, and existing documents had to be converted.
There was also a learning curve for the Author-it translation module, a particularly critical element because Ensim’s RoboHelp source was already in French and Japanese.
“It required some back and forth among our translators, Author-it support, and our Technical Publications team,” said Wilcox. “But it was not insurmountable.”
The effort, however, has been well worthwhile. Using Author-it, Ensim now has its content in a single searchable database instead of in multiple separate documents. More importantly, content can automatically be shared, reused, and updated wherever and whenever it is needed. Content can also be shared at the topic level, assuming it is granular enough, i.e., stored as distinct topics. All writers have ready-access to the current versions of all documents, which means that they can view what’s being done for other products as needed, which is especially helpful for new writers.
Author-it provided three days of initial training, which gave Ensim a solid overview of Author-it’s processes and capabilities. However, according to Wilcox, questions arose during implementation, which caused Ensim to rely on the Author-it support team for guidance.
“We filed many support tickets, and we always received a prompt email response” said Wilcox. “Their support has been excellent.”
The ROI on the Author-it system has yet to be formally determined. However, the company recently moved its corporate offices, which resulted in a change of corporate address. Wilcox said that the system has already paid dividends in this area.
“To update all of our documents would have taken several hours under our old process, because that content was not shared,” she said. “In our new Author-it process, it took less than five minutes.”
Going forward, the Author-it content management system may be expanded for use by other Ensim groups, such as IT, Marketing, and Engineering. When it is, fewer people will be seeing double, and more people will be using single-source content.