Carole Brochard, MindForest SA
Article based on the presentation which took place during the DITA Europe conference in November 2017 in Berlin.
Speakers: David Laroche (POST Luxembourg), Carole Brochard (MindForest), France Baril (Architextus)
POST Group is Luxembourg’s largest provider of postal and telecommunications services, with more than 4,000 employees at the headquarters and its subsidiaries.
Every day, the sales team produces customized offers for more than 30 different products to use in different installation configurations. Written either in French, German or English, the offers have to meet customer needs and integrate a certain amount of personalized information such as contact details, telecom needs (bandwidth, number of mailboxes, volume of data to migrate…) and pricing.
The sales staff then sends a set of documents to the client: commercial offer, product description and contractual documents.
In order to produce offers, sales teams used Word templates, which every sales team member could download and adapt to create offer. However, this process was cumbersome, with several employees contributing to drafting the offer (legal department, product manager, sales team, …); with clients possibly redefining their needs midway through the process, ending up with POST having to adapt the offer and create several versions of the same document.
Inevitably version management became an issue. It was unclear which was the latest version of the document, not to mention where it was stored, as it could be on a hard drive, server, Sharepoint…
Any changes (new legal clause, new functionality, new logo when POST changed its corporate identity) should have been made to all offers, but it was impossible to ensure a traceability of those changes.
As the teams were using Word documents, it was possible—though not allowed—to change some legal clauses or prices without the ability to track these changes before the offer was sent to the customer.
All in all, submitting an offer was time-consuming, laborious and non-efficient. A lot of time was lost rewriting the same/somewhat similar content: there was a need for greater consistency & traceability.
Figure 1: The laborious process to send an offer to a client
With the will to reduce their output time–while still being able to personalize offers based on the client’s needs—POST Telecom set itself the goal of automating the publication of offers as much as possible.
The idea was to allow the sales team equipped with an iPad, to compose their offers, based on a selected customer and product. Using just a few questions, the system could calculate prices and generate a customized offer.
POST has developed an interface (the Sales Toolbox), which allows sales staff to select the client, the product and to configure the solution depending on the client’s needs.
Figure 2 : The new process to send an offer to a client
As the different elements making up an offer (product description, implementation method at the client, legal clauses, service legal agreement, prices, …) are largely generic and applicable to all products and customers, it provided an ideal opportunity to use DITA as a means of generating a user-friendly tool to serve the Sales Toolbox.
All the different elements were therefore divided into DITA topics and then mapped in DITA bookmaps one for each document in the offer, then keys were used to create dynamic variables to enter client specific data (name, contact, offer parameters…). All these variables could thus be provided dynamically by the Sales Toolbox.
The “Reuse” Strategy
We used various “reuse” methods:
- reuse of same topics in different bookmaps (one map for every document in the offer). In the end we determined that from a total of 336 topics and 6 products, 37 percent of them were common.
- reuse of some identical paragraphs with “conref” mechanism, when the content of the topic is virtually identical
- use of keys to create dynamic According to the “conkeyref” mechanism, the variable fields are integrated in the XML code. The content of the variable fields is stored in a dedicated topic (named “refs.dita”) and is changed for every offer. The Sales Toolbox fills the refs.dita file with the appropriate values (client name, address, etc.), then the PDF document is created by processing the corresponding ditamap using the plugin. The Sales Toolbox also specifies the map requested, the language and the filters to apply (audience, plugin parameters, etc.).
Figure 3: The refs.dita and DITA OT plug-in mechanism to create PDFs
Storage of Files and Integration in the Sales Toolbox
Communication between DITA content and Sales Toolbox
In the first phase of the project, POST chose not to buy a CCMS, initially there was little input required to integrate it into the sales process and the Sales Toolbox and so investment in a pilot project could be maintained at a reasonable level.
Topics, maps and media were stored on a Bitbucket server as a starting point (Github could have also been used). Furthermore, the open source format supports communication with external applications—such as the Sales Toolbox—via an API.
BitBucket is perfectly adequate for content creation when working with technically inclined writers, as it supports sharing content and publishing from the Sales Toolbox. BitBucket was suitable as there was no need to manage translations and workflows during this first phase. In addition, there was only one single technical writer working on the project, who knew which topics existed and where they were stored.
How does BitBucket work?
The source is centralized, everyone has a copy on their local hard disk, content can be pushed and changes can be pulled. The Sales Toolbox also has its own local version and so does not need complex integration.
Change Management and the KPI
Initially, one product was linked to one manager, but every product manager was able to adapt content, without any means of tracking these changes or even of reusing them for future offers. Thanks to the use of DITA, POST succeeded in breaking down this silo approach.
However, similarity was not good enough for reusability. The case for DITA had to be made with the Product Managers, it had to be explained to them, they needed to understand why offer content had to be harmonized.
Above all, this project provided an opportunity to rework content that was too technical and not adapted to the target group. At first, the Product Managers felt dispossessed from their content, but in general they agreed with the principle of reuse.
Now, six months after the launch of the Sales Toolbox, the sales team uses it and provides feedback about how to continuously improve it. Every month, around 50 offers are published using the Sales Toolbox. Only a couple of minutes are now needed to generate an offer; clients are satisfied. There is no longer a version management issue and the sales team can henceforth spend their time on more added value activities.
The Project Timeline
- 3 months from the need to publish a solution for the Sales Toolbox to selecting DITA
- 9 months to the first product as proof of concept
- 12 months to the fourth product in production
Present: The key to success lay in addressing many aspects of the project: business, content, technology as well as change management. Today it is an ongoing process, subject to continual improvement and adjustment to meet market needs, e.g. to accommodate the integration of new products and features.
In the future, the goal is to allow different contributors (Subject Matter Experts – SMEs) to add/edit content via the system and to improve review and validation management with the help of well-defined, but flexible workflows.
The SMEs will need a user-friendly content editing tool and a component content management tool that helps them find topics they can reuse.
In the future, POST plans to expand the use of DITA: not only for commercial offers, but also for internal or external audiences, user guides (for end users or for support services) and technical publications written by SMEs, flyers written by the marketing department and eLearning/tutorials produced by the training department.