JoAnn Hackos, PhD
CIDM Director

The 2007 DITA Europe conference clearly demonstrated that more and more organizations are finding value in adopting the DITA standard. The conference has seen a steadily-increasing participation in the four years since its inception. While earlier years focused on introducing the DITA model to attendees, this year we were able to concentrate on implementations in place or in the works and new ideas about making topic-based content better.

Several organizations drew attention to their successful DITA implementations, demonstrating to all participants that DITA is progressively rolling out in more industries. Celia Marsh at Apertio described her implementation in the Telecommunications industry. Gunnar Krause described the thought in progress at Qimonda, a semiconductor developer. Chris Kravogel documented DITA implementations at Nokia in the network group and at KONE, a manufacturer of elevators and escalators. Eva Lemaire explained how they are using DITA at Agfa Healthcare. Karsten Schrempp reported on DITA implementations at KAESER Kompressoren, a compressor manufacturer, BSH, a manufacturer of white goods, and Avaloq, a developer of banking software.

Gunnar Krause presented the attendees with a thoughtful analysis of DITA’s position in the information market. He decided that DITA has crossed the market chasm to become accepted by majority customers but that adoption is still just barely good enough. He concludes that DITA is important to the future but needs to be fully implemented by the tools vendors and the model itself needs to be improved to meet the needs of documentation professionals.

Julian Murfitt, managing director of Mekon, demonstrated in his keynote address why companies and technical communicators in Europe are adopting the DITA standard. Julian and Mekon staff members interviewed at least 20 company representatives who have adopted DITA. From Julian, we learned about companies in aerospace and defense, microelectronics, high-tech manufacturing, medical equipment, software development, consumer electronics, and automotive sectors that are adopting DITA. Each of the companies in the survey had complex content with many variants. The variants included different platforms, applications, and markets, as well as multiple languages, all good reasons for using a topic-oriented development architecture. They also listened to companies that had their own home-grown SGML or XML solutions and were considering a move to the international standard. Maintaining a home-grown system is expensive and time-consuming, often reliant on experts in other departments with higher priorities around their own work.

One of the most well-received presentation was an in-depth discussion of the DITA short description. Kristen Eberlein presented a thorough analysis of writing effective and interesting short descriptions. She differentiated among task, concept, and reference topics, pointing out that they require alterations in the style of the short descriptions. I’ve persuaded Kristin to write an article based on her presentation for a future issue of the CIDM Best Practices newsletter.

Eva Lemaire, in similar fashion, explained how her company, Agfa Healthcare, has effectively combined the underlying concepts of Information Mapping™ with the DITA structures. She showed us how using both approaches to structured writing allows us to make better decisions about the content. Eva pointed out that structured authoring must focus on how people learn technical information rather than on page layout.

Mark Poston, Sissi Closs and Markus Abt, and Katriel Reichman each discussed aspects of using FrameMaker to implement the DITA model. They demonstrated that using FrameMaker may make the transition to DITA easier in many organizations.

Several presenters are active participants in the DITA Technical Committee and various subcommittees. Michael Priestley of IBM described the additions to the DITA model in the recently-approved 1.1 specification. Of course, the new bookmap is one of the most important additions for those of us who still produce output in books. Alan Houser explained how to use the Task Modeler to analyze user requirements and produce DITA maps. Chris Kravogel described the work being done by the machine-industry subcommittee to account for the needs of companies that produce automobiles, trucks, medical devices, pumps, elevators, and other heavy-industry constructions. Andrzej Zydroń, from XML International and a major contributor to the translation subcommittee, described a new proposal for handling translation memory more effectively.

Speakers representing vendor companies were also well represented. We heard from Bret Freeman at JustSystems, developers of XMetaL, as well as Vince Savard, from PTC, developers of Arbortext Editor. Translation software developer, SDL, showed how they integrate with DITA content. Participants from component content management systems developers demonstrated their support for DITA, including Trisoft, Inmedius, Stilo, Mark Logic, and Portalyx for XyEnterprise. In addition, we learned of the support Acrolinx provides for authors working in XML to ensure consistent content. Stilo’s representative showed how they assist companies migrating large volumes of existing content to the new topic forms. Mike Miller of Antenna House discussed the value of tools to format XML source content for PDFs.

I am pleased that so many people participating in the conference expressed interest in joining OASIS and the DITA Technical Committee. We definitely need more international participation in the effort to make DITA a strong, well-reasoned standard for topic-based authoring and effective content management.