JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

At the DITA Europe 2011 conference, as well as Best Practices 2011, we have observed considerable progress in the way organizations are developing, managing, and delivering content. Much like the CIDM Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM), engagement with content management has moved from a preponderance of immature organizations exploring the possibilities to mature organizations finding new ways to capitalize on their earlier investments.

As a consequence of the emerging maturity in managing content, we are able to identify speakers whose presentations focus on significant changes in the processes they have implemented and the results they have achieved.

One—Exploration Phase

When we first held DITA North America and DITA Europe in 2005, those giving presentations were clearly in the Exploration Phase. The OASIS DITA standard was officially released in 2004 and implemented by a few innovators and early adopters, but most organizations were just beginning to put DITA on their radar.

Organizations in the Exploration Phase have heard of single sourcing and topic-based authoring and want to learn more. They believe that the DITA standard might be appropriate for their content, but they are not certain. They definitely come prepared to explore.

Two—Preparation Phase

In phase two, organizations begin to prepare for a move to the DITA standard. They have a lot to learn, but now their investigation is focused. They may be working on a business case and a presentation to management to win approval for a significant change.

Preparation includes a review of the opportunities to improve how content is managed Perhaps content management means avoiding duplication by adopting reuse strategies. It likely includes moving to XML-based authoring to avoid time spent formatting output in source and translated content. It should mean reviewing legacy content and making decisions on what to move forward and what to leave behind.

IBM was clearly prepared for their move to DITA, but most other managers wanted to know how to prepare.

Three—Education Phase

Nothing improves an organization’s ability to handle change more effectively than intensive education in the new norms. In phase three, organizations begin an educational program, often starting with minimalism and task analysis to identify areas in which content must be materially improved. They move into training on structured authoring, the DITA standard itself, and information modeling. Some training involves the entire authoring community; other training involves building specialized skills like information architecture and stylesheet development.

At each conference, speakers have emphasized the importance of approaching DITA as a new way of managing content rather than simply purchasing tools. Conference attendees have especially been interesting in training on minimalism, structured authoring, and information modeling.

Four—Pilot Phase

At the first single-sourcing conference in 1999, the speakers invited to describe their pilot projects all reported failures. Clearly, they did not know enough about the challenges of piloting a new way of developing content. Many thought they were simply implementing new XML-based tools. They didn’t prepare sufficiently to succeed.

By 2011, successes in piloting a DITA project are much more evident. Many speakers outline the requirements of the pilot phase and describe their own pilot projects in detail, providing a recipe for success.

Five—CMS Phase

Although Component Content Management System vendors often prefer that organizations begin with a system implementation, many DITA speakers caution that it is too easy to buy something that doesn’t meet requirements. A careful analysis of requirements is best conducted in conjunction with a pilot project.

Perhaps the most important issue in phase 5 is to avoid selecting a CMS that does not support the DITA standard. Too often, organizations are coerced into using homegrown systems or those developed for document or project management. The best CCMSs for DITA are those that understand XML-based content and linking at the component level. Those requiring intense management of translations must be especially well educated in component management concepts.

Six—Conversion Phase

Although many organizations will find that legacy content requires restructuring to optimize consistency and opportunities for reuse, much legacy content can profit from intelligent automated conversion schemes.

Some information architects tell us that they first restructure content using traditional publishing tools before converting. Others find it easiest to convert first and do minimal restructuring afterwards. It all depends on a careful analysis, something DITA speakers continue to emphasize.

Seven—Optimization Phase

Presenters at the 2011 conferences have moved visibly into optimization. They report on their progress in optimizing for translation by using consistent, simplified, and structured language in source content and implementing XML to XLIFF (another XML standard) processes to control costs.

Optimization also includes measurements. Speakers like Keith Schengili-Roberts demonstrate how understanding the components of content costs enables managers to make significant productivity improvements at the same time that they improve content and its delivery to customers.

2011 saw stunning presentations from Symantec and Altera that demonstrate the growing importance of measuring the use of social media and content designed specifically for quick access through website search.

Eight—Enterprise Phase

After their own successful implementation of DITA for technical content, we find increasing interest in helping other content-intensive parts of the organization join. Speakers report on budding projects with training, support, marketing, regulatory, and other groups that need to manage and reuse content more effectively.

We also see DITA moving into use in more types of organizations, including book publishing, insurance, medical devices, government, non-profits, and others that are anxious to get content under control.

In Summary

Over the years, the DITA/CMS presentations have mirrored the progress of the most progressive publications organizations of major corporations in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Likewise, other progressive organizations have been able to use the DITA/CMS presentations to model their own implementations.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.