Kevin Duffy

XML has become more mainstream in many enterprises. The confluence of XML as a content model, XML for system to system integration (e.g., Web Services), and XML as the backbone for some B2B/EDI interactions have publishing, editorial, and IT organizations using common technology in new and creative ways. By doing so, enterprises are better able to automate, create more efficient business processes, and leverage common resources to achieve their business goals.

The fact that XML may be making inroads across the enterprise, however, does not mean that most of a company’s content is being created in XML. In fact, studies by InfoTrends indicate that only 22% of enterprise content has migrated to XML. So, what’s the opportunity, and why hasn’t this growth happened?

XML Migration Yields Measurable Results
Despite the fact that migrating to XML-based content and workflows can yield significant ROI, the vast majority of content in most organizations remains in an unstructured form. Even in organizations that have implemented XML, its use is likely relegated to parts of the enterprise responsible for technical documentation and/or training. These groups wrestle with some of the most challenging content creation, update, and delivery issues imaginable. The content is extremely dynamic. Content is often used across publications, and increasingly, the content must be delivered in multiple languages and to multiple channels in print, electronic, or web formats.

For these groups, the “pain to gain” ratio of migrating to XML, replacing traditional editorial tools with specialized XML products, training users on tag sets and mark-up, and dealing with the resistance that can accompany such a migration has proven a worthwhile undertaking. The resulting elimination of redundant processes, the automation of traditionally manual activities, and the ability to reduce costs while improving accuracy and currency of content has yielded tremendous value.

For other groups within the organization, however, the path to XML has not been so clear. IT and management may see significant opportunities to improve the process via XML for broader groups such as proposal creation teams or technical marketing groups. These users, however, are very comfortable with standard word processing tools and less rigid editing and mark-up conventions and have resisted such a significant change in approach and process. Pilot programs that required unfamiliar tools and practices or “field trips” to see how the XML converts worked, frequently did little to win the hearts and minds of these target groups.

Bridging the Gap Between the XML Haves and Have-Nots
We believe that there is a way to bridge the gap between the XML haves and the XML have-nots. By targeting more moderately structured data, and therefore simpler XML content models, a wider array of easier-to-use tools can be brought into play. Familiar tools such as Microsoft Word, with increasing XML support provide one opportunity. Less ubiquitous technologies such as Microsoft Infopath provide another. Now, before you say “Word isn’t really an XML editor” or “Infopath is only good for forms,” let me explain.

While it is fair to say that you would not want to create content using a very complex DTD or schema with these technologies, it does not mean they don’t have a place in an XML environment. We have gotten excellent results by using a simple schema that provides enough structure to support content componentization and reuse while leveraging the native capabilities of these tools to provide the mark-up within a component, including formatting characteristics of the content itself.

To fully leverage this approach and help ensure user acceptance, support from a good content management system can build upon the native interface capabilities of the applications themselves. Such a solution can include tools to properly assemble the components into collections for editing or delivery, help environments that can guide the user through the editing process by presenting context-sensitive help for what is allowed where, and creative graphical user interfaces that leverage the power of a forms-based interface in a very user-friendly way. The goal is to preserve the structure that is needed in an unobtrusive way—think of it as “covert structuring.” These enhancements, supportable in thin/distributed architectures, improve the user experience and reduce organizational resistance to an XML-based process in a framework that is acceptable to IT organizations. Users can continue to work with content units they are familiar with and never have to focus on the XML tagging that lies behind the scenes.

Covert Structuring Helps Extend the use of XML
The creative application of existing and evolving technologies, integrated with a proven, scalable CMS platform can help organizations, and the vendors that serve them expand the footprint of XML and XML-based technologies within the enterprise. We have specific solutions in areas such as technical documentation, technical marketing/datasheets, catalog/directory content creation, financial printing, product labeling, and others where a simplified schema with a simple user interface has truly resonated with the target user community.

For customers who are looking to streamline and automate the publishing process, but have been unable to implement XML because of user resistance, these solutions can bridge the gap between the need for structure and the need for user acceptance. Companies that have already invested in CMS technology can further increase their ROI by leveraging technology that is already in place and thus bring the benefits of reuse and multi-channel delivery to a much broader community of users.

So do these new Word and Infopath solutions work across the board? Not as we see it. At the top of the content pyramid, you still have complex, highly structured content that is ideally suited for powerful, specialized editing tools such as Epic or XMetaL. At the low end of the content pyramid, you find a broad array of totally unstructured content that may not benefit from the imposition of an XML model. In between, however, lies moderately structured content that has been largely unleveraged from an XML perspective.

We think the approaches discussed above can solve the problem of expanding XML’s use in the enterprise. We also believe that this model will become increasingly important as future releases of mainstream desktop tools increase their support of XML.