JoAnn Hackos, Dawn Stevens, Scott Hudson, & Patrick Wright, Comtech Services, Inc.
The Content Management Strategies/DITA North America 2015 conference was held April 20-22 in Chicago, Illinois. Over 350 attendees learned best practices in four tracks: Information Design & Development, Technical Solutions, Management, and Emerging Technologies.
As the conference organizers, we highlight several outstanding presentations. However, the few we have space to mention here were by no means the only excellent and stimulating presentations. In fact, one highlight for me was the maturing of the DITA and Content Management community. The level of professionalism at the 2015 conference was a game changer in itself—clearly a precursor of exciting developments to come.
From JoAnn Hackos:
In the Management Track, presenters provided superb advice to managers looking for the best way to implement structured content and an integrated content repository into their organizations.
I was especially impressed by Kristina Brinck and Karl Bjelkesjo, information architect and organization manager respectively. They described the carefully honed process they use at Xylem, a manufacturer of industrial and commercial pumps, to onboard a new acquisition. They pay particular attention to training subject-matter experts in the view and approval process. That process is often more challenging in an environment with such extensive reuse as Xylem has. But they have convincing evidence that their process works, enough to convince new partners. They report that in their eight years using DITA, they have saved a record $9.5 million dollars in translation costs. They accomplish this feat with a skilled central information development in Sweden.
Rob De Voto and Jamie Muzzana provided an overview of the process they used to introduce DITA and structured authoring at Hewlett Packard. Facing considerable management resistance, they used a stakeholder analysis to predict who had the most decision-making power.
Once they gained project approval, they developed a vision of the user experience with content, creating use cases that focused on I-channel distribution of a single content source. They discovered that metadata was the controlling factor.
Customer success, they reported, is largely driven by metadata. They provided ownership of metadata fields, a process that I would label metadata governance.
They offered an interesting perspective on content delivery challenges. They told us that if content delivery were up to IT, we would all be delivering monolithic static content.
Mike McCalip, Retired U.S. Navy and former Department of Defense employee and Dustin Vaughn, Adobe, described the transformation of instructional and procedural information for the submarine fleet, called ATPS for Advanced Technical Publications Solution.
Mike illustrated their design-thinking approach in which young sailors designed a new way of using information. These digital natives designed a new control system using $14 controls from Play Station, replacing one government controller that cost $120,000!
But most exciting was the design approach that brought procedures and video instruction into a single user environment. A sailor can now follow a step-by-step procedure on a tablet, view an instructional video in context, check off each completed step, and file trouble reports without leaving the tablet content environment.
The integrated content allows the Navy to track performance and act immediately to correct errors or update procedures with better practices. An exciting story of involving the users in the design and development process. Now if they would only get rid of the 1920s document design.
From Scott Hudson:
As a member of the CIDM staff, I was fortunate to host the Emerging Technologies track and got a chance to learn about a few new technologies, myself! If you missed it, I tried to Live Tweet the key points from each of the sessions here: #cmsconference #emergingtechnologies
Several “game changer” presentations included:
- DITA Glass: Perceive everything as DITA (Radu Coravu, SyncroSoft; George Bina, SyncroSoft
- The dynamic information model (Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services, Inc.; George Bina, SyncroSoft)
- Preparing for Augmented Reality (AR) in technical communications (Rhonda Truitt, Huawei Technologies
- Ipad applications using visual search and Augmented Reality (Pim Bekker, Etteplan)
- Various presentations on Dynamic rendering of DITA
So what was game changing?
For DITA Glass, the guys at oXygenXML have developed a series of pipeline transforms that, for example, let you use a topicref (with a special url) to an Excel spreadsheet directly. That URL is transformed on-the-fly directly to DITA, which can then be rendered directly in a table as part of your document! It also can round-trip, so any changes made in DITA are written back into the Excel sheet.
This capability is a game-changer for those times when you need information from subject matter experts but don’t want to teach them DITA or have to manually convert their content so you can use it. It’s a one-stop shop! SyncroSoft is working on many more transforms. My hope is that they will create one for PowerPoint to DITA for all of the Learning and Training folks out there. Most course developers still work in PowerPoint, but it would be much more powerful to use the DITA publishing toolchains for various outputs while letting the developers still create in their familiar tool.
Another one-stop shop technology is the Dynamic Information Model. Comtech and oXygenXML have partnered together to create an XML-based Information Model that allows a company to document its editorial and content structures, while also enabling the automatic enforcement and expression of that Model in the authoring environment! It basically generates the schematron rules and tool tips for authors from the Information Model itself. Very powerful!
A consistent theme in emerging technologies and technical solutions was the dynamic rendering of DITA content (server-side and client-side). There were several approaches presented, but they basically eliminate the DITA-OT publishing step by using CSS+XSL to render DITA content directly or on-demand.
Another particularly interesting theme was presenting technical information in an Augmented Reality environment. In fact, a new technical committee is being formed at OASIS to address this very subject area! Some tools are available today for creating AR, including DAQRI 4d Studio, Metaio creator and SDK, Wikitude SDK, and nGrain. The benefits of this technology include reduced quality errors, contextual instructions at point of use, remote expert support, and increased productivity. AR has been proven to improve first time quality on assembly tasks, with fewer errors. AR can provide procedural steps, along with an overlay of task location, assembly information, and more to assist in the completion of a task.
Did you know that by 2020, 103 million cars will be AR-enabled? Are you aware of AR devices, such as Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens, and DAQRI helmet? Now is the time to start preparing your technical content for use with these types of devices. The future is so bright, we need to wear AR shades!
From Patrick Wright:
I saw two important trends at the conference:
1. Dynamic publishing systems are growing in importance and capability
2. Non-DITA content is being integrated with DITA content
Dynamic publishing systems:
Dynamic publishing systems are fast becoming important software tools for technical information delivery. Several presentations demonstrated the latest ideas and trends. Common aspects of dynamic publishing include
- a portal site containing DITA content transformed into responsive HTML
- integration with common DITA component CMSs
- collaboration, annotation, and user commenting at the topic and element level
- the ability for a customer to create personalized content by combining disparate topics into a “map” to be rendered as PDF or in other formats
- content filtering based on an understanding of user requirements matched with DITA metadata and subject scheme categorization
Software vendors demonstrating their dynamic publishing tools at the conference were focused on sophisticated enhancements. Integration with Salesforce, for example, allows DITA-generated content to be used for customer service and technical support as well as direct sales and marketing. Integration with component CMSs may permit user-generated content and annotations to be tracked and potentially “round-tripped” back into the source DITA XML. Well-documented APIs allow the dynamic publishing systems to federate their content into other corporate knowledge bases and intranets.
Integration of non-DITA content and Data into DITA XML:
Another noticeable trend at the CMS conference was the idea of taking non-DITA content and data and converting it into DITA XML. Markdown and restructuredText (rST) are both text-based formats commonly used by developers to document software and APIs. Two presentations focused on converting these simple text documents into DITA XML and then back again into their native formats. The transformation would allow an information development team to work easily with developers to create documentation. Other presentations also focused on sophisticated transformation of Excel documents and data into DITA XML, a useful tool to prevent errors from copy/paste.
From Dawn Stevens:
I have a strong interest in seeing the learning and training community embrace DITA and partner with information development in developing and reusing content across the organization. As a result, I was very interested in the presentations in the Information Development track that focused on success stories in this area.
Steve George from Skyward shared how his company is single sourcing content from DITA into both a Mindtouch documentation portal and a Moodle learning management system. Content appropriate for both help and elearning is shared between the two systems, while each offers its own unique content as well. For example, troubleshooting content is offered exclusively in the documentation portal, while traditional elearning content such as simulations and interactive questions and tests are delivered in the learning management system. However, all content is delivered through the processing of a single map, with a combination of keys and conditional processing controlling the output.
Even more exciting is the amount of customization Skyward is offering their customers. To start, content is customized on the fly based on the state in which the customer is located and the job function the specific person is performing. In addition, customers can add their own content to the Skyward generic content without knowing anything about DITA at all. Their content is saved as a DITA push file and linked to a placeholder in the generic content. Whenever someone from that customer accesses the content, they get not only the generic content tailored to their location and job, but also the unique information associated with their specific implementation.
I was also excited to see the slide output France Baril at Architextus has created using DITA and reveal.js. One of the first objections to DITA from Learning and Training always centers around the ability to create effective slide presentations. France demonstrated a prototype tool she’s developed to create slides from DITA topics. Although she stressed that her demonstration was a prototype and not fully developed, audience members were practically digging out their credit cards, ready to buy what she had.
Finally, ThiemeMeulenhoff and FontoXML have taken DITA interactions a step forward, developing some interesting question specializations that go beyond the QTI standard. For example, they demonstrated a specialization that enables students to answer individual questions and then take letters from each answer to form a final answer at the end. They literally put DITA to the test and found that it works well for educational content.
To me these presentations simply confirmed my belief that learning and training need not feel shackled by what DITA can or can’t do. If you can dream it, it can be done!
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