JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

In making a business case for a move to XML-based authoring, DITA, and content management, information-development managers have argued that creating topics instead of books, using a standard like DITA, and implementing content management tools will help increase the productivity of authors, editors, illustrators, reviewers, and so on. We calculate how much time will be saved if authors are able to reuse topics among multiple deliverables. We indicate that structured authoring will save time and that XML-based content will decrease the time and cost of final production into multiple output types. We estimate that translation costs will decrease significantly if we reuse translated content. We all make huge promises of costs to be saved and efficiencies to be gained. And, we win approval based on our calculations of Return on Investment.

Then, we begin the process of introducing significant change into our organizations. We enlist the help of information architects to define our new information model, based on the DITA standard or a custom DTD. We acquire new tools for XML authoring and content management. We institute changes in the information-development process flow, hoping that authors will share content by making that content more generic or implementing various conditional-processing strategies. We may even provide training on tools and structured authoring and minimalism as we bring additional writers into the project.

Finally, we hope for the best. We expected productivity to increase, providing us with cost savings and efficiencies. The question is–do we get what we expected.

One organization, for example, measured the number of words delivered from their pilot single-source project in relationship to the number of words in the topics stored in their content management system. They discovered that they were able to deliver twice the number of works (approximately 110,000) as words in the repository (approximately 55,000) by using topics more than once. If the final deliverables had been created independently of one another, as they always had been in the past, in might have taken twice as much time to develop, cost twice as much to translate per language, and resulted in inconsistencies in the information delivered to customers. At the same time, they knew that the pilot project, considering all the training and learning required, took much longer than it would have taken in the past to create the four documents independently. Productivity took an initial hit although other significant cost savings resulted. Nonetheless, the pilot project was deemed a success.

In other cases, we have learned that writing activities apparently take longer than they did in the past to everyone’s great concern. Unfortunately, much of the reporting remains anecdotal, in part because few organizations actually know how time consuming or how costly (in hours and dollars) documentation development actually is. Writers report that “it takes longer to open a topic” than it used to take to open a FrameMaker chapter. Or, “it takes more time to edit or review all those topics” than a nice, well-formatted FrameMaker chapter used to take.

In planning for the 2009 Best Practices Conference (September 14-16, Vancouver, WA), I want to better understand the productivity impacts of XML, structured authoring, and content management implementations in your organizations. Consequently, I’ve designed a survey with help from a few of the CIDM members.

If you have recently implemented XML-based authoring, topic-based authoring, DITA, and/or a content management system, please take a few minutes to respond. We will report the results at the annual conference and make them available to all the participants.

Click here to take this survey.