Su-Laine Yeo, JustSystems, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from JustSystems, Inc.

Organizations seeking higher-quality information, reduced publishing costs, faster delivery, and other improvements in their document authoring process often investigate the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) specification. DITA defines an XML architecture for designing, writing, managing and publishing many kinds of information in print, on the web, and in applications.

DITA technology can address a variety of very common business problems that have to do with effective repurposing of information into multiple formats, languages, and document variations, and as we’ll see in this commentary, some smart organizations have started to catch on. Should your organization be one of them? The following seven signs are good indications. If you get a “Wow, that’s us” impression from one or more of them, consider learning more about DITA to determine if it would make sense for you.

Sign 1: Multiple output formats—DITA makes it possible to set up a publishing system to automate production in each output format, e.g. 3-fold brochures, 8.5×11 datasheets, standard web pages, and web pages for mobile devices. With an automated publishing system, optimally-formatted documents in all required formats can be generated from a single source document with one button click, without having to perform copy/paste or “Save As” operations.

Sterling Commerce, a subsidiary of AT&T, provides ecommerce software and services to more than 30,000 customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune 500. The company’s decision to use DITA was based, in part, on the specification’s separation of formatting from content, which streamlined the company’s migration from PDF- to web-based delivery of information. Moreover, DITA lets the company easily produce Oracle Help, JavaHelp, Microsoft HTML Help (CHM), and other output formats from a single set of source files.

Sign 2: Frequently-updated content in multiple languages—The more languages a company supports, the greater the costs of manually formatting content for publication. A company that must publish in ten languages can easily spend weeks doing nothing but formatting content every time material is updated. A DITA-based automated publishing system can get it all done with the push of a button.

For Information Builders, a leading independent business intelligence company with a global presence, a DITA-based translation management system helped increase revenue while cutting costs by maximizing reuse of existing multilingual assets and automating many manual steps in the localization process. The results? Within two years, the time required to localize documents and software was reduced by 58 percent. Time to market was reduced by 50 percent. Sales of localized products increased by 47 percent.

Sign 3: Contracts and/or proposals that share common sections—Most companies that deliver services need to produce proposals, statements of work, and contracts for specific clients. These documents typically use identical or similar sections over and over, but with different client names. The “latest version” of sections, however, tends to change over time, and finding the latest version to copy-and-paste is a frequent frustration. DITA technologies can solve the problems of using the latest version, combining sections cleanly into a document, and cleanly managing differences such as client names.

TACTICS Consulting, which develops information and learning solutions, turned to DITA to raise the quality and consistency of its responses to requests for tender, requests for information, and expressions of interest. Instead of hunting through—and proof-reading and double-checking—Microsoft Word documents for reusable content, TACTICS now relies on a single-source repository of content modules to create its proposal documents. The process has greatly reduced the time taken to produce proposals, lowered the risk of error, and delivered consistency of structure and presentation.

Sign 4: Frequent re-branding or OEM business model—This is similar to sign 3, but reversed: Documents must be customized to reflect the name and identity of a final provider of the service or product. DITA technologies make it easy for an OEM manufacturer or insurance underwriter to provide exactly the right versions of documentation for each of their resellers, re-branded and customized specifically for the reseller.

NetApp, a $3.3 billion storage and data management solutions company, produces and distributes extensive amounts of technical information for its global partners. Key OEM relationships require re-branding the same content with new product names, across multiple content delivery vehicles, with many small content changes for each different type of publication. Using DITA accelerates these re-branding efforts while ensuring that the technical product information is accurate, consistent and up-to-date.

Sign 5: Complex product variations or customized products—Companies often produce a line of similar products. DITA makes it possible to write the description and/or instructions for a product once and then reuse that content with minor or major modifications for many similar products. The need to handle variations is often described as “tailored” products or “solution-based selling.”

Tellabs designs and develops networking equipment to enable high-quality voice, video and data services over wireline and wireless networks around the world. The company serves 43 of the world’s top 50 service providers, and even though all may use the same technology, each customer deployment is different. DITA lets Tellabs define company-specific, product-specific and customer-specific information chunks to support content reuse, ensure accuracy and reduce redundancy in the field service documentation for each customer’s customized implementation.

Sign 6: Writers spend too much time formatting documents—Organizations need to produce professional-looking, consistently-formatted documents. And whether they know it or not, most organizations spend too much time fiddling with word processors, especially tables and auto-numbering of lists and headings, to make things look right. DITA eliminates much of the need to have writers deal with formatting.

Business Objects provides business intelligence software and solutions as part of SAP, which serves more than 95,000 customers in over 120 countries. Business Objects writes all its content in English and then localizes it in up to 10 other languages. Prior to moving to DITA, the company had build times as high as two days per deliverable per language because when content came back from the translators, it took another day or two of manual effort—per language—to make the file look good and read correctly. By automating the formatting work, use of DITA reduced build times from days per language to minutes.

Sign 7: Need more powerful search and/or analytics—DITA makes it possible to tag pieces of information in a document, so users can search more easily. Instead of searching only on the literal text of a document, users can search on invisible keywords and can restrict searches to particular types of sections or “fields” within documents. DITA as a format for content also provides a better basis for analytics than non-XML formats.

DITA’s metadata capabilities provide opportunities to use taxonomy for content reuse and improve the findability of content. A taxonomy is a hierarchical structure that organizes concepts and controls vocabulary, enabling organizations to create and centrally manage important terms that can be applied to content as metadata. Once applied, this metadata and taxonomy can be leveraged by a search application to help users— internal or external—find and use content. For instance, search engines can use taxonomy to organize search results in meaningful ways, e.g., refining search based upon certain properties (faceted search) and suggesting related searches based upon relationships between search terms and other concepts in the taxonomy.

DITA is a powerful standard, and DITA technologies can deliver significant improvements in many documentation and documentation-related processes. If your organization has one or more of the seven signs above, it’s probably time to check out DITA.

Su-Laine Yeo is a solutions consultant for XMetaL® at JustSystems and an active member of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee. Learn more about JustSystems athttp://www.justsystems.com/, follow the company on Twitter at @JustSystems and contact Su-Laine at su-laine.yeo@justsystems.com.