JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

You have a successful DITA implementation in your technical information-development organization. You have been demonstrating impressive productivity gains among your team members through structured authoring and content reuse. You are publishing content to traditional PDFs as well as to your corporation’s support website and to customers’ mobile devices.

You are following customer comments online and reviewing data from tools that track customer searches and hits on technical information developed by your team and others in the organization. You have been mastering the techniques of search engine optimization by developing enhanced content and improved metadata. And customers are noticing.

In the process of improving customer quality and increasing productivity, you’ve developed a great team. You have at least one information architect responsible for updating and improving your Information Model. Depending on the size of your organization, you have one or more members of a tools and technology group that is intent on improving authoring support and content management. They are anxious to investigate emerging technologies to support improved delivery of content.

Your team is busy organizing itself into domain specialties to ensure that each author can promote consistency and quality across product lines. You never thought that writers accustomed to “doing everything myself” would take so well to a collaborative work environment.

If this picture sounds like a dream, recognize that CIDM members and others joining us at the April 2012 Content Management Strategies/DITA North America conference in La Jolla have precisely these accomplishments to crow about. Perhaps no one is quite doing it all, but these DITA Innovators and Early Adopters have unparalleled results to brag about.

But, if you’re already an Innovator or Early Adopter with more than one success story to tell, what’s next? Are there opportunities lurking in your organization that can broaden your influence and achieve for your team the recognition they deserve in promoting business objectives and contributing to the bottom line?

Opportunities Abound

For information-development managers with experience in making change happen, looking for opportunities throughout the enterprise is the next step. The most obvious are those sister organizations that develop and deliver content directly to customers. Instructional design and training professionals who already consume content produced by information developers may become interested in using DITA/XML content directly rather than by cutting and pasting. The Learning and Training specialization introduced with DITA 1.2 offers a complete set of topic types for training content, from a training plan through assessments. We have demonstrated that DITA training content is quickly and easily published to Learning Management Systems (LMSs) as well as to instructor-led and e-learning materials. A partnership between information development and instructional design not only promotes content reuse but improves the quality of content that more closely relates to customer goals and is more quickly updated as products are developed and released.

Service organizations have long developed information directly to support customer inquiries. Instead of answering the same question over and over again, service professionals write instructional and troubleshooting topics that are published online, often in knowledge bases. Providing service writers with well-structured DITA templates that resemble traditional word processing environments eliminates formatting problems and makes localization faster and less costly.

Many service organizations in the machine industry are responsible for training and providing instructional material for field-service engineers. Developing their content in DITA with the assistance of experienced information architects saves time and promotes the same content reuse opportunities already used to advantage in the information-development organization.

But instructional design, training, and service and support are only the tip of the enterprise iceberg. Areas that you never thought of as content producers are all around, waiting for someone knowledgeable and experienced in shaving costs and time to demonstrate the potential.

In many of our projects, we find interested parties among organizations responsible for multiple documents. Purchasing, legal affairs, human resources, product sales—all of these groups produce documents with opportunities for content reuse. Consider your organizations employee handbook. If you work for a multi-national or even a company with offices in more than one state, ask how many versions of the employee handbook are maintained. Contracts produced by your purchasing organization are filled with boilerplate material that is either reused intact or change slightly. Consider how useful it would be to have standard topics using conrefs, keyrefs, and conditional publishing to produce consistent, accurate, and easily maintained output.

Twenty-five years ago, British Telecom asked me to develop a system to ensure that their sales proposals were accurate, correctly representing their product offerings to prospective customers. In my review of new business proposals, I found out-of-date product descriptions, missing information about new products, and a general mess of badly written content. The reason: hundreds of old proposals lurking on desktop computers and file servers that served as the starting points of new proposals. At the time, we did not have the advantage of an international standard to support effective content management. Instead, we built templates and chunks using word processing tools. Although the tools weren’t up to the demands, the improvement in the proposals was significant and well-recognized by senior management.

In a project for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), my introduction to the DITA standard encouraged the organization’s economists to move toward a new method of organizing their critical country economic reports. Because information in the reports was created by multiple contributors, the process of assembling the pieces was time-consuming and error prone. In many cases, source documents were scanned and the scanned copy added to final PDFs, resulting in enormous file sizes.

So look around. Stretch outside of your traditional “tech pubs” world and look for areas nearby that are feeling the pain of outdated practices, tools, and processes. You have a lot to offer, and by offering your team’s expertise and experience, you have much to gain.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.