JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

The 2010 CMS/DITA NA conference celebrated its successful 12th year in Santa Clara, CA. Clearly the high-tech industry is in recovery. We saw a 129% increase in enrollments over 2009 and an even bigger increase in the number of companies represented and the level of interest in moving away from desktop publishing and toward effectively managed content.

The conference started with a stimulating Keynote Panel Discussion—first foray into a new format for the opening event. Taking part were industry leaders John Hunt (IBM), Gershon Joseph (Cisco), Jonathan Price (The Communications Circle), and JoAnn Hackos (CIDM). The panel focused on the next generation of content management solutions, addressing key questions that are being asked by customers, managers, and senior management alike:

  • How are we going to deal with the “tilt away from text” among our end-users? How will our consumers expect us to deliver information in the future?
  • How will we rise to the challenge of managing aggregated content and delivering it to our end-users?
  • How do we help improve the ability of our information consumers to find what they need?
  • How should we help people recognize that content management is not a tool set but rather the process of improving how we create, maintain, and deliver content?
  • What are the key features and qualities we should expect our tools to support in the future?
  • We’ve been focused on DITA and XML for less than a decade, content management technologies since the mid 90s, and SGML since the early 80s. What will be the next new thing?

The panelists recognize that the traditional work of information development and dissemination is no longer meeting the needs of a new generation of readers. Information customers have a plethora of approaches to the information they need. Some want only a simple answer to a critical question. Others want to follow links to the depth they feel is appropriate. Some want in-depth information that provides them with key insights to successful deployment of products. Companies today are looking at social media, visual information, accessibility, collaborative creation of content and more. Our task as information developers is to find multiple methods that can be successful.

Look for follow-up discussions from the keynote panelists over the next several months. We are not finished with this discussion.

Attendees at the conference demonstrated that face-to-face communication is still highly valued. Representing 18 countries, only a handful were stopped by an overwhelming natural event. The eruption of the Iceland volcano kept several speakers and attendees at home or unable to leave Europe following business trips. We plan to sponsor the absent speakers in upcoming webinar sessions and have made their slide presentations available to attendees through the post-conference website.

CIDM members, subscribers to the Best Practices newsletter, and subscribers to this e-newsletter can also expect to see in-depth articles from many of the presenters in the coming year.

For me, the presentations in the Management Track stand out because they demonstrate that content management and the DITA standard, in particular, are making a significant difference in those organizations that are three or four years into their implementations. The managers report that, with the right processes in place, they can achieve outstanding returns on investment. They have experienced decreased costs of translation, extensive content reuse, efficiencies in both development and production, and important improvements in the quality of the information delivered.

Some managers described what they learned not to do, explaining that it is easy to make early decisions that must be rethought and reformed once they gain more experience. Nonetheless, the pitfalls can be overcome, especially when managers and teams realize that content management requires process and personnel changes. Too often, teams embark on a move to content management and DITA as a tools change. They quickly learn that tools are only a small part of the new environment required for success.

Several speakers focused on the need for a new collaborative authoring environment, one that encourages all team members to become engaged in content planning, development, and integration into deliverables. Without a collaborative environment in place, organizations find that they have few improvements in efficiency and effectiveness to show for substantial investments in technology.

Be assured that the conversations begun at the 2010 conference have only just gotten started. We already have in place a large number of follow-on activities, including webinars, articles, listserv additions, and more. You can follow the activities on theLinkedIn and Facebook CIDM groups and the new conference Twitter. Follow the conference at:


Tweet your observations w/ keyword: #CMSDIT4NA2010 and join us for an ongoing dialogue.