JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

The 2012 Content Management Strategies/DITA North America conference hosted more than 300 participants in La Jolla, CA for a terrific three days of inspiring presentations, notable exhibits and the exhibitor’s reception, luncheon “birds of a feather” topics, and general good cheer. It’s evident hat we have succeeded in building a community of people willing to exchange successes and challenges. We see an increasing number of returning participants in addition to newcomers who are anxious to learn that they are not alone.

I managed to visit with all of the exhibitors to get their “feel” for the state of the industry. In every case, the staff members expressed their notion that the tide has turned with both content management and DITA adoption. I’ve been looking for a signal that DITA has “crossed the chasm,” to quote from Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm. The exhibitors echoed my feeling that DITA is strongly influencing a move toward structured, managed content. Rather than the dominance of the innovators and early adopters who led DITA adoption since 2006, in 2012 we find members of the early majority interested in pursuing adoption, as long as the solutions are supportive of a more conservative community. Many attendees were actively searching out solutions that could simplify the authoring environment for casual content contributors while at the same time supporting the work of the content professionals.

The conference participants also reminded us that many are building content management solutions that need not include the DITA standard. Whether pursuing other standards like DocBook and OpenDoc or innovating with their own designs or proprietary solutions, everyone needs the support of those who have succeeded in overcoming challenges and helping staff members understand new requirements for information development. Perhaps most evident in all the presentations was the growing awareness that many information-development solutions must be pursued, especially when customers demand instant access to information, multiple media, and social media solutions.

Change was the dominant topic of nearly every presentation. We heard from managers helping staff members adopt new ways of authoring content. We learned about information and training developers working collaboratively to share content development tasks. We viewed intriguing technical solutions, including methods to validate content development, simplify user interfaces, and track metrics. We listened to the experts describe emerging technologies that will both simplify publishing and make it considerably more challenging. The number of options available for delivering content to users is staggering. We need to understand the benefits and the pitfalls of each new possibility that our teams want to pursue.

Perhaps most interesting to me is the issue around complexity. We’ve heard the complaints that DITA has become or is becoming too complex. As a response, members of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee, led by Don Day, met to present ideas around developing a simplified topic structure. However, it occurs to me that all the innovation we see and hear about at the conference is grounded in the richness of the DITA architecture. Without it, we would be left with word processing, where what one puts in is what one gets out. The innovations that clever, talented members of the community are developing is based on a sound foundation, one that must be complex in order to make it simple.

Please expect many more articles in coming months based on the presentations and discussions at CMS/DITA NA. Also watch for announcements of webinar sessions that we will schedule soon, so that those of you who were unable to attend can benefit from the many outstanding ideas. 2012 was a great conference. I hope we can bring to everyone who read this electronic newsletter some of the sense of community that has clearly emerged.

We look forward to the next CMS/DITA NA in 2013. We will once again bring the community together in Providence, Rhode Island on April 15-17.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.