Winston Veigas, Hi-Tech eSoft
When the news that “access to repair information” was confirmed as a part of Euro 5 regulations, my reaction to it was one of curiosity. As part of the Automotive Industry for almost a decade, I wondered how this change will affect an unwritten law. The Euro 5 regulations and “Right to Repair Act” makes it mandatory for auto manufacturers, referred to as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM)s, to disclose their repair information and on-car Controller diagnostic information to independent repairers. This regulation paves the way for the “boxed-up” information to be released to anyone who wants to use it.
The automotive service industry, which includes repairers (non-OEM, multi-brand dealers), diagnostic tool developers, repair tool developers, after-market fitment, and spare parts distributors and sellers, is vast and widespread. Its existence and well being is rapidly becoming crucial for the whole automotive manufacturing industry. The driver of this industry is the independent repairer. These new regulations establish a level playing field between the independent repairer and the OEM-authorised service station.
Inevitable Information Exchange
The new Euro 5 regulations make it clear that information will be exchanged, converted, and reconverted to make it more usable and accessible. In this early stage of information exchange, DITA can be leveraged as a data exchange standard.
DITA for OEM Publication
DITA can support an OEM’s publication needs. Figure 1 shows the flow of information in various forms and media. With a XML standard like DITA, information sharing with other functions can be achieved with ease. Automated workflow for engineering reference information and other functions can be implemented using form-based templates.
Automotive After-Sales Data Exchange
We must consider how DITA will help in data exchange between the automotive OEM and the Automotive Service Industry. Figure 2 shows how the information currently flows.
Most of the information is in published form, either HTML or PDF, which means to republish it, one has to re-author the content. Reauthoring leads to duplication and errors creeping into the content, not to mention the effort required to keep the content updated.
DITA-Based Info Sharing
Using DITA for information sharing results in interesting scenarios. The possibility of sharing XML files in a common open standard like DITA makes this model (Figure 3) a workable one. Getting both the OEM and the Automative Service Industry to use DITA, is easier; getting them to collaborate is the challenge.
Since the regulation allows the OEM’s to charge for information consumption, they can charge a premium for sharing the raw XML files, allowing the publication departments to generate some direct income. And since the republishers save on the authoring (reauthoring) costs, it wouldn’t hurt them either.
So Who Gets the Pie…
As in any collaborative model, those involved need their bites. Below are a few takeaways:
1. The republishers need not work on the OEM content, but can spend their efforts on value-added services both as add-on content or interfaces.
2. The OEM can control the product information floating in the public domain.
3. OEM updates of the content can be easily accommodated without reauthoring.
4. Authoring efforts on Tier I content can be eliminated by the OEM if DITA is used for information sharing.
5. Customers get the best of both worlds—the authentic OEM information packaged with value-added content from the republisher.
So Will it Work?
With the economic turndown exerting its pressure on the margins, manufacturers are looking for brand differentiators to boost their sales. With time, the customers and service industry will get accustomed to this new regulation. Once that happens, the ease of access to information (published for customers and as raw XML for the service industry) will be crucial for brand popularity. OEMs willing to share raw XML will have an army of republishers, app developers, and tool developers rallying behind them, since the raw XML gives them an edge and saves their effort. This cost savings will result in more affordable content and valuable add-ons for independent repairers and customers.
The fact that the automotive industry is receptive to open standards is a relief; however, before completely adapting DITA, the industry will expect some dedicated effort for the DITA standard to best fit its needs. Most importantly, VIN-based (Vehical Identification Number) information processing and profiling is required, which will make DITA more attractive. A compatibility and integration model with other Industry data exchange standards like ODX (Open Diagnostic Data Exchange) and OTX (Open Test Exchange) will provide a boost. Since most of the information development work in the auto industry is outsourced, a data exchange standard will be welcomed.
Overall, DITA as an open standard and success stories have the potential to help facilitate the data exchange we are now discussing. Once the DITA experts start to work on making the DITA standard more appealing to the automotive industry, it’s just a matter of time. I’m sure the automotive industry will reciprocate.