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White Paper

White Paper

Dare I “Do DITA” Without A CMS?

You could but…

Howard Schwartz, Ph.D

VP Content Technologies
SDL Structured Content
Technologies Division

Chip Gettinger
VP XML Solutions
Dare I “Do DITA” Without A CMS? You could but…

Well, you could “DO DITA” without a Content Management System (CMS). But it wouldn’t be
the brightest thing you ever did. At least that is the consensus that seems to be emerging from a
shift in how technical communication organizations are now approaching the Darwin Information
Typing Architecture (DITA). This new approach, which deploys a DITA-enabled CMS much earlier
in the process of moving to DITA, represents a shift from the best practice of only two or three
years ago. At that time, it was commonplace to start DITA with just authoring and publishing tools
and perhaps a directory system, delaying any decision about content management until much
later. But the thinking about methodology and best practices has now changed, and it is really no
surprise. After all, the goal of DITA is in part to achieve more flexibility and agility as a business.
Yet, trying to implement DITA without a content management system is like trying to bake a
cake without all the ingredients. It defeats part of the purpose. That at any rate is the conclusion
reached by more and more recent adopters of DITA. They have deployed the DITA-enabled CMS
much earlier in the process of moving to DITA. And they have done so because they believe that
they will reduce the time to DITA adoption and achieve their ROIs and other long-term benefits

There are of course still some skeptics. Some very large, visible organizations are using DITA
without any CMS. And they have various tricks for solving the problem of not having a CMS.
They copy directories when it is time for new versions, or they write scripts to rename files and
try to write applications on top of their source control system to turn them into DITA repositories.
They have various creative ways to manage links for topics, maps and images. But all this is now
changing among the broader community that is adopting DITA. Organizations moving to DITA are
now adopting a DITA-enabled CMS much earlier in the process of moving to DITA.

Just As Corporate Web Sites Require A CMS, So Too Does DITA

To understand this trend, an analogy is illuminating from the now familiar and well-established
domain of Web site management. Today, companies that are serious about their Web presence
never think twice about needing a content management system, which is regarded as a standard
requirement for Website management.

But it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning of the Internet, companies threw up their
corporate Websites, and their individual Web masters first used only Notepad and then HTML
editors to create Web pages. They also used directory systems to store content. That worked for
a time for the first generation Websites. But it was not too long before Web masters and their
larger marketing organizations discovered two important facts about their Websites that drove
them to adopt Web content management systems: 1) the manageability of the site was impossible
without a content management system and 2) the Website had become a critical business tool by
which the corporation interacted with customers and thus a key platform for establishing a brand
and selling products. Both of these factors drove the growing adoption of a new type of CMS
specialized for the Web.

These realizations about Websites evolved hand-in-hand. Corporations realized fairly quickly that
Websites were more than simply “nice to have” information sites but were in fact becoming robust
tools for interacting with customers, articulating corporate brand, and driving product sales.
But with that realization also came the problem of manageability. Organizations were quickly
learning that corporate Websites (at least good ones) were dynamic, evolving creatures needing
serious management by a collaborative team and not simply a Web master. While HTML editors
were initially good for hiding HTML code and thus some complexity, they couldn’t support the
Website as a critical business process and platform. Without the CMS, marketing organizations
couldn’t track versions of files, update headers and metadata across hundreds of pages, and
set permissions on who could and could not edit areas of the site. In other words, using only
HTML editors and directory systems, the Web marketing teams couldn’t easily track all the
changes, manage updates, links, and images, and integrate into back-end Customer Relationship
Management (CRM) and ecommerce systems. Finally, the business drivers for expansion into
global markets pushed the limits of many Web marketing teams with the requirement for micro-
sites supporting multiple languages with content tailored to local markets and a need to keep
Websites synchronized across global audiences.

These were the drivers that led to the specialization of and wide adoption of the now ubiquitous
Web content management systems. But in the early days many asked the same question that
adopters of DITA are asking now. Do I really need a specialized CMS. The case of the Web suggests
an unequivocal “yes.”

Indeed, factors similar to those in the Web evolution are now driving the adoption of specialized
content management systems for DITA. Some are calling these “DITA-enabled” or “component”
content management systems. But the clear impulse is to adopt specialized content management
systems that specifically address the problem of managing DITA.

Year 1 Year 2

Deploy XML Authoring Tools

Model 1

Use Directory System Deploy XML CMS

Learning Limited Productivity Full Productivity

Deploy XML Authoring Tools

Model 2

Deploy XML CMS

Learning Full Productivity

Speed Time to

Figure 1 illustrates how the adoption of a DITA-enabled CMS early in the process of DITA
adoption can speed time to productivity.

DITA is evolving the same way as the Web

The business drivers leading to the adoption of DITA are similar to those that drove corporate Web
adoption. Corporations are moving to DITA because they see the significant business benefits that
can be achieved. In addition to providing proven efficiency gains of 30-50 percent in some instances,
and a significant reduction in translation costs through the elimination of Desktop Publishing costs
(the dreaded “DTP”), DITA provides much more business agility. Indeed, efficiency benefits have
taken a back seat recently in comparison with the benefits of business agility. Organizations are
reporting business paybacks in a variety of ways:

•  One large corporation adds new features at the last minute to product releases, giving it a
    competitive sales advantage against its main rival;

•  Another is reducing the number of product returns by keeping product documentation

   updated more easily;

•  Still another is using DITA to exchange information with resellers and OEM partners, thus
    driving easier channel sales;

•   Others are producing documents tailored to the right customer profile increasing customer
    satisfaction and driving down call center costs, and

•   Still others are reducing time of delivery to global markets.

As in the case of the corporate Website, the benefits of DITA come with a similar manageability
challenge. Since DITA breaks content into bite-size topics, the management of information in this
new world very much resembles the management of a corporate Website. To address the specialized
needs of DITA management, the new breed of “component content management system” are
addressing the following challenges:

•  Content is authored in small components

Because content is authored in components or topics, many smaller pieces of information are
going through revision cycles all the time. A CMS is needed to track all the revisions and versions
and how they fit together.

•  Final output is an aggregate of content from many different writers

Since individual writers write only topics, not everyone sees how the information fits together into
the whole. A planner or information architect needs to have a view of the whole to envision the
context of the final deliverable. A good CMS should provide a way to model how the pieces fit
together into final deliverables like help files or books.

•  Topics and maps go through constant revisions
There must be some mechanism to track the various versions of the maps, the evolving revisions
of topics, and all the associated conditions and variables. Managing the links as topics and maps
go through revisions is notoriously difficult in DITA. A CMS designed for DITA can do this link
management, providing a rich, automated audit trail of information.

•   Managing relationships between topics grows more important over time
Reference integrity of links is critical, especially at publishing time. A CMS provides rock-solid
management of links as content changes over time, a process that easily breaks on a file system.
A CMS is not impacted by changes to the location or names of topics, maps, documents, folders
or images, instead maintaining links using internal database capabilities transparent to users.

•  Need to manage between work-in-progress and approved content

A DITA CMS provides handy methods to easily identify what is still work-in-progress and what is
approved for external publication. This content identification is a key requirement especially in
regulated or highly competitive environments where time-to-market is critical.

•  Automating workflow process methodologies

Collaboration is critical especially with workgroups distributed in different offices or in different
regions and time zones. Managing collaboration across geographies and time zones is
challenging without a CMS but particularly so when content is managed at the topic level.

•  Finding and reusing existing topics is more important than writing new topics
A major ROI for DITA adoption is to increase the reuse of topics within an organization. A DITA-
aware CMS provides advanced search capabilities so writers can easily find and reuse topics that
are already written (and also already translated).

•  Tracking metadata for images as well as topics

DITA incorporates a rich metadata process where attributes are tracked along with the content.
A CMS provides rich metadata for graphic images to increase reuse and minimize rework when
products are updated.

•  Reporting provides clear answers on adoption benefits

Measuring the benefits of DITA adoption is important for evaluating progress and demonstrating
success to management. A CMS provides reporting tools to quickly identify benefits as well as
areas that need improvement.

•  Managing true persistence of content changes over time is a requirement

A CMS provides a database which manages all versions of topics as they change over time with
important capabilities for approval, rollback, and audit trail.

•  Viewing changes between versions reduces review times
A CMS user can compare any previous versions (i.e., compare version 2 with 5) to quickly identify
differences. This capability is more powerful than a typical track-changes feature that only
accumulates changes.

•  Permissions need to be set to limit who can edit which pieces of content
Not everyone should touch everything. Managing rights to topics and content is critical to ensure
only the right content gets updated by the right person. A CMS provides the ability to define
users, groups, and roles, providing clear access controls for collaboration.

•  Content units need to be reviewed and approved

Workflow is more complex that previously, as topics or components move through workflow
approval processes and, as they become ready, generating a conveyor belt of information moving
towards the market.

•  Content development is iterative

One of the goals of topic-based writing is to make content development more iterative and to
enable information development to keep pace with agile development. Releases are coming more
often and in shorter bursts.

•  Translation Processes Become More Complex

With source content in components, the management of multilingual content becomes far more
complex. Tracking which topics should be translated into which languages presents a significant
management problem without a CMS that is target-language aware. Tracking the flow of topics
out to multiple vendors and reviewers and tying these processes into translation memory assets
also becomes more complex.

•  Last minutes changes must be managed

Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) can wreck havoc on the most carefully planned releases. A
CMS rapidly isolates the impact and quickly identifies where updates are required, including the
impact on translation.

•  Content must be shared and tweaked for various customer profiles

The same content must be shared across multiple products potentially for different types of
customer profiles. A CMS tracks all publishing conditions (filtering) so multiple users can manage
profiles to automate publishing of unique and targeted customer deliverables.

A CMS Can Speed Time To DITA

Two years ago, it was standard practice to move into DITA in a sequential process that could take
a year or more. First learn DITA and download the Open Toolkit. Then learn the authoring tools
and use a directory system or source control system. Spend a year on information architecture.
Two years into the process, organizations began to consider the CMS question. But with that
methodology, time to full productivity was delayed, and DITA was often a “skunkworks” project
by a couple of “techie” individuals. And then after learning all the ins and outs of DITA, the CMS
would get deployed, and the team would have to unlearn some of the methodologies it has already

For the reasons described here, that methodology is now being compressed, in part because
DITA has come of age and standardized the methodology and is now understood to be a critical
business capability. We are seeing more and more organizations adopt the DITA-enabled content
management systems early in the process of adopting DITA. These organizations realize that DITA
requires and is deserving of serious management. To achieve the business benefits of DITA, it makes
sense to “do DITA right.” Organizations that are adopting this new methodology are finding that
they speed their time to DITA. The CMS deployment, if done with a smart information architecture
and change management procedures, can simplify learning DITA and significantly reduce the
manageability problems , that otherwise would have to be done manually with workarounds.
To adopt this new methodology, of course, requires management support and buy-in. But with
the proven successes of DITA now in the market, it is becoming easier for organizations to prove
the business benefits to management. Most deployments pay for themselves in efficiency gains or
translation savings in a year. But the gains in business agility are now justifying many projects on
their own terms. Management is coming to understand that topic-based writing as a “must have”
the same way it did with corporate Websites only a decade ago. And as DITA continues to become
a critical business platform for communicating with global customers, so the need for a specialized
DITA-enabled content management system is better understood.

SDL is the leader in Global Information Management solutions. SDL’s solutions increase
business agility to enterprises by accelerating the delivery of high-quality multilingual
content to global markets. The company’s integrated Web Content Management,
eCommerce, Structured Content and Language Technologies, combined with its Language
Services drive down the cost of content creation, management, translation and publishing.
SDL solutions increase conversion ratios and customer satisfaction through targeted
information that reaches multiple audiences around the world through different channels.

Global industry leaders who rely on SDL include ABN-Amro, Bosch, Canon, CNH, FICO,
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