Sunday, April 22, 2007

What they're saying about CMS and XML

The geeks saw it coming years ago. XML is the next wave in documentation yet we have been waiting for ten years for the tools to catch up. What is the Content Management System (CMS) our corporate leaders want and does it come with easy to use structured authoring tools. After
attending the DocTrain UX conference I may have some answers.

I am a technical communicator that has moved to the corporate side of business. I am not a CM or XML expert so this perspective is from the point of view of a technically intelligent person with a business vision that includes CMS and XML. Ever since I took up HTML, XHTML coding 7 years ago for help design and accessibility for web functionality I have been interested in single sourcing. I've heard Anne Rockley speak numerous times on live webinars, and each time after hearing her and others speak I would return to my desk to attempt to write a proposal that would win the support of the lords that ruled over the purses. Content management and XML made so much sense but I never worked for a company that could justify owning the tools to implement it.

In the past XML tools have been hard to use and required coding knowledge. The cost for the tools to do XML is much less that the CMS and range from free, in the form of open source or Notepad, up to the price of good publishing software. The CM systems had a price point that only appealed to larger enterprise companies. The price for the software or system is just the tip of the iceberg there where all kinds of additional costs like training, implementation, legacy documentation transition, as well as the costs involved in implementing a corporate shift to structured authoring. Although the price point to enter the CMS world has changed the cost of the additional processes still exists today.

What Tools are Now Available?
Well obviously I have not seen or worked with many of the tools that are available, and there are plenty. I am going to talk about a select few that I have either worked with or have interest in working with.

XML Authoring Tools
Sometimes the path to complete enlightenment (or structured authoring) must be taken in small steps and sometimes its "all in" or nothing. I am organizing these authoring tools from least to most functional in the sense of true structured authoring. This way you will be able to see where you are on the path and how far you need to go, because not all of us need to go the whole way. (How to determine where you need to be is another article).

Microsoft Word
Word can produce XML files but the problem with the code it creates is that the formatting elements are all embedded in the XML making the final product not truly structured (and huge). Remember, structured authoring separates the content from the format. This provides little if any savings when it comes to reuse and translation.

Adobe FrameMaker (unstructured)
"Ok, this is not structured writing, where am I going with this?" you might ask. FrameMaker has always been much better than Word at keeping the formatting elements separate from the content. Although the elements are embedded, they are not visible to the translators, ensuring that they do not change the way a document looks just by changing the content in the document. Imagine the time you would save if you didn't have to fix section breaks, footers, pagination, and reference links because they are broken when someone added content to the wrong place. FrameMaker is just a better product for producing larger technical documents.

Adobe FrameMaker (structured authoring)
Although Adobe uses their own DTD-type file called an EDD, you are not tied to it. Your content embedded tags for the EDD rules but can be saved as pure XML. You can even convert the EDD to a DTD. This means that you can have the best of both worlds, structured XML authoring and FrameMaker's powerful formatting abilities. This product is an addon to FrameMaker, but is included in the price. Their next version 8.0 promises to have a lot more features.

JustSystems XMetal
(XML authoring tool)
This is a great front end for a solid CMS. It follows the DITA structure which ensures that your content is going to be valid (assuming you follow the DITA rules when authoring).

As an extra note, for all you Word folks (which includes me, although reluctantly) there is a plug-in from In.Vision called Xpress Author for Microsoft Word. This intrigued me when I was at the DocTrain UX conference last week but unfortunately they had two computers 'keg' on them leaving us without a presentation and them without a demo.

CMS Tools
Again there are a lot of tools to look at. Two companies that I found interesting both host the CMS system so the business does not have to implement the network architecture to do this.

Inmedius has a whole suite of product for different industries.
Bluestream XDoc is a smaller very function CMS at a price point most small and medium sized business (SMB) could afford.

Anne Rockley the premier expert on content management and president 2005 of the international content management community of practice is the person you want to learn from. She has some wise advice about moving to structured authoring and content management. One article she wrote gives some prudent advice to not start with the tools (Don't start with the technology).

So where is the value?
Assuming the tools are now within the range of an average SMB and all the other costs associated with implementation are still there, what incentive is there for a business to want to change?

My clients are medical device manufacturers. They are required by law in almost every country they distribute in to conform to some type of regulation. In Canada it is ISO 13485 and Health Canada, in the USA it is the FDA, in Japan it is PAL, and so on. If you have ever written for any ISO standard for any industry you are familiar with the intricacies of the required documentation process. Every work procedure in every department, from admin to shipping, must be documented. The spin off is that the procedure defines weather or not there are other documents required to ensure the quality of the product: For example, the ISO regulation does not state they have to have a specification, but when my clients write their design and development procedures they state they will design and build based on the specifications they have defined for the product, which requires a specification document. They may also need marketing requirements, service requirements, validation procedures, etc.

All this information is a gold mine when it comes to preparing the end user material. With my current client I have received 15 of these types of documents of which I have used pieces of each to write the operator's guide. Can you imagine the time that would have been saved if I could just reuse the chucks of information I needed?

Next, they will have to send the manual for translation. Max Hoffman of Enlaso ( has a presentation that talks about the ROI of using structured authoring and estimates that making a small change like using FrameMaker (unstructured) over MS Word alone can save about $1000 per language to translate a 350 page manual. If you implement structured XML the savings go way up.

After that they want to use some of the information as part of the GUI, displaying relevant tips depending where you are in the interface. Then they want a service manual, installation instructions, help files, etc. Each time this gets rewritten from scratch in MS Word is a loss of profit for them. Although I do make more money this way, I am not doing my clients any justice by providing them with a system that costs them more than they need to spend.

As a bonus (insert sarcasm here) there is a decrease in consistency and accuracy when not using structured authoring. When the auditor comes and reviews their systems and finds inconsistencies, they can be flagged or written up with a non-compliance. When they are in the middle of a project and they have limited time to get their product to market, the last thing they want to be doing is checking all the documentation they have already signed off. Worst case scenario is that they lose their license to sell their product in a particular country. If ISO registration is lost the opportunity to sell in many countries is also lost. It is definitely more costly not to use structured authoring than to purchase some software, set up a structure authoring environment, and do it right from the beginning.

Another potential bonus is your company becomes more appealing to venture capitalists. With content that can be ported into any other company, the value of your documentation system goes up.

Start by implementing the structured authoring attitude.
Ann Rockley's advises companies to "understand their business needs, information life cycle and content" before investing in technology. Then add pieces as you need them or can afford them and you will always be more efficient and more effective than just writing and saving.

1 comment:

Tom said...


I read a same topic 2 month ago. The topic helps me to improve my competency.

Apart from that, below article also is the same meaning

ISO 13485 checklist

Tks again and nice keep posting