XML Across the Publishing Lifecycle: Tools & Strategies to Promote Success

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Assembling and Producing Products
Unless you can transform and render your XML content as profitable products, XML remains an academic exercise. The XSL family of standards is key for XML styling and transformation. Most XML delivery systems use XSL, and some even include rudimentary XSL development tools. Writing XSL is akin to learning JavaScript in-depth; unlike JavaScript though, you are unlikely to find libraries of XSL style sheets to reuse since your XML models and content are unique. eXcelon Stylus Studio provides graphical tools for creating XSL style sheets within a rich graphical environment, and this inexpensive suite can speed learning and development.

Arbortext Epic also goes beyond authoring to multiplatform delivery. Enigma's 3C platform provides a complete strategic framework for ecommerce publishing to Web and CD. Enigma makes robust use of XML, but it can also work with outputs from Word and FrameMaker.

Tradeoffs: Although the XSL standards family is powerful and key to cross-media publishing, few delivery tools support these standards fully today. Still, any investment you make to learn XSL will pay dividends.

Manageing the XML Infrastructure
Any lifecycle XML system will be complex. You'll want to manage your models, content, and metadata (information about your content). If you're already using a file versioning system like Visual SourceSafe, you could continue with it for a while. That inexpensive choice will not, however, provide workflow management, content assembly, validity checking, or enhanced searching. Robust XML-aware content management systems will provide those services. Systems available from Documentum, BroadVision, XyEnterprise and others will become appealing as your XML content grows. Some are integrated solutions; others allow (and require) you to select components and integrate them into the system. All will need some consulting services.

Tradeoffs: Native content management systems take advantage of XML and can save many versions of documents with little extra space (they often save only changed elements). Such systems also provide more focused element searching. However, native content management systems are more expensive and more difficult to set up than simpler file-versioning systems. Like building a house, establishing an XML publishing system requires planning and discipline. The results can give you shelter from the elements of proprietary systems.

Sidebar: 10 Considerations Before Making the Move to XML

  1. Why change from your present proprietary systems to XML?
  2. How will you switch over from a pilot to the full system?
  3. How will you convert your legacy content to XML?
  4. What is your organization's tolerance for change?
  5. Have you begun developing a metadata strategy?
  6. How consistent is the structure in your legacy content?
  7. Do you prefer a native or hybrid XML authoring solution?
  8. Can you use an industry-standard XML vocabulary, or must you build your own?
  9. How do you want to balance consulting services with developing in-house expertise?
  10. What kinds of new products and delivery systems do you anticipate developing?

Sidebar: 10 Things to Ask XML Vendors

  1. Is your product part of an integrated content management solution, or must I mix, match, and integrate applications?
  2. What solutions do you have for each of the stages of my workflow and lifecycle?
  3. Does your product let me begin small and then grow to a total solution?
  4. How easy is it to develop and maintain a custom workflow? How do you license the product?
  5. Must I buy named seats or simply the quantity I'll use at any time?
  6. Do you sponsor user groups or online discussions for users of your products?
  7. Can you give me customer references whose needs and documents are similar to mine?
  8.  Can you identify opportunities to integrate with corporate databases?
  9. Does your product integrate with mainstream applications like email?
  10. Does your system search and index XML elements and attributes?

Sidebar: Aspen Makes the XML Leap

Are any firms with a history of print and legacy files moving to XML successfully? I asked Cimarron Buser, Marketing VP at Texterity, a provider of outsourced epublishing services in central Massachusetts, if he could name any successful efforts. He named Aspen/Loislaw, a division of Wolters Kluwer, with whom Texterity works. Aspen, headquartered in New York City, is a U.S. provider of primary and secondary source material for legal research in print and delivered by subscription over the Internet. Buser said this legal publisher has a decades-long tradition of print publishing, yet made the transition profitably from print-only to XML. Buser said that every book seems to have its own procedures deeply embedded in its editorial and production culture. Aspen managed to maintain that culture, including a high esteem for print, while moving to single-source XML publishing. Buser insists that XML publishing isn't for everyone. No one should make the move unless their documents have a disciplined structure (or at least consistent formatting) and their plans include deriving several products from a single authoritative source.

Buser cited Aspen/Loislaw publisher Marc Jennings' assessment of the pros and cons of this move. The benefits include accelerated product development cycles, the ability to produce more products from a single, vendor-neutral source, and streamlined production cost savings. None of this comes without cost, however. Jennings also said that the startup costs-especially the initial one-time data conversion to XML-had to be weighed, along with the need to train and then retain skilled employees.

Not every successful XML project needs to purchase every bell and whistle either. Instead of buying an in-house content management system that would have been costly and required even more in-house expertise, Aspen uses Texterity's BookBank service. This is essentially an Application Service Provider model whereby Texterity provides Web-based access to Texterity's file management system for editing, XML parsing to assure valid XML throughout the lifecycle, and PDF generation to provide print-quality renditions of the XML source. "When you consider that Aspen had only a few IT employees and was able to make this move, anyone can succeed provided they analyze costs and benefits," said Buser.

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