The Devil is in the Details: The Revelation of XML Content Management

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When most of us think of content management, we think of the enterprise variety—a large database repository for all of our documents—or we think of the web type, which manages our web content from the back end. However, another type of content management has emerged, one that has been specifically designed to let users slice, dice, and reuse information at virtually whatever level of granularity they desire. This powerful brand of content management is fueled by XML.

XML CM is a specific style of content management in which content is created with an XML editor and saved into the database in standard XML. It has the greatest appeal in companies producing complex technical documentation such as manufacturing, aviation, or technology, but also for publishers and marketing departments that want to produce content once and use it many times in many formats. What's more, because it's XML, it greatly simplifies the transfer of data and it enables companies to pass information onto other systems, whether internally to the training department or customer service, for example, or externally to localization companies.

You may think content management is content management, and most CM vendors today use XML in some form to process information on the back end, so why split hairs over the name? Tony Byrne, who is an analyst and founder of CMS Watch (and an EContent contributing editor), thinks the distinction has to do with market focus and capabilities. "I think part of what distinguishes them is they are targeting very specific use cases that web content management and document management can't touch. This revolves around technical documentation and to some degree marketing material automation, and these vendors have capabilities for those use cases that you would just never see." For these users, says Kevin Duffy, president and CEO at XyEnterprise, "content is the product they are delivering or it is mission-critical and they can't deliver the product they are manufacturing without documentation," he says.

Eric Bergeron, CEO at XML CM vendor IXIASoft thinks the major difference between traditional content management and XML CM is the use of standards. "XML provides a way to standardize the way you model the information or content, and it's easier for people to build a solution because you have a methodology to describe information," Bergeron says. He explains that with traditional content management systems, it is possible to store Word documents, then generate a bigger document from smaller parts, but without XML it's more complicated because there is no standard way to do it.

Byrne adds that using XML allows the complex reuse of information. "The big thing is the complex reuse of chunks of text at arbitrary levels within the hierarchy. You can have highly nested content and you can assign different metadata and attributes at various levels in the tree and can combine and recombine text across different outputs and track dependencies of where content was used. It's really optimized for fine-grained reuse," Byrne says.

The Rise of DITA
Another factor contributing to the rise of the XML CM niche is the emergence of the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) standard, which was originally developed by IBM and now is an OASIS XML standard for creating technical documentation. Bill Trippe, an analyst at Gilbane and Company, says DITA arose because traditional content management did not meet the needs of complex document creators such as technical documentation departments.

"Traditional document management and content management as it has evolved doesn't give you enough functionality at the detailed level. DITA came out of this. Technical documentation-type applications need to really capture stuff at that level and reuse components, as in multi-channel publishing," Trippe says.

Dan Ortega, VP of marketing at XML CM vendor Astoria Software, which is beta testing a new on-demand version of its software, thinks one of the main reasons a model like this can work is because of the emergence of DITA. "Frankly, had we tried to do this three years ago I don't think it would have worked because of the lack of standardization," says Ortega. "XML as a standard is good, but it has been around for a while and it's very broad and subject to interpretation. Once IBM cobbled DITA, and was smart enough to throw it out to a standards organization (OASIS), the rapid adoption of DITA was one of the triggering factors that has accelerated this whole market," he says.

XyEnteprise's Duffy says DITA has provided a road map for many companies that want to get started with this type of content management. "DITA is dramatically increasing interest in XML because it gives you a cookbook. We're seeing tremendous interest in DITA."

In fact, when IXIASoft customer, ATI (now part of AMD) wanted to move to an XML CM solution to streamline documentation production, it chose DITA because it was the simplest and most cost-effective way to proceed. "A lot of smart people spent five years doing this. What's my business case for recreating that work?" asks Graydon Saunders, who helped set up the ATI documentation system. In addition, he says his company likes to adhere to standards whenever possible, and the fact it was a standard enabled them to tap into the DITA community and its growing toolkit. If ATI had gone its own way, it would have had to cobble together its own tool set.

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