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

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Sharing with Other Systems
Once you get past those initial pain points and get an XML system in place, there are many tools available to take that structured XML and point it to other systems, whether internally or externally to vendors, such as localization companies. Trippe says it's this great potential to communicate with other systems that is one of the great advantages of using XML. "Once you have the XML set up, integration is easier and potentially much more useful because you have content coded in a more rigorous way. By virtue of having detailed tagging I can now do handshakes to other systems that I probably couldn't have done."

Keith Schengili-Roberts, manager of documentation and localization, who worked on the ATI-IXIASoft implementation says one of the great advantages of the new system is the ability to pass along information to localization companies and easily compare two versions, so that only the changed information needs to be translated. "It's very handy for localization management without having to read the tagged version." Instead, they can simply compare. "Here's version one and here's version two and here's how they are different." He says this greatly reduces localization complexity, scheduling issues, and cost.

Duffy says "we use XML in the form of web services and in our APIs so that the actual plumbing in how these systems talk to each other is XML-based because it's a wonderful open standard for system-to-system communication and interchange. The actual plumbing like web services is XML-based and what's going through the pipes is XML content," he says.

Manufacturing companies face unprecedented market forces. Thus, finding systems that allow them to change documentation, marketing, and training materials quickly and get them translated into multiple languages is a growing imperative. Ortega says, "Market dynamics are driving what we do and all of them are global." When you push a product, you do so to the entire world and you need a system in place to allow your documentation to keep up with this because, as Ortega points out, "if you have a bad user experience, an unhappy user doesn't come back."

XML content management provides the tools to maneuver in this shifting landscape and change content at the lowest level while reducing costs and speeding time to market, but it takes time and patience. If your company can get over the implementation hump, the pay-off can be enormous.

Sidebar: A Deeper Look at the Development of DITA

One of the forces driving adoption of XML content management is the DITA documentation standard. Originally developed by IBM in 2000, IBM gave DITA to OASIS in spring 2004. Don Day, who helped developed the standard at IBM and is now chair of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee, says that DITA develop when IBM saw that in order to take advantage of XML, it needed to shift from a larger book view to a smaller topic-driven view.

"IBM recognized that as we were going through the investigation of this new thing called XML, we needed to reevaluate where we were going with our information strategies, which had been based in the past on books. We knew we needed to move more quickly on the way information was created and turned around." Day and his fellow team members saw inherent limitations in this old system. It was slow and difficult to manage. When they created a new document by cloning an old one, they were left with two documents, much of which had matching information.

Day says they wanted to move toward a more topic-oriented structure that provided a more detailed view of the information than the old book metaphor. Day and his teammates went to work around 1999 and delivered the first internal prototype in 2000.

In addition to being highly scalable and flexible enough to deal with custom tags, DITA offers three main value points, according to Day. It allows users to reuse content, design, and processing, saving companies from reinventing the wheel with a new DTD for each document type.

Since 2004 when DITA became an OASIS standard, it gave rise to a community of users and an economic ecosystem built around XML Editors, XML content management, migration services, specialty tool development, and more. One of the reasons IBM decided to release this as a standard was the recognition that by opening it up, others would develop tools and procedures that IBM would otherwise have had to develop on its own. Day says that a whole community, including XML CM vendors, has grown around DITA, and users and vendors now meet regularly at conferences to share ideas.

Sidebar: Mini Case
ATI/AMD Implements IXIASoft TextML Server

When senior technical writer Graydon Saunders and manager of documentation and localization Keith Schengili-Roberts began looking for an XML content management system, they only knew that the system video-card manufacturer ATI (now part of AMD) was using was inherently flawed and did not provide the functionality they required to produce long, complex technical documents. The documents changed often, sometimes subtly and usually needed to be translated into multiple languages including Korean, Hebrew, and Chinese (among others).

Prior to implementing the IXIASoft solution, ATI used Adobe FrameMaker with WebWorks Publisher from Quadralay. Schengili-Roberts said that while these are fine tools for some environments, they were all wrong for ATI. They were faced with unbearable localization costs that were "eating us alive," he says, and Frame did not support right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic. Another issue was handling Unicode consistently in Frame to produce Asian language translations. What's more, WebWorks produced a unique ID for each topic after every build and this meant it was impossible to compare old builds with new ones because the ID changed every time. Finally, build times were unacceptably long, sometimes taking all day to produce a PDF.

Saunders and Schengili-Roberts took a year to write a detailed functional specification, then began the slow process of finding the right vendor to meet their needs. They started off with more than 40, but then quickly narrowed the field until they found a manageable set of four companies that appeared to meet their requirements, which included native print and Unicode support. When the dust settled, IXIASoft got a clean win.

Among the reasons for choosing IXIASoft was its DITA support, a direction that Saunders and Schengili-Roberts wanted to take. The also liked that IXIASoft complied with industry standards using standard XML "without proprietary bits." What's more, the database could handle everything they could throw at it and more and it produced speedy search results.

Having just completed a three-month phase one trial, most writers on the 12-person team have come to grips with the fact they are no longer in control of the format, and most like it—although they lost one who wasn't happy with the change. They now set up information in a topic map. It's not dead simple by any means, but now that they have it set up, they are finding it very easy to manage projects. With the new system, "chapter numbering just happens," says Saunders and they now produce a 1,400-page PDF that previously took a day in a miniscule five to 10 minutes.

Localization costs have also plunged as they now only send out changed content in standard XML to the localization vendor, greatly reducing turn-around time and costs. Although they have only completed the initial phase of their implementation, the new system has brought order to the documentation process and Saunders and Schengili-Roberts have been very pleased with the results.

Companies Featured in this Article

Astoria Software
CMS Watch
Gilbane and Company

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