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

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Moving from Concept to Installation
While most companies would agree that moving to structured content, especially for long document production, is a sound idea, getting from the drawing board to implementation is no simple task and most vendors recommend a go-slow approach. The only exception to this was Astoria, which claimed they get you from concept to implementation in a maximum of 90 days. Trippe says, however, that in his experience it's a significant effort to implement any type of XML project.

"If you are coming from unstructured content and you've decided XML is a requirement, the conversion and tagging of content into XML is significant," he says. "There is a lot of intellectual effort into thinking through the data structures, and then it is a lot of work, whether you are creating it from scratch, having someone key it for you or converting from another source, and then parsing it all out and making sure it's all correct," he says. Part of this process is figuring out what to do with legacy data, Trippe adds.

He says he recently worked with a large scientific-technical publishing client moving to an XML format for all content moving forward, but after analyzing the 600-page back catalogue, they concluded it wouldn't be worth the cost to convert every single page to XML. Instead, they decided on a hybrid system for the back catalogue converting much of this material to scanned PDF images and then tagging those images with key information to help their customers find the information they need. Trippe says after analyzing how people search for, link to, and aggregate this content, the publisher believed they could get the biggest bang by tagging the older content to maximize how customers interact with this information. "Scanning of pages into high-quality PDF is far less work and less cost than keying bibliographic data into XML, but [this company] did it because that's what makes the application useful." Moving forward, they will tag all new content in its new XML system, and he says lots of publishers are following this model.

Bergeron believes the biggest issue in implementing a CMS is getting people to understand how to write in a structured way. He says they are so used to working in Word in a free-form style without applying styles consistently that it is difficult for many workers to move to a system of rules like XML. "The toughest part is to get people to accept that they have to follow some rules when they create documents and to use templates and stay within templates." He says in order to reuse content, which nearly everyone agrees is a desirable goal, you must create your documents in a structured fashion, and helping people understand this is a big challenge in implementing these systems.

What's more, writers need to understand they are no longer responsible for formatting, an aspect of their job some writers find hard to give up. They also need to get used to writing discrete pieces of a document, rather than the entire document from beginning to end. Suzanne Mescan, who is VP of marketing at Vasont, says it is imperative to get the writing team on board from the beginning and put change management in place for the writing staff in order for the implementation to succeed. "You have to keep the writing team informed of what you are doing and why, what the benefits will be, and why it will make the writing job easier in the long run. It may not be apparent at the beginning."

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