XML in Action: A Closer Look at How the Technology Inspires Creativity and Innovation

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Symitar Improves Efficiencies, Increases Customer Satisfaction
Symitar, a software systems provider that serves credit unions, needed to improve efficiencies related to its writing capabilities. It sought a solution that would be more effective than its unstructured authoring program. A structured authoring system would enable writers to rewrite HTML files as smaller pieces of information that could be joined in an XML database-a more efficient way in which Symitar customers could access the relevant content they need.

"We knew we were going to move to XML structured writing using the DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) standards," says Kathryn Showers, technical documentation project manager for Symitar. "I wanted to choose a tool that was intuitive and replicated as close as possible to tools that we were already using, so the crossover from writing HTML to writing XML in [JustSystems'] XMetaL wouldn't cause the writers a steep learning curve because they had to learn structured writing on top of a new tool."

Symitar implemented JustSystems' XMetaL Author Enterprise, which Symitar's writers use to create XML content that can be easily shared and reused-saving the company the time and expense of constantly re-creating new documents.

Being able to reuse documents was a main reason Symitar wanted to transition to XML, according to Terry Barraclough, manager of technical publications for Symitar. "We knew there were a lot of similarities from one document to another in our HTML document set and those similarities were what were killing us," explains Barraclough. "Whenever we had an update to make, we had to remember which document [the update] was in since we don't have a CMS, where the paragraph was-there might be 15 or 20 places we had to remember to go to copy and paste the correct information."

"Moving to more single sourcing, what I've heard from clients is, the more they use XML around content generation, the more they're able to efficiently leverage that content in different areas," says Drew Schumacher, product manager for JustSystems. "It's saving them cycles with their writers and with the whole process of creating new material." Schumacher explains that clients can achieve similar results during the editing process. "For a product release, you may have one or two features that may need to be updated in any given set of documents," adds Schumacher. "Instead of having to re-create a whole book, you can more granularly update just what's required in single sourcing."

Showers says that one hurdle the department faced was ensuring that the right information reached the right user. Structured writing and XML enables the department's writers to write content once, in one location, and then produce it for multiple audiences.

According to Barraclough, however, making the transition to XML was initially a challenge for the writers. "It was a huge leap," he says. "We were writing from the top down, which is what you do in traditional writing-you write the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Now we're asking them to write from the bottom up and later it will be put into a context."

Still, the efficiencies that Barraclough and Showers thought would be possible with the transition to XML were achieved. "Even though we've been in the ramp up stages for quite a while, we've been going back and forth over items, we are able-with the same number of people in this group-to not only document our release enhancements, which used to be the only thing we had time for," says Barraclough.

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