Applying DITA to an Enterprise

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enterprise DITA adoptionAlthough DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) began its evolution in the technical publications arena, its nature as a data model for structuring content means that there is no inherent reason to limit DITA to tech pubs teams or content.

Let me say that again in another way: Yes, DITA can be successfully adopted across an enterprise.

Other Departments Can Leverage DITA

As with any DITA adoption business decision , the cost and effort of adoption is not going to make sense for everyone. Instead, the applicability of DITA is going to depend on specific requirements.

The best candidate groups for DITA adoption are those where content (information, graphics, multimedia, articles, parts, descriptions, etc.) needs to be consistent, reused, transformed, translated, leveraged, or otherwise treated like an asset. Some typical secondary adopters include:

  • Training
  • Marketing
  • Support
  • Research & Development
  • Proposal Writers
  • Publishers

Adopting DITA within these other groups usually equates to faster return on investment.

Use Case in the Oil & Gas Industry

This client has an essential requirement for clear, consistent information carefully managed and leveraged between PDF documents, searchable HTML, mobile HTML, and Excel spreadsheets (which are input into a variety of tools). Furthermore, users in one area often need different levels of detail than those in another area.

Even though they are not yet in a position to take advantage of the huge translation savings that come from DITA adoption, this client is still a perfect candidate for DITA. Although their content creation and maintenance costs will be impressively streamlined, the consistency and transferability of the content to various formats and uses make the real business case here. The dependability of content, where content was guaranteed to be exactly the same in every place it was meant to be the same, was the determining factor in this case.

Driving Enterprise DITA Adoption

Moving beyond the tech pubs team typically requires an IT-driven adoption. Although tech pubs often adopt DITA first and become the “success story” and jumping-off point for other departments, they often lack the influence and connections to drive adoption across an enterprise.

The CIO (Chief Information Officer) should take the wheel for an enterprise-wide DITA adoption because they have the right position, influence, and budget to oversee such a high-level adoption across many departments or divisions. Once they are onboard, the CIO often delegates the actual adoption steps to a senior IT team, often with experienced DITA consultants on board.

The Biggest Hurdles to Enterprise DITA Adoption

By far, the biggest hurdle for enterprise adoption is the fact that DITA is still generally unknown by the CIOs of the business world. Initiating change in an enterprise is challenging, when that change involves a relatively unknown technology, the hurdle becomes much higher. Convincing business cases and success stories with compelling data become critical to starting the adoption process.

The other major hurdle for non-technical writers involves changing how they view content in the first place—understanding that content does not exist (or does not need to exist) inside a document, file, email, or Wiki. The fact that content can be application-agnostic is foreign to most people and takes some dynamic demonstrations to illustrate in a tangible fashion.

A good analogy that makes sense to most people is to draw a comparison to multimedia like graphics and videos. It makes sense to store and manage graphics in a central location (like SharePoint) where they can be used by everyone who needs them. But instead of creating copies of these graphics (as you do when you download them from SharePoint), DITA lets you reference those graphics. So, if you need to update those graphics, those changes are automatically made everywhere those graphics are pulled in.

Now expand this example to all kinds of content: descriptions, procedures, troubleshooting topics, and graphics too. You can centrally store and manage content so it can be used everywhere it’s needed—a central pool of content that can be drawn from at will. There are no copies of anything, which means everything is always consistent and up to date.

Where developers make up part of a team or department, explain DITA terms of an object-oriented model, but this time it is object-oriented content management rather than code. Content is written in XML topics, which are then treated as objects and referenced wherever needed.

Getting past these two big hurdles paves the way, but doesn’t eliminate other hurdles:

  • Getting the right training at the right time for a variety of people with a variety of existing skills and providing ongoing support will help ensure no one goes off on a one-way tangent.
  • Coordinating tools and publishing across departments, both of which become centralized. Coordination is becoming less of an issue because people are used to SharePoint as a document repository. People often panic that all their efforts at customizing SharePoint will be thrown out, but that is not the case. SharePoint can still be leveraged, although not always in the same ways. In fact, the management of content in SharePoint is vastly enhanced by using DITA under the covers. SharePoint can become what it always should have been—a browsable, searchable intranet. It becomes another delivery channel for DITA content, this time internal-facing content. And a happy by-product is that content for internal and external users becomes consistent (although not necessarily identical).
  • Continuously proving the value of DITA to new stakeholders as the adoption gets under way. There’s no doubt  this can be uphill battle.

DITA-adoption-phases

Summary

Enterprise-wide DITA adoption is a ripe-for-the-picking opportunity, whether or not a company has already implemented DITA in technical publications. A carefully planned adoption can ensure success for any key area of the enterprise that relies on consistent, centrally managed content lifecycles.

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Jacquie Samuels

Jacquie Samuels is the owner of Writing Wise. She endeavors to help everyone create documentation that is stronger, faster, and smarter. You can connect with Jacquie through her Google Plus page.

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