Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), with its promise of more structured content authoring and publishing, appeals to a wide variety of businesses that manage large quantities of technical content. In fact, a great range of enterprises adopt DITA, from lone writers to enterprises with 500 or more dedicated technical writers. So what makes DITA a good fit for your organization? And how do you know if DITA just isn’t a good fit?
Who Adopts DITA?
The decision to adopt a DITA solution should be made when DITA can help you solve content-related business challenges. So it’s a good idea to look at the content-related business factors in play in your organization to determine whether DITA is a good fit. Consider how the following factors currently manifest in your organization.
The Environment for Content
First, do you have content authors? Specifically does your organization employ one or more authors (full-time or part-time), where an author is anyone who writes content that is one or more of the following:
- Translated to one or more languages.
- Contained in living documents, those that authors create then maintain and update.
- Targeted content, so when end users access the content, they see content tailored to their role, experience level, product combinations, etc.
- Suitable for reuse.
- More than 300 pages (approx.) total.
- Updated more than just occasionally.
- Published to multiple output types, like PDF, ePub, and mobile.
- Shared across divisions or departments, such as tech pubs, support, or training.
- Not easily findable—users complain that they can’t find what they need.
The money issue can be a showstopper if the want or need to move to DITA is strong but the budget is lacking. It’s important that you have some funds that you can initially invest in documentation improvements. And keep in mind that your return on investment will likely be 3 years or less. Although DITA is an open standard (and therefore it’s free), you’ll need time and tools to implement what you need—and both of those take money. How much money depends on your requirements, your in-house expertise, and your tool choices.
Attitude and Support
You have the support of the enterprise to make improvements, where the enterprise embraces change and evolution. Without support from those who wield the budget and the power, your likelihood of an abandoned adoption project is high.
Who Shouldn’t Try
As valuable as it can be for many organizations, DITA is not always the perfect fit. While the following are generalizations, if any one or more of the following apply to you, DITA may not be an appropriate approach:
- You have less than 300 total pages of where each of the following is true:
- no potential for reuse
- no need to multipurpose the content across departments or divisions
- no translation
- no need for multiple outputs
- no customized content
- You update documents once a year or less, and it takes less than a month to update them.
- You write one-off documents that follow no pattern or template, as opposed to living documents that are updated as the product, service, or process changes. For example, you write proposals that are customized each time for different clients or you create feature articles published in an online magazine.
- You spend less than ten percent of your time managing content formatting, including title pages, tables of contents, font, spacing, margins, and headers and footers, and table formats.
- You need to integrate with another system that cannot integrate with XML or produce a viable XML output.
- You have partners who are using a different approach, and you need to integrate with their solution.
- You cannot obtain approval or get support to make improvements.
Overall, if you have anything but very basic documentation requirements, DITA is worth considering. However, be aware that DITA needs a careful, planned approach to be successful for your organization in the short- and long-term.