Save Money and Time with a Conversion Specification and Pilot

By Naveh Greenberg, Director, US Defense Development, DCL

Separating Setup Components from Full Production to Manage Complex Conversions

If you're new to the world of content conversion, it's probably a little overwhelming. You know your agency needs to prepare content to meet the current needs of more technologically savvy audiences, but you are concerned with losing valuable legacy content that is still accessed by the masses. From this standpoint, every content conversion project seems complex. And for many Department of Defense (DoD) and civilian agencies, the situation appears especially detailed and complicated, due to the size of the content library, varying content types (PDF, SGML, print), and quality (missing or inconsistent information). If you've already worked with another conversion vendor and found the results less than ideal, add a high level of frustration to the mix. Many dive right into a pilot program rather than conducting a thorough analysis of the range of content under consideration for conversion. But it’s the upfront work that will save you time, effort, and headaches.

For over three decades, DCL has learned to approach content conversion projects using two distinct processes, Setup and Production, instead of providing a push-button conversion that relies on consistency where none may exist. We include our clients in every aspect of the project. After all, you know your data better than anyone else. And we ensure quality with automated and manual Quality Control (QC) at every stage.

Initial Setup Components and Pilot

Setup components help you scope the purpose of the conversion along with refining what you envision as the end results. For example, is your end goal to use XML/HTML conversion to publish content to mobile devices? Before kicking off the set up activities, we’ll discuss your content environments, help identify all data as candidates for conversion, and assign a corresponding priority. These discussions always give rise to additional questions and further analysis, which then lead to developing a successful approach that can include the following phases.

Let’s focus on the setup components, an essential piece of the planning process that client teams overlook at their peril.

1. Provide Document Analysis, Inventory, and Categorization

This work helps to identify potential redundancies, anomalies, and idiosyncrasies in the content that a conversion vendor should recognize quickly based on previous experience. For example, legacy data is often not written to the standard it's being converted to, so required data may be missing or structured differently from the standard look and feel.

To add the most value, we create a conversion specification that lists all the tagging rules and creates a representative sample of the data. Some of the items that are covered in the Conversion Specification are:

  • The elements that were found in the documents being analyzed.
  • Examples of where the elements can be found.
  • Concrete rules as to how these elements are identified.
  • A sample of the tagging that will be used for that element.
  • A list of open items that are associated with this element.

Based on the Conversion Specification, a hand-tagged sample is produced. We walk through the conversion specification and hand-tagged sample with you to make sure all rules were implemented properly. During this process, we often determine that much of the metadata is missing in the legacy content. By documenting all of this information and noting the red flags, we will work with you to identify the best resource to answer the questions (for example, a technical person, writer, or Subject Matter Expert (SME)).

In standards such as S1000D, 40051, 3001, or any variations of 38784, a spreadsheet is produced listing all the possible data types, mapping chunks of data to their appropriate Data Modules, Work Packages, or topics. This allows you to map your legacy data to any data type regardless of legacy structure.

2. Use the Conversion Specification to Customize Conversion Software

When the initial work getting the conversion specification created and approved is complete, the next phase is to apply that information to the conversion software.

Our conversion software allows for multiple source types to be taken in and pre-processed appropriately to their source type. This hub-and-spoke approach is specialized to handle conversion challenges including cross references, special characters, several varieties of tables, equations, and other structures.

If new requirements are needed, individual modules are customized instead of building an entire conversion filter. With years of experience, we have a considerable library of input and output conversion modules, saving time and money on each project.

3. Deliver a Pilot Program

During the pilot, we work with you to select a representative sample that covers all legacy types. The purpose of the pilot is to uncover any issues before starting a full conversion production. For example, by reviewing the converted content in the pilot, you may realize that your style sheets require specific attributes or tagging structure or that a new keyword pattern has affected cross-referencing. Throughout the pilot program, we capture a list of issues that later can be used to tweak the software.

By reviewing the results of your pilot with you, we can make the recommendation to convert a larger sample as a limited production run or go into the full production process. And work doesn’t progress to the next stage until you’re satisfied and sign off on the results of the current stage.

Conclusion

DCL’s long experience in complex conversion for DoD and civilian agencies, as well as commercial clients, demonstrates the importance of collaboration and upfront analysis. We collaborate with you to thoroughly analyze your content environment and expectations for conversion before pushing to production. You receive a representative sampling of converted content quickly, resolving any concerns early on. The components of the setup phase—detailed specifications, examples, and technology implementation planning—help the conversion process go smoothly and reduce costs as you futurize your content.

Naveh Greenberg, Data Conversion Laboratory

Naveh Greenberg is a Project Manager and is the Director for US Defense Development at Data Conversion Laboratory.