Know Your Success Criteria for Your DITA Implementation Before You Start

By Naveh Greenberg, Director, US Defense Development, DCL

One of the most common reasons for the failure of major implementation projects is a lack of clear success criteria by which the effort will be measured. And, implementing a Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) solution is a major undertaking for organizations. As you embark on changing how content is created, managed, stored, and produced in your organization, take some cues from the companies that have already ventured down the DITA implementation road: work with your team and vendors to identify clear and measurable goals, and then track progress throughout.

We surveyed 12 companies that completed DITA implementations, with implementation timeframes ranging from three to five years. Not surprisingly, after successfully making the case to management for moving to DITA, they each went into the effort with criteria for measuring success. Specific business needs drive not only the planning of a DITA implementation, but also the expected return on investment (ROI).

In all twelve cases introducing or expanding the capability to multi-purpose content was the number one criteria, although the specifics varied according to need and the breadth of the effort. Companies not only looked for savings by publishing content in multiple formats such as PDF, HTML, and print, but also by using content to produce training and help systems as well as customized marketing and sales collateral. Most noted that cost reductions occurred in time-to-production and resource allocations due to greater efficiencies in:

  • Maintaining content in one central location, while managing multiple styling, layout and design requirements separately.
  • Streamlining HTML and eBook production by using standardized content.

In the four companies where translation was a factor in the decision to deploy DITA, centralized content resulted immediate and significant savings in time and production costs, as the elimination of duplicated content meant less content to be translated.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos, President of Comtech Services, developed a four-level mode to demonstrate accrued savings from implementation of DITA:

    Level 1: Minimal implementation of DITA that primarily replaces multiple complex desktop publishing formats, produces significant savings over legacy processes.
    Level 2: Basic content reuse, somewhat limited in scope, produces additional savings in maintenance and translation.
    Level 3: Vast reuse of content, where everyone uses the same data, and contributes to the same CMS.
    Level 4: Complex cost-reduction strategy, incorporating continuing automation and optimization of workflows

Most of the 12 companies we surveyed fit in the Level 1 for demonstrated cost savings in DITA. Just a few could be considered Level 2, but none have yet reached Level 3 or Level 4 where the most impressive and substantial savings can be realized.

We recommend putting significant effort into your upfront analysis and planning. As you recognize sources of your biggest content headaches, whether from specialized content that needs specialized handling, slow and cumbersome production workflows, myriad sources of unstructured content, you can better determine the approach to implementation that works best for your company, and can look at the right metrics to prove the long-term value of moving to DITA.

Naveh Greenberg, Data Conversion Laboratory

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