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Reducing the cost of developing, translating and distributing product documentation is one of the major reasons why more and more companies are choosing to invest in a DITA CMS. But as you shop for the right tool, how do you figure out how much time and money each competing component content management system will save you?

The independent industry website has devised an ROI calculator that lets you plug in your own numbers, estimate the expenses associated with a DITA XML implementation, and get a rough estimate of the cost savings you will see from year one. Not to kill the suspense, but we have found that in most cases easyDITA customers recoup their investment in less than one year.

Counting the costs

A DITA XML CMS saves you money by increasing the efficiency of your product documentation processes. So the first step to calculating ROI is to baseline how much you currently spend on the resources that write, review and approve your content. Entering the number of technical writers and their average salaries, as well as your Subject Matter Experts, their average salaries and the percentage of time they spend reviewing your documentation, gives you the bottom-line figure that the Calculator will then use to turn time savings into dollar savings.

Next, the Calculator adds up the costs of implementation. Chances are, the cost of the software will not be the most significant line item on this part of the spreadsheet. Enter the yearly rate for the easyDITA pricing plan you are considering on line 15. You can leave lines 17, 18 , 21 and 22 blank. easyDITA is an SaaS, so there are no hardware costs, no need for dedicated IT resources, and support charges and an authoring tool are already baked into the price.

Take some of that money you save on the software and invest it in some upfront planning, because to get the most out of DITA you really need to develop a good content strategy. The Calculator assumes that 30% of your documentation team will devote 75% of their time for one year analyzing your current state, developing a strategy and converting your legacy content to DITA. It budgets $100,000 to pay for consultants to help get that part right, which may sound astronomical to some smaller companies and one heck of a deal for a big corporation. Before you run screaming or grab your checkbook, just remember that your need for consulting is highly dependent on your size and the complexity of your documentation.

TIP: Use the transition to structured content as an opportunity to clean up your existing documentation. Identify what content needs to be retained and discard anything that is outdated, unnecessary or repetitive.

Publishing your materials to multiple output formats can be a challenging part of any move to DITA. If your organization does not have XML, XSLT, XSL:FO, and Ant capabilities, you will probably need to bring additional resources in-house or contract with a service provider to optimize your setup. The Calculator estimates that it will cost $50,000 to get everything looking the way you want.

TIP: You can save a lot of money by focusing on creating some great web output instead of continuing the quest for the perfect PDF.

Finally, you will need to train your people how to use the new system. This is another area where easyDITA can save you some cash. With its intuitive look-and-feel and easy setup, our customers are up and running in hours, not weeks. That said, topic-based writing is a big change for some writers, and an investment in training seminars like CIDM’s minimalism workshops can help ease the transition.

Adding up the benefits

Not only does a DITA CMS minimize your costs, it also reduces time to market. For many companies, the opportunity cost of delaying a product launch because the documentation isn’t ready dwarfs the cost of creating the content in the first place. On line 27, the Calculator gives you the ability to quantify this for your organization. It estimates these lost sales opportunities at $1000/day for 2 weeks per year; your estimate could be much higher.

Next, the Calculator uses the information you entered in the first section to put a dollar value on the time you save by using more efficient DITA content development processes. Separating content and style reduces the amount of time each writer spends formatting content. Increasing the use of already-written content adds another efficiency, as does improving the findability of that content. DITA also streamlines the review process.

Do you deliver your product documentation in multiple languages? For many organizations, using the easyDITA CMS to manage multilingual content and automate their translation workflow is the most compelling reason to buy. The Calculator estimates translation management savings at 40%, but as it says in cell D33, your actual savings might be as high as 90%.

Summing Up

One of the things we like about the Techwhirl ROI Calculator is that it raises the right issues and gives you ammunition to use when you make the case for this investment to others in your organization (maybe ammunition’s not the right word to use in this context!) It errs on the side of caution when estimating potential savings, but also puts a dollar value on some of the benefits of structured content that go beyond cost savings.

In the final line of the spreadsheet, you are asked this loaded question: How much do you save per year by keeping existing customers rather than having them change products? Putting outdated or inaccurate information in front of your customers is not only embarrassing, these days it can really impact your future revenue. Putting an exact figure on that might be tough to do, but we’re willing to bet that for most companies it’s a lot more than $5,000.

On the flip side of that, giving your customers accurate, relevant product information that is easy to find will likely result in fewer calls to your support desk. That’s one cost savings that is not included in the Calculator. [See our blog post – How to calculate how much a DITA CMS will reduce your support costs]

So how did easyDITA do? When I plugged our pricing for a dedicated easyDITA server into Techwhirl’s sample numbers for a medium-sized company (10 full-time tech writers making $75,000 a year, etc.), it calculated an ROI of less than a year and annual cost savings of $570,000 in subsequent years. Your results may vary, as they say, and I encourage you to try it out for yourself.  TechWhirl ROI calculator.


Saving money on product documentation is just the beginning! Check out our white paper and webinar DITA for Everyone: It’s Not Just for Tech Docs! to learn how other departments can leverage an easyDITA implementation to increase their value to the enterprise and achieve productivity gains like the ones in the ROI Calculator.

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