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Making a change in content management platforms is a significant shift that should not be taken lightly.

The companies who have winning system implementations take time to think and plan. Thanks to the extra effort at the beginning of the process, these implementations pay MASSIVE dividends in the long run.

If you are considering a move to DITA, we’ve written some tips that might be helpful. These tips are based on our years of experience with so many organizations.

Do you have something to add? Let us know in the comments!

Before we dive in, let’s start with the basics.

What is a DITA CMS?

A DITA CMS is a system that enables the creation, organization, and deployment of DITA content.
DITA stands for Darwin Information-Typing Architecture and it’s an open-standard specifically designed for publishing technical documentation.
A CMS stands for Content Management System. These systems can sometimes get confused with other CMSs which is why it’s more accurate to refer to a DITA CMS as a Component Content Management System (CCMS)
Related: What is a CCMS?

Start with Information Architecture

Ok, hit the brakes; before we even talk about the DITA CMS tools, you need to finish work on your content strategy and content model!

Your content model and content strategy matters because it dramatically informs your Component Content Management System(CCMS) requirements.

You wouldn’t believe how many organizations start looking at DITA CMS technologies before they’ve even made their minds up about adopting DITA or a component content strategy.

Before you become attached to a tool or system, do the hard work:

  • Develop a content strategy
  • Determine your content model
  • Identify requirements
  • Develop a taxonomy

Document Your Technology Requirements

Once you have a content strategy and content model, use them to make a list of your “must-have requirements.” What capabilities are essential? We’ll use this list to your advantage in the next section.

Make sure that you are limiting the must-have requirements to true needs. Don’t dilute this list with your technology wants.

Use Those Requirements

Start by thinning the herd and using your requirements list to create a short list of vendors/tools that best fit your needs. There are a lot of vendors out there and the sooner you narrow down your choices, the sooner you cut through the noise and find the right system.

Use Stories, Not Checklists

Write short scenarios or user stories that you want to see demonstrated with each DITA CMS.

For example:

  • “We want to see how our authors can use this software to create a Topic in DITA and then reuse that topic across five similar publications.”
  • “We want to see how a content manager composes a DITA Map and then how quickly they can add and rearrange topics within that MAP.”
  • “We want to see our author publish a DITA Map to a PDF and Portal without adjusting the formatting for either.”

These scenarios help to keep your requirements goal oriented. This also gets out of the trap of a feature checklists, which ultimately won’t help you differentiate between competing products.

Arrange Demos From Your Shortlist

At this point you should have a content strategy, a list of requirements, a short list of vendors, and a series of scenarios that you want to see come to life.

Now it’s time to see those stories take life. Ask the vendors to follow the stories and scenarios that you developed and, if possible, provide some sample content to the vendors. During an easyDITA demo, we typically ask about your company and your goals so that we can show features and stories that correlate directly to the outcomes that you desire.

Do not rush this stage. Be sure to give the selected vendors plenty of time to demonstrate the use cases. Don’t schedule more than two demos in a day, give your team time to debrief after each demo, and schedule additional demos if needed.

Select a DITA CMS and Complete a Pilot Project

Be sure the vendor gives you a way to access the system for a trial and pilot project with no long term commitment. The pilot project should follow a “real” project from start to finish. Select a task or series of tasks that you need to do in the system and do it. From writing the content, to editing, to SME review, to approval, to publishing, to localization capabilities, ensure that you test the whole process.

You should have clearly defined success criteria for your pilot. Share these with your software vendor (and services provider if you are getting professional services help from a consultant or systems integrator).

By completing a project from start to finish in this system, you accomplish two things.

  • You find out whether the DITA CMS is capable
  • You find out how much training in the new tool your team will need

A Pilot Project can be as simple as signing up for a free trial of the software and using your data to test each use case and scenario that’s important to you. Or, you can secure professional services from the vendor to help with a more comprehensive and detailed Proof of Concept. Both approaches are common in evaluating the capabilities of a DITA CMS system.

Evaluate the Pilot Outcomes

After you’ve completed your pilot project, evaluate the outcomes. Make appropriate adjustments to your content strategy and content model, tweak your requirements (and perhaps your expectations), and either confirm going forward with your first choice, or fall back to the next option if the pilot was not a success.

These steps are a reflection of what we’ve seen firsthand and what we’ve heard from other experts in the industry, but no two evaluation processes are exactly alike.

What are your thoughts? Has your organization done something differently and benefited?

Let us know, we welcome your feedback.

A better way to manage technical documents

Note: This post was originally written on Apr 20, 2012 by Paul Wlodarczyk. It has been updated to include additional resources and information.

John Baker

John Baker is a Content Marketing Manager for easyDITA, a DITA Component Content Management System based in Rochester, NY. He works to produce articles, webinars, white papers, and case studies.
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