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It’s pretty easy for many organizations to recognize the benefits of moving their content into DITA. You can reuse content, save money on localization, centralize all your content, enable publishing to new mediums, and more. Sounds pretty great, right? (Note: If you’re not sure if DITA is right for you yet, check out our webinar, Is DITA Right For Me?) Once you’ve decided that you’re moving to DITA and selected a tool for authoring and content management, you’ve gotten past the first hurdle, but now you have a DITA implementation to plan.

One of the biggest keys to a successful move to DITA is planning your implementation well. We want to see every new easyDITA customer have a highly successful DITA implementation, and we work closely with prospective and new customers to ensure that they’ve laid the groundwork for success.

In the whitepaper, Efficiency Problems We Solve, Patrick Bosek looks at some of the efficiencies gained with DITA, but also shows the productivity curves that dip during the implementation phase. This is true for any technology implementation, but this dip has DITA-specific characteristics. While it’s important to expect some dips in productivity, these can be minimized with a well thought out implementation plan and timeline.

This post outlines the key components of a successful implementation and what you can do to plan ahead.

Timeline

When you begin planning your DITA implementation, one of the first things you should do is identify any important or even critical timelines. Most DITA implementations take somewhere in the neighborhood of three to six months. If your implementation includes significant customizations or development work to address a more complex problem, it could take closer to six to twelve months.

With that in mind, you should also consider other factors that may impact your timeline. For example, does the software license for your current tool expire anytime soon? Do you have publishing deadlines coming up? Are there any other important timelines to keep in mind?

Having a good idea of the big picture and keeping any important timelines in mind helps ensure that you’ll be able to meet those timelines. It’s also important to notify all parties involved with your implementation of the timelines, so everyone is working towards the same, common goal.

Information Architecture & Content Strategy

Information architecture (IA) and content strategy are not always thought of as integral parts of a DITA implementation and are sometimes overlooked, or thought of as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”. We recommend working on information architecture and content strategy first, maybe even before you select your tools.

Information architecture is the structure of your DITA content. Your DITA IA will be based on the existing structure of your content, as well as your goals or requirements for what you need to do with the content, such as publishing requirements. When working on IA, you’ll determine what DITA structures you’ll use and whether you require any DITA specialization or constraints. Do you have any unique content structure that might not fit in a standard DITA structure? Do you need to make sure you have certain metadata to meet your publishing requirements? During the IA process, you’ll need to answer these questions and more.

But, why is information architecture important? Well, first, IA is often used in the content conversion process (see the next section for more details on this) and having your IA defined will facilitate a high-quality content conversion. Also, IA often influences other important content strategy decisions, such as how you’ll reuse or link content. If you don’t define your IA upfront, you’ll likely have a more difficult and lower quality content conversion, which can result in a lot of effort spent cleaning up your content. Additionally, you won’t have a cohesive structure to train your writers on. If your team is new to DITA, not having a well-defined IA can result in inconsistencies or mistakes in your content.

Content Conversion

You will need to convert your content from its current format into DITA XML. There are a few ways to go about this. You can do a manual (DIY) conversion, use automated tools, or use a content conversion vendor. For more information on each of these options, check out this webinar on How to Extract Content from Outdated Systems. Regardless of how you convert your content, one of the important things to realize in planning a DITA Implementation is that this will require either money, personnel resources, or both. Failing to budget the necessary time or money for content conversion is a sure way to get your DITA implementation off to a rocky start.

To figure out what you need to budget for content conversion, it’s best to contact a content conversion company and provide them some content samples for an accurate estimate. As a rough figure, for a Word conversion, you should budget for about $6,000 – $7,000 in engineering and an additional $2.00 – $2.50 per page converted.

Additionally, it’s important to plan for content conversion because you may need to take steps first to prepare your content for conversion. Also, you’ll likely need to plan a content freeze or a staged approach to the conversion to ensure your writing team has a plan in place for when the conversion takes place. Once you send your content for conversion, you won’t want to actively work on that set of content since your changes would then need to be repeated in the DITA content once your conversion is complete. There are a couple approaches to a content freeze: You can either freeze all content that’s being converted and focus your team’s efforts on other projects, or you may want to do your conversion in phases so you stop work on one document set, but can continue working on others as the conversion process is underway. The complete conversion process can take a couple months, so it’s a good idea to plan for that period and take into account how you’ll use that time and any deadlines or project timelines that should be considered.

Publishing Outputs

Most of our customers come to us knowing what publishing outputs they need, that is, how you’ll deliver your content to your end users. However, it’s also important to consider the required effort to produce those outputs.

In DITA, the formatting and styling of your published outputs usually is applied using a publishing plugin, for example to style a PDF or HTML output. And to generate these formats with your organization’s styling, you’ll need to devote some resources to developing the plugins that apply the styling during the publishing process. For each output you want to deliver, you’ll need to develop a publishing plugin. This is something you may opt to do in-house, or hire a skilled professional to do. Either way, it’s important to budget either time or resources for the development of your publishing outputs.

Training

When implementing DITA, there are two types of training that you may want or need for your team:

The first type of training you may need is general DITA training. This is recommended for teams that don’t have much (or any) DITA experience. There are some great free resources available for those who will be learning DITA (e.g. learningdita.com). Also, if you’ve engaged with a consultant to assist with your IA or content strategy, they may offer DITA training.

The second type of training you’ll need is tools training. At easyDITA, we often build this into the implementation as part of our Enterprise Start-Up Package. It’s important to ask if your tools vendor offers training and to find out if you need to budget any funds for that training. You should also find out what other documentation or resources are available to support the tool once you get started.

Parting Thoughts

Implementing DITA may seem intimidating, given some of the considerations I’ve outlined here. But, as many DITA companies will attest, the benefits outweigh the costs. DITA implementations vary depending on the size and scope, but most often, they require upfront investment which pays for itself many times over every year for the life of the system.

The main thing to remember is that a good, solid implementation plan can truly pay dividends in this process. It means you’ll have fewer stumbles, but it also means that you can accurately budget the time, money, and other resources that the project you’re embarking upon will require. And remember, your easyDITA Customer Success Manager is happy to help you through every step of this journey!

A better way to manage technical documents

Stephani Clark

Stephani Clark is a Customer Success Manager for easyDITA, a DITA Component Content Management System based in Rochester. She works to train and assist users of easyDITA’s software. Stephani also works on easyDITA’s information development team and spends about half her time creating technical documentation for the software.
Stephani Clark
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