Re: Simultaneous Author Access to files

Subject: Re: Simultaneous Author Access to files
From: HALL Bill <bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000 08:39:33 +1000 (EST)

John Garison asked, "Are there ANY tools and/or Document Management Systems
that will let us have free rein to open and edit whatever needs editing,
regardless of whether someone else is using it or not? Or am I asking for
the Holy Grail here?"

I don't know about Holy Grail, but I would be very wary of any tool which
allowed more than one person to simultaneously edit the same bit of text.

Probably the solution you should consider is to use a structured authoring
system in conjunction with an XML/SGML content manager that allows authors
to check out selected elements of text within the document (as defined by
your DTD or schema). In these systems only the element actually checked out
is locked, which means several people can be working on different parts of
the document at the same time. Depending on your business rules, authors may
also be allowed to view any file, whether it is being worked on or not.

This kind of content management gives you a sensible change control with
full traceability of revisions in a disciplined (but fast) workflow
environment, yet comes close to your Holy Grail.

Most of the high end content management systems provide this capability
(e.g., RMIT's SIM -, which we are currently
implementing; XyEnterprise's Content -at- XML [ex Parlance] -, and
Chrystal's Astoria - amongst others. Such systems
aren't cheap, but if documentation quality and speed of production are
essential to your business, you should definitely explore this path.

The other advantages of such systems - again depending on your
implementation - is that they provide the tools for effective "single
sourcing" and "element sharing".

In our situation - where we are producing equipment maintenance
documentation for what will be a class of 10 frigates being built to two
navies (Australia and New Zealand), we have already reduced the amount of
text requiring management by more than 80%: from ~10,000 separate
ship-specific routines (for 5 Ships), to ~1,800 routines applicable to the
whole class - where Navy specific variations are managed by multi-language
elements, and where ship/engineering change specific variations are managed
by applicability and effectivity attributes. Our first full set of class
documents was successfully delivered to the Client last week.

The more effective control also reduces our actual data delivery requirement
by more than 95%. The system being replaced (based on WordPerfect merge
tables and merge/macro processing) had single source capabilities to produce
different kinds of documents from the same data, but the relationships
demanded to manage language, applicability and effectivity were beyond what
we could safely implement in the word processing environment. With word
perfect we had no choice to deliver full ship-sets of documents every year.
With SIM, now that the class set of documents has been delivered, we only
need to deliver those documents which change - which can easily be done on a
net change basis in real time as the changes are made or become effective.

Our next major reduction will come over the next few months when we
implement SIM functionality to reuse elements of text. Given the high level
of redundancy in the text (standard warnings, cautions, notes, steps, etc.),
we expect to reduce the volume of text being managed by another 50-70%.

Based on our DTD designs (SGML is still more appropriate for our work than
XML) and SIM's processing capabilities, we are also adding several other
kinds of value to the data (e.g., the author's hidden and annotated links to
source materials used as the basis for the deliverable text) which will
greatly facilitate identifying and determining the impact of changes to
source data on our deliverables.

We used RMIT's SIM to implement this functionality primarily because they
were the home-town team and we could work closely together to ensure their
product did everything we wanted and because its integral object oriented
scripting language, ACE, made it easy to develop the data conversion
applications required (1) to port data from WordPerfect to SGML and (2) to
produce the unique comma-delimited and HTML delivery formats required by our
client. We also implemented the system in such a way that it can be used
with ANY SGML/XML compliant editor without any requirement to modify either
the content management application or the editor. Although FrameMaker+SGML
is our primary tool, we have tested the application with both HotMetaL and
Epic Editor, and have actually run combinations of editors at the same time.
However, it was clear from our application selection process that similar
capabilities could have been developed with many of the other high-end
content management systems.

In any event, content (=knowledge) management has been my Holy Grail. I and
my colleagues at the documentation management coal-face have chipping away
for more than 7 years to get a proper content management application in to
our organisation. Now that we have achieved it, I am prepared to say that we
are actually now doing the kinds of things with text we always believed
should be possible. However, because organisations are slow to change, it
will probably take us at least another year before we have managed to extend
the system's scope to the several other areas of the company that will
benefit from better knowledge management.

Bill Hall
Documentation Systems Specialist
Integrated Logistic Support
ANZAC Ship Project
Tenix Defence Systems Pty Ltd
Williamstown, Vic. 3016 AUSTRALIA
Email: bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com

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