Re: Single Sourcing - Myth or Salvation?

Subject: Re: Single Sourcing - Myth or Salvation?
From: "Bill Hall" <bill -dot- hall -at- hotkey -dot- net -dot- au>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 21:31:33 +1100

At the outset, I think John Garrison's definition of "single sourcing" is
far too limited. As my organization uses the term it refers to delivering
potentially many different outputs from the one master file which is
maintained at a single point and it is one of three basic content management
models that can be implemented in a content management database system.

For the ANZAC Ship Project we deliver all ship equipment maintenance
procedures electronically directly into the ships' maintenance management
system. However, on delivery the documents are split into configuration
managed Australian and New Zealand specific versions specific to each ship
(currently the source files address the variations of 6 different ships. We
also produce a number of extract reports from the same source files.

To answer your specific questions:

1. We "single sourcing" ship maintenance procedures using RMIT University's
Structured Information Manager (SIM) in conjunction with FrameMaker+SGML,
and will probably be extending it to a wide range of corporate
documentation. Tamino's advertising to the contrary, this was the first
native XML database to be implemented commercially anywhere in the world. It
is currently distributed and supported in the North America and Europe by
SAIC out of its Annapolis Maryland office. Contact details are available on Assuming authors are disciplined, SIM can also manage
MS Word files, as is done in the system developed for the Tasmanian
Legislature (see the SIM pages).

2. Prior to implementing SIM and migrating our maintenance procedures in
SGML, we were under notice that our client would not accept delivery of the
next ship because of the difficulties we had feeding documentation into
their maintenance management system. The issue was stark, our authoring was
being done in very smart but flat-file word processing system and being fed
into a maintenance management system based on a relational database. It was
simply impossible to maintain total control over key data items across the
some 10,000 separate documents being delivered. There were also a number
changes due to changed H&S regulations that had to be applied to virtually
every document before they would be accepted. The client informed us that
they could not operate the ships safely if they couldn't reliably perform
the required maintenance. If they weren't happy with the documentation, they
wouldn't accept delivery of the ship, and the company would be out multiple
millions of dollars in liquidated damages until they were happy.

The bottom line is that we implemented the SIM system, converted (and at the
same time basically rewrote) all the documents. The client was most pleased
with the vast improvement in quality across the board (the workflow engine
forced a proper review cycle and for a total time investment of less than a
half hour per document (majority 1-2 pages, some more than 50 pages) for the
entire conversion, reauthor, peer review, rework, QA signoff and release
process we were able to deliver a completely standardised product to a much
higher quality than had been possible with the WordPerfect system. We have
also extended the review and signoff loop to include a client review before
the final document is delivered for acceptance. THAT solves MANY problems.
See my May 2001 Technical Communication article which is an early report of
our success with the system: Several
other contributions and presentations on Tenix's use of content management
can be found by searching Google:

3. Our overhead has been reduced by well over 50% compared to the heavily
automated WordPerfect system it replaced. See the Tech Comm article.

4. Was it worth doing? In less than a year the system has paid for itself
several times over in risk mitigation. Ignoring the risk, in labour savings
probably in 2-3 years even if we put no more document types into the system.

5. See the article. Additional details are also provided in the Google
hits - especially on the XML-Doc forum contributions.

6. We first encountered SGML databases in 1993 and by 1995 had a clear idea
exactly how we needed to implement it. It took five years to convince
management that we had no choice. RMIT and Aspect Computing (the system
implementer) implemented the system to our specifications. I designed the
initial DTD myself, and this was tweaked here and there by the implementers
to optimise it for the SIM environment. Had we started implementing in 1995
when we were still in the midst of our major authoring effort we would have
reduced our overall documentation costs by many millions of dollars and
would not have had any problems with documentation acceptance.

7. Tenix is Australia's largest defence contractor and is a wholly privately
owned company - and where the Anzac Ship Project is concerned, we are
working against a stringently fixed price contract. Everything we do must
show a profit for the owners or they want to know why. At the peak of our
documentation effort there were approximately 15 full-time people developing
the first set of approximately 2000 maintenance procedures. Now there is
less than one full-time equivalent to carry out all maintenance and
engineering changes for more than the equivalent 12,000 configuration
managed ship-specific documents. Where we are starting completely new
procedures for new equipment being added to the ships, the drafting is very
easily done by logistic engineers in the SGML environment for peer review
and edits by tech authors.

Bill Hall
Documentation Systems Analyst
Strategy and Development Group
Tenix Defence
Nelson House, Nelson Place
Williamstown, Vic. 3016
Tel: +61 3 9244 4820
+61 3 9244 4000 (Switch)
Mailto:bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST
(Frank Zappa, Packard Goose)

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