Re: Content Management System boundary conditions

Subject: Re: Content Management System boundary conditions
From: "Bill Hall" <bill -dot- hall -at- hotkey -dot- net -dot- au>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 19 Oct 2002 17:14:34 +1000

Karen Otto says,

> Hello all,
> I am in the process of designing and choosing a future content
> management system for our 10,000 pages of user documentation.
> My current and very early stage is defining the boundary
> conditions of my project. From there I will specify what we
> actually need in terms of:
> - what we will use it for
> - inputs
> - who will use it
> - ...and many more questions
> Some of the conditions we are considering include:
> - it should maybe work with the same ClearCase database that
> manages our product software
> - how small to make each module/chunk/object (do we divide along
> chapters? sections?)
> - how should it be structured? To look like the documents? To
> look like the product software structure?
> These are very fun questions, and I'm enjoying this task a lot.
> What important questions have I missed? What decisions have you
> all made? What pitfalls have you encountered? What
> recommendations do you have?

I would start by thinking seriously about WHY you might want to do content

o Single sourcing, i.e., producing multiple delivery formats and possibly
even different contents from one master document

o Minimising redundant authoring and maintenance by content sharing (also
can lead to substantial quality improvements), i.e., write and maintain
once, use many places)

o Process control, e.g., QA review and release via electronic workflow,
versioning, tie in to engineering change control of your product

o For ready indexing and retrieval of information

o For delivering content to the Web, CD or print on demand publishing

Assuming you can do some or all of these things, what is their economic
siginificance to your company? In terms of labour saved? In terms of
reducing cycle times for changes? In terms of additional business you can
generate? In terms of minimising risks and product liabilities?, etc.

Once you have a reasonable idea where new technology may be able to help,
you need to start thinking about cost/benefits that can be achieved through
implementing new technology.

o Is all of your writing based on the paradigm of a formatted page, or do
you / are you willing to implement structured authoring technologies based

If you are currently an MS Word, vanilla FrameMaker or DTP house you need to
decide whether you stick with the formatted page paradigm or whether you
wish to spend the necessary time and resources to acquire structured
authoring tools and learn to use them. If you stick with the formatted page,
there are some very interesting things you can do from a single-sourcing
point of view using various forms of merge/macro processing. External
technologies that might help range from DIY things you can do with scripting
tools (e.g., Visual Basic) and databases (e.g., Access) through file and
document management systems which might provide workflow processing

If you are already into structured authoring or plan to migrate, the range
of possibilities is much greater - going from relatively simple technologies
like using conditional texts in your editing tool (many FrameMaker users do
this), through all kinds of DIY content management systems, up to
implementing multi-million dollar sgml/xml database management systems.

Once you understand the economics of your business case, and costs of
various technologies you might use to generate savings, you can start
thinking about exactly what it is you want to do, and how to fragment and
manage content in relation to your products. To me, this is the easy part.

I've been working on these issues for 12 years in my company, and our system
and technology are still evolving (I gave some references to my case history
a few days ago, which you can find in the Techwr-l archives in the "Are you
on the cutting edge?" thread). We've spent millions and saved more.

Anyone wanting to understand the process and economics issues should explore
the Techwr-l archives for 2000, using "Real Value" as a search term. The
very robust debate Andrew Plato and I and a number of our respective fellow
travellers generated probably came as close to considering all the pros and
cons of this kind of technological change that you will find anywhere.

Bill Hall
Documentation Systems Specialist
Strategy and Development
Tenix Defence
Williamstown, Vic. 3016
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
(Zappa - Packard Goose)

All-new RoboHelp X3 is now shipping! Get single sourcing, print-quality
documentation, conditional text and much more, in the most monumental
release ever. Save $100! Order online at

Buy ComponentOne Doc-To-Help 6.0, the most powerful SINGLE SOURCE HELP
AUTHORING TOOL for MS Word. SAVE $100 on the full version and $50 on the
upgrade. Offer ends 10/31/2002 (code: DTH102250).

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