Looking for advise and suggestions on automation tools (kind of long)

Subject: Looking for advise and suggestions on automation tools (kind of long)
From: Carter Campbell <lists -at- soph-text -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2012 07:03:12 -0700

Hello Everybody;

I'm looking for a little advise and some suggestions about automation tools to use in three different generalized work flows. This is a little long and sort of complex, so please bare with me.

The first is a very simple, but extremely time consuming work flow. I am given a series of PDFs that have to be inserted into, or appended onto a main, master PDF file. For the sake of brevity, I won't go who the whys and hows. I'll just say that I am looking for a tool that I can run from the command line, mostly through a script. I have been looking at Ghostscript, but I would like to ask for other suggestions and opinions. Has anyone had to do this (he asked them knowingly)?

The second is a document that consists of a series of Word files that must be manually PDF'd and assembled. I would like to get away from using Word, as I don't have control over the source files or content, but I have to deal with the outcome and the fight that ensues with putting together the PDF files. What I am thinking about is what can be best described as a group of canned forms that is be maintained through a UI connected to a database backend or the like. The controlling factor is that it has to be used by non-technical people that cannot be expected to know or care about anything other that filling in fields and pressing the "Make a PDF File" button. I don't mind setting the system up or maintaining the infrastructure, but the actual content isn't mine and I don't want to be a just tool monkey, too much wasted time. Anybody have any suggestions? Tools like Flare, et al are not going to take with this crew (truly excellent people, but absolutely no desire to know anything tech).

The third workflow is much more complex and deals with the maintenance of roughly 2 to 4 separate, but related government regulated documents. My role is this workflow is primarily that of tool monkey. The current, very high level work flow plays out as follows:
1. The SME marks up a PDF file or a Word file.
2. The markup file is sent to me.
3. I cut and paste the content from the markup file into a FrameMaker file.
4. I make certain that the content is aligned correctly and give it a cursory look for grammar, etc.
5. Update the footer values for the affected pages, note the changes made to the document in a separate change log, and note the pages changed in a list of effective pages sheet.
6. Distill the updated documentation to PDF and return it to the SME for their review. (if there are further changes, the whole thing starts again).
7. If all is good with the reviews, the document is distilled to PDF and FTP'd to the government regulator for their review.
8. If the government likes it, the document is printed. If the government doesn't like it, they markup the document and we start again.

What I am hoping for is the ability to have the techpubs people be responsible for the backend of the system, the definition of styles and structure, and the output; the SMEs maintain the content. To this end, it would be necessary to have the ability to have a front end that could be locked down so that the SMEs could not change or mess with styles or structure, but would be able to edit the content in a more or less WYSIWYG environment.

It would also be nice if the systems could be made to track the changes made to the different pages automatically, even if it is simply noting that changes were made to the page, not necessarily what was changed.

Anyway, I could go on, but I will leave it there. This email has already grown faster than a marshmallow in a microwave oven.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, I would happy to hear.

Thanks and again, sorry for the size of this email.


Carter Campbell
Technical Communications
lists -at- soph-text -dot- com
Calgary Alberta


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