Michael Priestley's blog

MP: STC 2007 Day 2

A great opening keynote from honorary fellow Simon Singh, for his work on documentaries and books such as Fermat's Last Theorem.  Some of the elements that stuck: the importance of storytelling, the importance of trust between the filmmaker and the subject, and the line between simplifying materials for general consumption versus distorting footage to misrepresent opinions.

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MP: STC 2007 Day 1

Precis: weather nice, vendors many, Adobe resurgent, technical writers focus on technology, architecture, globalization, perhaps a little DITA here and there.

Weather: sunny, windy, hot. Got the chance to wander the sculpture garden after registering, also stuck my head in on Bernard Aschwanden's session on DITA XML and said hi, along with Robert Anderson, my co-presenter (the lead architect of the DITA Open Toolkit).

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MP: Much upcoming (PTC/X-Pubs, STC, X-Pubs again, Content Week Canada...)

I'll be making a lot of noise about DITA in the next couple of months, hopefully coinciding at least somewhat with our upcoming DITA 1.1 release. In any case, I hope to catch up with lots of my fellow DITAphiles at the following events:

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MP: CMS/DITA 2007 Days 2 and 3

Still trying to catch my breath - a great conference, and as always a joy seeing familiar faces as well as welcoming lots of new people into the DITA way. As usual I tried to attend every case study I could, and it was great to see so many new projects coming on board. If there was a common theme for the case studies I saw, it was the importance of communication and engagement of the writing team to the success of the project: the business case and the technology won't matter if the people doing the work don't buy in to the value of topic-oriented writing.

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MP: CMS/DITA 2007 Day 1

The conference kicked off with a reception last night, which was great for catching up but lousy for summarizing so I'll skip ahead to the presentations today:

  • The keynote was from Dave Schell and Eileen Jones, on IBM's content strategy, also known as the Total Information Experience (TIE) strategy. This stuff is my bread and butter (I work for Dave and Eileen) so I was actually more interested in the audience reaction. The TIE strategy is about moving the focus from product docs (where many of us tend to focus) to all the information associated with a product, including marketing, tech support, whitepapers, etc. (which is the space users tend to work with). In other words, the lines we draw around our work are not the same lines that users draw, so we need to start coloring outside the lines if we're going to have a complete picture for our customers. (OK, strained something with that analogy, so dropping it there). A number of other presentations picked up on this theme throughout the day, so I think it struck a chord: DITA for information developers is just the thin edge of the wedge, and as customer advocates we need to be looking at the entire information experience, both in the way it is presented to users/customers and in the way we develop it and integrate it along the way.
  • After the keynote, the conference broke into four separate tracks, which meant I was always missing three presentations I wanted to see. You can check out the full program at http://www.cm-strategies.com/agenda.htm (although if you're reading this more than a year from now I suspect from the URL that it'll be a different agenda).
  • The next presentation I saw was from Stephanie Welsh and Virginia Hayden of MasterCard, with a very well-organized and presented use case, alternating challenges and best practices for various aspects of a DITA/CMS migration. A couple of the points that particularly struck me: first, that customers generally suggest incremental improvements on whatever your current solution is, so bold new ground requires going beyond what customers are asking for and targetting what they actually need (and then using usability lab tests to make sure you didn't get it horribly wrong). Second, that of all the challenges facing an adopting group (physical, such as schedules and resources; mental, such as training; and emotional, such as fear of obsolescence) - the physical challenges are the easiest to solve, and the emotional the hardest.
  • After that, I saw a presentation from Chris Kravogel, chair of the OASIS DITA Machine Industry subcommittee, on a couple of case studies - Kone (an elevator manufacturer) and Novartis (a pharmaceutical company) as well as the current status of the subcommittee's work, and a new space in Second Life that Chris has created for DITA, with weekly meetings in virtual space every Tuesday at 12 ET.
  • I finished off the afternoon with another couple of case studies: Bob Zebian and Jack Stinson presenting a case study from Sterling Commerce, with a business case based on the need for specific/partial reuse of product docs in solution docs; and Colleen Smith of Teradata, with Chip Gettinger of Astoria, presenting Teradata's case study, with a business case based on managing variable products and improving the ability to respond to changes and crises. The second half of the presentation was Chip presenting a bunch of numbers from Astoria's customer surveys, with some extremely good fodder for business cases, including a documented reduction in deployment time for CMSs using DITA, and an average 30-50%reduction in cost of goods sold for product docs through moving to CMS/DITA. Chip also had an interesting view of what the next big opportunities are, such as the use of DITA maps for absolutely everything from workflows to review management, the intelligent support of migration from context-embedded book-oriented content to context-separated maps and topics, and leveraging content semantics in Web delivery to allow on-demand customization/pull of relevant information, putting the user in the driver seat for XML production instead of pregenerating various versions based on an upfront audience analysis as we currently might do.

Out of all the presentations I saw today I think the Teradata/Astoria co-presentation was particularly good, but I'm a sucker for case studies and for ROI numbers, and this one had lots of both.

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