DITA for the masses?

  • 12-May-2009

DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) was originated within IBM, and later adopted by OASIS, yet until now "the shoemakers children had no shoes" -- in other words, IBM products did not themselves easily support DITA. However a few weeks back, IBM (via FileNet) announced a partnership with Quark to "Bring DITA to the Masses." A hyperbolic statement for sure, but beneath the bluster there is some substance.

In simple terms the Quark XML Author 3.0 has been integrated with IBM FileNet Content Manager P8 4.5 to provide DITA functionality in an enterprise environment. And though most industry partnerships are barely worth the paper they are written on this one is at least interesting - if not quite the revolution it proposes.

This is not the first time that FileNet has supported XML; they had an integration with Arbortext about 10 years back that enabled companies to author in XML and store in FileNet. However, at that time it was Arbortext that supplied the smarts for managing the XML, FileNet was essentially a "dumb repository." This time is a bit different. IBM has modified FileNet to support DITA and XML, with Quark providing a Word-based XML authoring experience.

To be clear, though we welcome this announcement, as always we have to treat it with a good dose of skepticism. Such skepticism is justified as this is not the first time an XML implementation in FileNet has been pushed to the market. Additionally this announcement is not an acquisition of Quark by IBM for the purposes of driving DITA -- simply a partnership, and both have many partnerships.

Nevertheless, there are three industry trends that are currently driving the adoption of XML, Component Content Management (CCM) and DITA in the enterprise.

It is becoming possible to author in a familiar, non-threatening editor
For years, XML editors have presented a technical interface to users, largely because these editors have been around for more than a decade and used to be used by technical authors. Now tools are becoming Word-like or even Word with XML "under-the-cover.". For example Quark XML Author for Word is (unsurprisingly) Microsoft Word with a C# plug-in. It looks and acts like Word, with underlying structure is supported by Word styles. It is an XML editor, but more importantly it is Word.

DITA for narrative documents
The OASIS DITA for Enterprise Business Documents subcommittee has been working on solutions to present an aggregated view (e.g., document view) of DITA rather than the traditional topic-oriented view. DITA content can now be presented as a document that looks like a traditional Word document, but with DITA topic structure under the covers.

Growing awareness of the cost of unstructured content
A growing number of organizations now see the unstructured content that exists in narrative business documents as standing in the way of processes that could potentially be automated end-to-end. This lack of structure leads to inconsistency, poor readability, and the inability to reuse content. In many cases, because of the inherent lack of structure, content remain hidden. Moving to highly structured content can be another step towards optimization and automation of content processes.

IBM is of course a sizable market player, so their attempt to broaden the reach of DITA and by default XML and CCM across the enterprise is noteworthy. With EMC also making some moves into the sector through their acquisitions of XHive and Document Sciences, it's a market that is starting to heat up, the big question we are all asking is, "is this just a marketing phase, or is this a trend." We'll keep watching.

Our customers say...

"As I closely follow these projects around the world, near the top of the list about why are the successful - over and over again - is working the Real Story Group and their deeply researched, objective analysis. I see directly and repeatedly how their guidance changes the odds to success and adoption."

David Lipsey, Klaris IP

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