Beauty and the Beast: Two Paths to DITA


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A Presentation delivered at DITA North America 2012. The slides, and the delivery, are run through with appreciation for this great family movie. And it was uncanny how well it fit the story of DITA...

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Beauty and the Beast: Two Paths to DITA

  1. 1. Beauty &the BEAST:Two Pathsto DITA CMS / DITA North America 2012 Joe Gollner Gnostyx Research Inc. jag@gnostyx.comCopyright © Joe Gollner 2012
  2. 2. The Path through the Dark Forest The Happy Valley of DITA Challenges DITA was born to solve DITA in a Strange Land Edge Cases where DITA might be a stretch Walking towards the Light Making the case for DITA Alignment Taming the Specialization Beast Bringing the benefits of DITA to new domains
  3. 3. The Happy Valley of DITA Challenges DITA was born to solve End User Documentation Instructive Task-oriented Conditional DITA as Belle – the Beauty Multi-channel Totally into Documentation Addressing these needs in ways that can evolve Specialization & process overrides for graceful extension
  4. 4. A Heroine with a Touch of Idealism Some saw in DITA an answer to all documentation problems DITA could be used to model, author, manage & deliver all content It sounds more fun than it turns out to be…
  5. 5. DITA in a Strange Land Some documentation scenarios present special challenges Engineering specifications Complex diagnostics Research materials What’s the problem? The content doesn’t follow many (or any) of the ideal patterns for user materials Verbose, nested, link rich & overloaded with semantics
  6. 6. DITA: Tougher than It Looks From the outset, DITA proved more scalable in addressing advanced challenges than first expected
  7. 7. Still, It’s Nice to have Backup It’s time to meet the Beast
  8. 8. A Current Case Study: A DITA Edge Case Healthcare Information Complex research material Elaborate decision support scenarios Overlapping disciplinary controls Multiple data sources Lifecycle traceability Exploratory information products Little (no) precedent for DITA deployment for these problems Numerous standards already exist in the Healthcare sector Perhaps a different path beckons – into proprietary XML
  9. 9. Proprietary XML? A Digression A phrase that has been getting broad usage Used to denigrate non-DITA uses of XML Phrase should be avoided It is a contradiction in terms It downplays the real benefits of using XML well
  10. 10. Walking Towards the Light Making the Case for DITA Alignment If alternative standards exist as starting points • Why use DITA? The currency of the phrase “proprietary XML” offers a clue • The CM industry has been promoting DITA as a common path • Vendors want to consolidate the requirements they need to support and understandably! • So vendors have been concentrating their development efforts on DITA
  11. 11. So DITA Ventures into Uncharted Territory Applying DITA to edge cases can be a challenge Modelling content through specializations complicates an already complicated process Prototyping solutions using class attributes & processing overrides complicates an already complicated process The Beast becomes unhappy
  12. 12. Getting to Know (and Love) the Beast So what exactly do I mean by the Beast? It is an implementation strategy • One that starts without DITA • One that models content & prototypes solutions using Custom XML One that seeks to establish & then exploit DITA Alignment • Adopting DITA content models as “primitives” • Applying the structural principles of DITA as far as possible • Reusable components & assembly structures • Setting the ground work for a later “reunion”
  13. 13. Why bother? Data DITA has a specific center Variety of core capability Corresponds with a set of common content activities Core DITA Capability CM vendors are providing ever improving functionality Processing Variety
  14. 14. The Natural Role of Specialization Data Specialization is natural Variety When data patterns are close to existing structures to which they can be easily associated (aka specialization) When the processing overrides extend or adapt existing behaviour in a logical way (aka overrides) Model Specialization & Processing Processing Override Effort Variety
  15. 15. DITA Being Stretched to the Limits Data Edge Case Scenarios Variety Call for extensive specialization & processing overrides Encounter elevated costs when stretching DITA beyond its natural bounds Model Specialization & Processing Override Effort Processing Variety
  16. 16. The Bigger Concern: Time Time is of the essenceElapsed Time Required Edge case projects need to progress even faster than other projects Stretching DITA takes too Level of Effort much time
  17. 17. The Beast Shows Itself Data Custom XML leveraged to Variety accelerate modelling & exploratory prototyping Available industry standards leveraged aggressively Standard DITA Specialized DITA Custom XML Processing Variety
  18. 18. The Point: Accelerated Development Modelling & Prototyping benefit from: Elapsed Time Required Time Leveraging DITA Savings where the fit is natural Leveraging custom XML where new ground must be broken The goal: Level of Effort Achieve a sound operational solution as quickly as possible Leverage DITA support where this offers benefits
  19. 19. Converging Paths Data Once an operational solution Variety has been established Steps can be taken to align the content models with DITA Retroactive specialization Allows the content to be managed & maintained using standard DITA tools Standard DITA Specialized DITA Custom XML Custom Processing processing Heavily Specialized DITA Variety can remain
  20. 20. DITA and the Hidden Side of the Beast DITA offers one unexpected, but very important, benefit in these more extreme cases DITA helps to introduce document content to teams with a data & The Beast needs to learn to be gentle technology background when handling document content, which can be something quite new Very important where data for teams with a database & structures exist in transactional technology background document contexts
  21. 21. DITA has Lessons to Teach DITA can be used to introduce technical teams to the ins & outs of document content DITA distills a set of best practices in handling content Provides scaffolding for modelling efforts that mix data structures with document content
  22. 22. A Happy Ending Joe Gollner Gnostyx Research Inc. The Content Philosopher Blog Visual Credits: And like most fairy tales, the Beast turns out to be beauty-and-the-beast/a wealthy aristocrat as well as being a kind-hearted hunk. Great Movie! What more could you ask for? Gaston is the best!