SDN Journal Authors: Destiny Bertucci, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Amitabh Sinha

Related Topics: @DXWorldExpo, Java IoT, Industrial IoT, Microservices Expo, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo, SDN Journal

@DXWorldExpo: Article

Can You Afford to Go It Alone?

Your content is your number one asset and conversion is not a commodity

In this technology-driven world, information is as easy to obtain as the click of a mouse...only if the content can be accessed through its digital availability, that is. With this in mind, it is important to realize how heavily content impacts every aspect of a business-from a potential customer finding you, to making a decision to buy from you, to customer service agents assisting customers and internal teams, to engineering and MRO supporting R&D and repair, and so on. An influx of mobile technologies supporting non-traditional usage (e.g., iPads replacing flight manuals) only adds to the demand.

Indeed, one could question how any company in the twenty-first century could remain competitive, let alone profitable, without digital content at the forefront of its overall business strategies and objectives. A survey conducted in 2012 by Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) showed:

  • 27% of the respondents estimated their content to be 75% or more of their organizations' value
  • Only 24% reported that all of their content is in XML
  • 26% reported that none of their content is in XML
  • 73% will need up to two years to complete their conversion

Respondents' publishing plans for the next two to three years reveal an understanding of the need to move toward greater electronic content delivery. An easy majority of respondents, fully 74%, expect that at least three-quarters of their content will be published electronically two to three years from now, 55% plan mobile applications, and an astounding 72% expect to make their information available through eBooks, Kindles, smart phones, and tablets. We also see a 16-32% increase in those expecting to use learning management systems for publications.

If your content is important to your business long-term and you have identified the information that is most critical to supporting your business externally and internally, yet your content is stowed away in unstructured formats, then what are you waiting for?

Successful strategies are driven by content, not the other way around! You need to be prepared to deliver your content in any form, at any time, to anyone who needs it.

Why digitize?
Customers clearly want easy access to content in the format of their choice and businesses can benefit greatly from content reuse across different sectors. One misperception we've seen in companies just starting the digitization process is an over-reliance on PDF files, which do not address these needs. PDF is a digital page layout, not a file format. It is incapable of providing your organization with the same benefits of structured formats such as XML or the content reuse and interchange capabilities of digital data standards such as DITA or S1000D.

Better content distribution supports an improved customer experience, which means content can stay flexible, meeting customers' varying and evolving needs. Today, businesses are justly concerned about new and changing technologies and the need to deliver content to those technologies in a time-sensitive manner. Customers are demanding new ways to find and use content - the company that delivers it the most effectively and efficiently has a better chance of gaining market share. Telephone support is rapidly becoming too expensive and customers want help delivered in a variety of ways on their own time. Digitization is quickly becoming a business requirement and a competitive necessity, while just a short time ago it would have been considered an option.

What are the questions you should ask to identify the need to digitize within your organization? This list will get you started:

  • What percentage of our content is redundant?
  • What percentage of our content is currently in a structured (not PDF) format?
  • Are we currently able to support our customers regardless of the particular means used to find or interact with us?
  • Are we currently competitive from a digital perspective?
  • Are we able to provide data versatility to our customers and internal resources teams?
  • Are we readily able to expand quickly into new markets?
  • Is our content able to improve our users' experience?
  • Are we able to accept content from suppliers?
  • Are we able to interchange content with partners?

And, to build the business case:

  • How much does one customer service call cost us?
  • How long does it take us to launch a new product including relevant documentation?
  • Are we cost-effectively managing content distribution across departments and divisions?
  • Are we able to increase content reusability, which in turn reduces translation and authoring costs?
  • Are we prepared to support mobile technology?
  • How much business have we lost over the past two years to more agile competitors?
  • How much are we investing in new mobile technologies? Can our content support them?
  • How much do we spend annually supporting and maintaining our content (staff, systems, etc.)?

Digitizing your content is an important investment, one that will result in increased revenues and decreased expenses. Data that is maintained in a more structured, easily configurable format will increase customer service capabilities and decrease time to market, as well as create expansion into new markets and greater data versatility. Additionally, publishing and translation costs are reduced, while authoring productivity and information reuse are increased. Documents are often converted in order to comply with regulations or industry standards, support distribution partners, and/or meet consumers' expectations. For these kinds of documents, inconsistent data can raise red flags, but consistent, well-converted content eliminates questions about companies and their product quality inconsistency. Consistent communication is critical to improved user experience and the delivery of an impressive ROI.

Why XML?
XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a means of representing textual information so that only "tagged" ASCII data is used within a document. No formatting information is contained in the document itself and the document typically conforms to a predefined structure. XML may also contain mechanisms that link text within a document to information within the same or other documents.

Perhaps the most important aspect of XML is that text elements can be identified on the basis of their significance in the context of a document. XML tags are user-defined for each document. A document tagged with XML can then be viewed as fielded text, so documents can be broken down into their component parts for storage in a CMS (Content Management System), and then reassembled in different ways for multi-channel publishing without the need to track multiple versions. By reusing common content, text can be changed once, and that change will be reflected everywhere in the document where that content has been reused, ensuring that common text remains consistent.

An XML authoring tool with a CMS provides the ability to store and reuse information objects that are smaller than a typical document. Each object gets stored together with metadata that may, for example, define a range of products for which an object is valid. The main purpose of the CMS is to make it easier for an author to find and reuse an existing information object rather than create a new one. Using a CMS, information reuse can be increased by up to sixty percent. As more and more companies prepare their content for the digital world, XML is proving to be the data format of choice.

DITA is an XML-based international standard originally developed by IBM as a modular, reuse-friendly DTD (Document Type Definition) for software. DITA is ideal for projects in which you want to reuse some of the same content within a document, between documents or even among different projects. And documentation that must be translated can benefit greatly from DITA's topic-based modules because a given chunk of content need only be translated once, no matter how many times it appears throughout a set of documentation.

Many companies implement DITA because they require reduced translation costs, increased content reuse, and have a reduced need for composition. A major goal for most companies is to be able to multi-purpose content without a great deal of effort. In these instances, a modular approach built around reuse supports these goals while also driving content value. The potential for taking more work through the process with no increase in headcount is huge.

Additionally, more and more organizations now produce their content in various ebook formats, particularly for user guides, repair and service manuals as well as training materials. Using DITA for authoring also facilitates ebooks as an additional publishing channel.

How do we develop a content conversion strategy?
Simply put, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data conversion. Converting legacy data can be a daunting task. If the proper process is not in place early in the equation, a migration project can easily get derailed. It is important to note that each organization will have unique priorities based upon their content type, content volume, user base, and methods of distribution. However, with proper planning, expertise and the right approach, you can be assured of high quality results delivered on schedule while producing the ultimate ROI.

There are issues specific to digital conversion which you will need to consider prior to formulating your approach. For example: How can you tell if your content is ready for conversion across multiple platforms? Does your company have dedicated expertise in XML, DITA and conversion technologies? Do you have access to customized automation tools to help you avoid costly errors? Are you prepared to manage the Quality Assurance (QA) process on the back end?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no," it may seem impossible to take the next step forward on your own. And you're hardly alone. In an April 2013 CIDM (Center for Information-Development Management)/Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) joint survey of industry trends, 229 individuals responded on how they are publishing today and how they expect publishing content to change in the near future. The results underline the uncertainty and confusion decision makers can face when deciding if the time is right for content conversion. 54% of those who participated in the survey expressed concern about their readiness. The potential issues keeping them from moving forward were typical but not, in actuality, insurmountable. Of that, 54% said they needed support from technology experts to get the work done. A majority felt they needed to present strong business reasons for change to upper management and over 40% said their own team members needed convincing. About 75% were afraid they didn't have the staff bandwidth to handle conversion and 23% felt they needed outside expertise to help them change their content delivery methods. The one constant in this equation is that change is always challenging, even once the decision to convert has been made.

Minimize your risk and maximize your results by following a plan:

  • Organize your team and resources: Most importantly, consider the BEST use of your resources and how you could/should integrate partners into your team. The most successful conversion projects are those that have been managed through such "hybrid" approaches.
  • Set your priorities: It is unrealistic to think ALL your content needs converting and ALL will happen simultaneously. Identifying and organizing your content according to priority is critical, as it helps and will help you to determine your project's logical phases as well as what content should not be converted at all.
  • Clean up your content: The cliché garbage in, garbage out" could not be truer than as applied to conversion. In order to get a clean output, redundancies and errors must be removed first across your document sets. This will translate to investment savings of time and resources during the conversion process itself.
  • Build your process: The more manual your process, the more likely it is you will experience significant inconsistencies and errors to deal with at the end. This is where a trusted partner can help by defining the potential for automation, which will in turn guarantee high-quality and consistent tagging.
  • Prepare...test...refine: Then do it again! "Refine and configure" should become your mantra. Quality conversion is a result of proper preparation early in the process and continual refinement during it. You must plan for the cleanest output possible. Catching errors early avoids multiplying them, hence minimizing the need for costly QA on the backend.
  • Manage production: Understanding the specific requirements and data idiosyncrasies of the project will help better define the management process that is required. An independent Quality Assurance (QA) review is generally warranted (and highly recommended) to manage the production phase appropriately and save costs in the long run.
  • Avoid the bottlenecks: Ensure that people are fully allocated to the project and have the expertise and support needed for successful completion. Delegate or outsource as needed to fill in the gaps. Document everything along the way (in multiple places) and build time into your schedule, anticipating the unexpected, because it will happen.

How do we choose the correct approach?
You have decided you are ready to implement a content conversion project. What approach will be most effective for your organization? To help you answer this question, we will refer back to that CIDM survey. We wanted to learn about what plans the respondents are making now to move to a new delivery environment. 55% expect to do their own content conversion in-house with no additional help or training and 31% say they will get training to learn how to handle the new methods they need. 46% will use a combination of in-house and outsourced work, while only 2% expect to rely solely on outsourcing for the conversion of their content. Notice that these are expectations, and don't necessarily match up with the reality of what can or should be done in any given situation.

As holds true for most ventures we humans embark upon, many organizations approach content conversion projects with rose colored glasses, assuming they have the manpower and expertise, and will save a ton of money. The reality is that this idealist approach rarely is the outcome. DCL has a myriad of case studies where "things" went very wrong midstream or never even got started. Critical deadlines were missed, budgets blown, people lost their jobs, and conversions had to be redone from the start after extensive clean-up and more. Should you speak with any of these clients, you would learn a very valuable lesson: "DON'T GO IT ALONE!"

Of course, these horror stories do not mean you must outsource your project 100%. Considering a hybrid approach designed to meet your specific organizational requirements is generally the most effective way of ensuring the expertise that is critical to delivering a successful project accurately, on time and on budget. For example: If your resources are limited and budget is tight, you should probably only consider outsourcing. If you have a small team in place and a somewhat looser budget, a trusted partner can train and supervise your team. And for the brave at heart who decide to go it alone, you MUST have a partner complete an independent Quality Assurance (QA) study as your content is converted.

While the temptation at this early stage is to run out and gather bids from potential vendors or simply approach the plan with blinders on, you would be better served by taking a step back and considering the overall project requirements, and determining what pieces would benefit most from outsourcing. Discovering the elements that could easily be derailed by lack of expertise or manpower is paramount. A trusted partner will work with you to review everything early on so nothing will surprise you later. 
To help you identify potential areas of concern, it helps to know the basic production phases:

  • Analysis: Identify issues up front, fully understand the requirements, anticipate the outcome, and identify redundant content for potential reuse.
  • Conversion specification: Compile a conversion specification and trial samples, prepare the project blueprint, and provide a final preview to make certain everything is on track.
  • Program configuration: Automated conversion software is configured to deliver high quality results and live data is run through the entire process as a final check.
  • Production process design: The process is further refined and configured, ensuring that logistics and quality assurance steps are in place and in sync.
  • Volume production: Extensive planning and QA ensures production runs smoothly and on time, enabling high-volume, bulk conversions that require the incorporation of automation into the process.

Then you should consider the types of support you will need throughout the process in order for you to identify which Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) may be missing within your organization and which roles will be outsourced:

  • Consulting/Strategist
  • Architecture developer/specialization expert
  • Trainers
  • XML experts
  • Content experts
  • Project management
  • Program management
  • Conversion operators
  • Production tracking
  • Software developers
  • Filter developers
  • IT
  • QA experts
  • Editors/writers/authors

Key takeaways:

Your content is your number one asset and conversion is not a commodity. The process must be handled with care from the very beginning and a qualified team must be in place to guarantee success. With this in mind, choose your vendors wisely and don't base your decision purely on cost. Your vendor should invest time with you on the front end to minimize surprises mid-conversion, or worse, the need to redo entirely. Your vendor's process should include identification and cleanup of content inconsistencies before they wreak havoc on the back end and impact your schedule as well as your budget. Also, consider your internal team, expertise and available tools. If your team does not include an SME in one or more of the areas listed above, get help from a data conversion partner you can trust.

There is a cost to do-it-yourself conversion. The most expensive conversion you will ever do - regardless of who does it - is the one that does not produce the desired outcome: quality content, on schedule, at a reasonable cost. There simply are no shortcuts to doing it right the first time.

More Stories By Mark Gross

Mark Gross, President & CEO – founder of Data Conversion Laboratory, is a recognized authority on XML implementation and document conversion. President and CEO of DCL, Mark also serves as Project Executive, with overall responsibility for resource management and planning.

Prior to founding DCL in 1981, Mark was with the consulting practice of Arthur Young & Co. Mark has a BS in Engineering from Columbia University and an MBA from New York University. He has also taught at the New York University Graduate School of Business, the New School, and Pace University. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of automated conversions to XML and SGML.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@CloudExpo Stories
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
The past few years have brought a sea change in the way applications are architected, developed, and consumed—increasing both the complexity of testing and the business impact of software failures. How can software testing professionals keep pace with modern application delivery, given the trends that impact both architectures (cloud, microservices, and APIs) and processes (DevOps, agile, and continuous delivery)? This is where continuous testing comes in. D
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
Digital transformation is about embracing digital technologies into a company's culture to better connect with its customers, automate processes, create better tools, enter new markets, etc. Such a transformation requires continuous orchestration across teams and an environment based on open collaboration and daily experiments. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Alex Casalboni, Technical (Cloud) Evangelist at Cloud Academy, explored and discussed the most urgent unsolved challenges to achieve f...
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
In a recent survey, Sumo Logic surveyed 1,500 customers who employ cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). According to the survey, a quarter of the respondents have already deployed Docker containers and nearly as many (23 percent) are employing the AWS Lambda serverless computing framework. It’s clear: serverless is here to stay. The adoption does come with some needed changes, within both application development and operations. Tha...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Synametrics Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Synametrics Technologies is a privately held company based in Plainsboro, New Jersey that has been providing solutions for the developer community since 1997. Based on the success of its initial product offerings such as WinSQL, Xeams, SynaMan and Syncrify, Synametrics continues to create and hone in...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Dumas, Calligo’s Vice President and G.M. of US operations, discussed the new Global Data Protection Regulation and how Calligo can help business stay compliant in digitally globalized world. Greg Dumas is Calligo's Vice President and G.M. of US operations. Calligo is an established service provider that provides an innovative platform for trusted cloud solutions. Calligo’s customers are typically most concerned about GDPR compliance, application p...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Michael Burley, a Senior Business Development Executive in IT Services at NetApp, described how NetApp designed a three-year program of work to migrate 25PB of a major telco's enterprise data to a new STaaS platform, and then secured a long-term contract to manage and operate the platform. This significant program blended the best of NetApp’s solutions and services capabilities to enable this telco’s successful adoption of private cloud storage and launching ...
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
Most technology leaders, contemporary and from the hardware era, are reshaping their businesses to do software. They hope to capture value from emerging technologies such as IoT, SDN, and AI. Ultimately, irrespective of the vertical, it is about deriving value from independent software applications participating in an ecosystem as one comprehensive solution. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kausik Sridhar, founder and CTO of Pulzze Systems, discussed how given the magnitude of today's application ...
The “Digital Era” is forcing us to engage with new methods to build, operate and maintain applications. This transformation also implies an evolution to more and more intelligent applications to better engage with the customers, while creating significant market differentiators. In both cases, the cloud has become a key enabler to embrace this digital revolution. So, moving to the cloud is no longer the question; the new questions are HOW and WHEN. To make this equation even more complex, most ...
As you move to the cloud, your network should be efficient, secure, and easy to manage. An enterprise adopting a hybrid or public cloud needs systems and tools that provide: Agility: ability to deliver applications and services faster, even in complex hybrid environments Easier manageability: enable reliable connectivity with complete oversight as the data center network evolves Greater efficiency: eliminate wasted effort while reducing errors and optimize asset utilization Security: imple...
Mobile device usage has increased exponentially during the past several years, as consumers rely on handhelds for everything from news and weather to banking and purchases. What can we expect in the next few years? The way in which we interact with our devices will fundamentally change, as businesses leverage Artificial Intelligence. We already see this taking shape as businesses leverage AI for cost savings and customer responsiveness. This trend will continue, as AI is used for more sophistica...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...