Sunday, October 7, 2012

Exploring the World of Content Reuse

Mark Lewis presented at this session I attended to open LavaCon on "Supporting the Business Plan."

Starting with reasons to move to XML. Translation is really the number one reason. When content is in proprietary software, it's more difficult for translators because they have to have that software. There's no formatting in XML. And you can take advantage of translation memory systems.

The savings on translation alone can be enough reason for a company to move its content to XML.

It can eliminate duplicate content and enables content reuse. As reuse increases, the cost of documentation decreases.

These metrics help define the business case to adopting an XML-based methodology.

For example, you might find that the desktop publishing cost of page layout is 0.1 hours per page. If you can eliminate that, that could account for a significant percentage of your time, which means money, that you could save.

On the flip side of the coin, if you're able to reuse content, the time to produce your documentation can decrease, which will reduce costs and can also reduce time to market. The latter is a goal management cares about. You can also reduce time to market for translated products.

Traditional metrics look at measurements such as cost per page, and looking at how long it takes to create different types of topics, such as procedural topics, definition topics, window and field description topics.

XML-based metrics are different. A DITA task topic comprises several chunks, each its own information type. So you can look at how many times each element occurs. For example, you might find yo average 6 steps per procedure. Then estimate how long it take to develop each element and add them up.

But topic elements can be reused! Sometimes an element might need to be tweaked a little bit, perhaps made a bit more generic, to be reused. And when you reuse elements, you don't have to spend the time developing them, which reduces the cost per topic.

Then again, writing for reuse typically takes additional time. Yet that time is often more than made up for by overall efficiency. And if you can produce more "pages" by reusing elements, what many consider to be a mark of productivity increases.

So you define two types of costs: the cost of reusable content and the cost of unique content. Compare that to the cost of writing everything from scratch and you find the cost savings.

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