In this guest-penned blog entry, Club Car’s Eric Petzoldt shares with everyone some thoughts that he documented following his company’s transition from DocBook to DITA (in 2016). He hopes, as we do, that this information might be beneficial to you as you continue your own march toward technical information dominance.
Wanted to share some real life DITA metrics with the group.
We are just about finished with a complete overhaul of our Owner’s Manual (OM) content from DocBook to DITA along with Simplified English. With DocBook the word count for all of our English OMs was approximately 480,000 words. Multiply that by 23 languages and you can imagine how much chaos comes from a single change in content as well as translation expenses.
With DITA our content re-use library English word count is 31,000… almost 450,000 words less. Cannot wait to see the benefits due to DITA and Simplified English hit our financial performance for Senior Leadership to see.
I would be more than happy to provide some background as well as answer any questions the group may have. The department started its DITA journey almost two years ago. Due to staffing levels and priority projects the only person on the project was myself and even that part-time until August 2015. It was in August that I felt we had a grasp of how the TOC should flow, a developed style sheet ready for testing, and more important resources to finally dedicate to the project.
We had the opportunity for a clean sheet redesign of the Owner’s Manual (OM). Feedback from customers and personal observations told us that our OMs had become bloated with non-operator information (aka marketing material) and liability (hazard) statements. Our goal was to present only the information necessary to an operator of the vehicle and to do it in a way that allowed for content reuse as well as content retention for our non-English speaking customers.
In preparing for our journey, I did read about success metrics in other case studies. While our content analysis showed that we had a high percentage of content reuse possible I did not set a goal for the department. I felt that in doing so I would place emphasis on the content reuse numbers versus good operator content. What I did do however was stress good DITA and Simplified English fundamentals as well as a peer review of DITA content. We exceeded my expectations. I would never have believed we would go from a 480k word library to 31k.
The project resources consisted of 2 full-time persons for seven months followed by one person for the last two months. For most of 2014 it was just myself on a part time basis doing content analysis, voice of customer, layout/format design, and evaluation of other technical manuals both in and outside our industry.
Staff training was/is being done by myself. I made it a point to learn from our 3rd party consultant how to create and maintain the style sheets as well as become an expert on DITA structure.
Features of DITA that contributed the most to our success has to be keydef and profiling. The ability to maintain a single bookmap and using profiling customize the OM to fit the vehicle is a huge time/labor savings. Rather than 30 different English OMs bookmaps I have one. A good example of the benefit is say the company adds a new accessory to the product. Rather than open 60 different bookmaps, I open one, add the content, and apply the necessary profiles. Multiply that by 60 by 23 languages and I am saving myself from having to make 1,357 OM non-value added changes ((60*23)-23). The keydef allowed us to have a single sentence and swap out unique values.
An example of this would be “Torque all battery connections to “XXX” ft-lb.” A single sentence but via the keydef file we could put in the value necessary for that particular vehicle.
Hand in hand with DITA was our implementation of Simplified Technical English (ASD-STE100). Coming from the aviation/aerospace world I was familiar with STE100 but to my staff it was new. Honestly I have a great staff who saw the benefit of STE100 as well as an opportunity to challenge themselves as writers in a new skill set. STE100 also helped us be more not only more consistent in our verbs but all of the words we used. As of today we have not yet sent our content out for translation but just using word count and the 80/20 new to old content I estimate we will save around $200k a year in translation costs. When we finally get our content translated I can come back with actual numbers for the group. It would be impossible to do a TM vs content reuse due to the complete rewrite of the OM.
I am not over exaggerating when I say outside of the warranty statement we re-wrote and re-illustrated everything.
I think the last question to be answered is about recoup. We will recoup the project cost in just under two years. The last major expense is the initial translation of our new content. Basically one year for translations and one year for the building of style sheets and consulting expenses. The Tech Pubs Department has gained an organizational capacity of about 6 persons without incurring the cost of that headcount. We are also able to incorporate changes quicker and reduce the time between design freeze and market launch. Essentially the Tech Pubs Department has provided the company with a competitive advantage over the competition… however little it might be in the grand scope of business operation.
Related janacorp.com Webinars:
The Enterprise Value of Simplified Technical English
Why DITA? Workshop
DITA Workflow 101