This week, I participated in a stimulating and lively discussion on LinkedIn. Here’s the question:

What’s the best toolkit or set of tools for use by a team of content creators to automate the process of getting content from differing sources and file types (text docs, media, graphics) online?

The first thing I do when I see a question like this is find out more about what’s behind the question. There’s a lot of implications in a question like this. I want to know whether the asker is talking about multi-channel publishing or automating the hand-work of posting content to a web or portal location.

These are two very different goals.

Here’s what I asked in return:

Are you looking for “lights out” publishing that can be completely automated to more than just PDF output? If that’s what you’re looking for then a true XML publishing system (not afterthought, bolted-on one) is your best bet here.

We work with Arbortext and have customers who are completely automated, achieving 90% reuse, and can guarantee the quality of their information because they’ve certified their publishing system so that they can pass FDA audits.

In addition, they’ve been tracking translation costs the last seven years across multiple business units that have both XML and traditional publishing systems and have data to prove that translation costs can be an order of magnitude lower once you go to a true XML publishing system like Arbortext.

Not everyone needs that level of quality guarantee, but being able to reduce cycle time, increase quality, and save money all at the same time is good for everyone.

Happy to follow up with you offline.

Sure, I’ll mention my product line. That way the questioner has somewhere to go to get information about whether what I’m talking about applies to their situation and goals.  But I’ll also push to move the conversation about vendor-specific features, tools, etc offline and out of the public discussion in a place like LinkedIn. I’m not there to advertise, I’m there to lend expertise if it’s appropriate.

Many of the suggestions that followed encouraged the asker to do some automated script handling via XSLT in order to bring the content into a manual, desktop publishing application like InDesign.

It’s a suggestion that still boggles me.

If the idea is to reduce the manual effort and shorten cycle times, then you really want to avoid introducing the manual steps required to flow XML through InDesign.

Arbortext provides the full system of products available to produce multiple output formats without having to build the tools to bridge applications from multiple vendors. All products are tested and delivered together, so the burden isn’t on your team to validate upgrade paths of individual tools or individual products. Arbortext does all of that for you.

Arbortext has a history of success in the publishing industry. We have several magazine customers who automatically produce pages that are derived from very complicated layout rules.

For example, Arbortext can auto-fill advertising content. it’s very common for us to see customers implementing rules like these:

  • if one side of the page has dark print, then we want a similar dark ink image on the reverse side of the page because the pages are thin
  • If Advertiser A is on the left hand page, then Advertiser B cannot be on the right hand page; and/or it must be N # of pages away.

Also, if an editor wants to hand-tweak the page before the deliverable is finalized, Arbortext the capability to do this: editors can move graphics and reflow text if they want to.

All of this is available from within the publishing engine. There’s no need to step into yet another design tool to make changes.

And do I need to mention that there’s an Arbortext Content Manager that includes workflow capability — completing the full single-vendor solution picture ?

You might say that Arbortext Content Manager is a late comer to the publishing industry. It wasn’t originally targeted and publishing. However, we’re starting to see it unseat traditional partners like Documentum because of performance issues and globally distributed teams.

It was a great conversation. Everyone on the thread contributed real technical information rather than just product mentions designed to confuse the issue — and add more work — for the questioner.

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