by Liz Fraley
For the last decade I have made a regular habit to speak at or at least attend the CMS conference. I think I only missed one year. It gives me an interesting perspective because I can see trends over time, changes in presentation themes, popularity of topics, and the changing interests of the attendees.
For the first year, DITA seemed more of an assumption than an experimental technology. More companies are in year 3-5 of their implementation. In years past, the message has always been: Why choose DITA? What’s the value proposition? This year, the message was lessons learned. The biggest lesson learned was that you can’t treat a DITA implementation like a line item. The projects that were successful were those that had properly socialized the impact of the project to all parts of their organization.
For example, Catherine Lyman (NetApp) said she’d done a fantastic job socializing the impact and the value of their DITA implementation all the way up the chain. Her CEO really understood exactly the value behind their effort and exactly what benefits this shift was bringing to NetApp’s business. However, she hadn’t socialized to lateral departments and every time she brought the project to a new group, she had to start from square one and begin the buy-in discussions over again. It slowed down adoption across the company and, as a result, caused a delay in the ROI she had projected. Her advice? Go to business and engineering groups early and be clear on the corporate drivers. Also, sell to the whole organization the benefits for their departments. Put customer-facing improvements first!
Successful projects place a high emphasis on collaboration and socialization. It was a story we heard over and over at the conference this year. Intel was starting over again — going back to square one — because they weren’t getting the system they needed to really serve their business goals. They hadn’t originally defined their requirements well enough to really evaluate the vendors. They focused on tools first. As a result, they have worked out a set of vendor questions to envy. They included these questions in their slides for the attendees of CMS/DITA NA 2010.
HP talked about the importance of collaboration within your team and with other groups in the enterprise because reuse is a cultural issue. You need to build trust and structure so that you can measure and track effectiveness.
Actuate said that they were also back at the drawing board. They had overused FrameMaker’s tools to the point it wouldn’t compile correctly and they’d get spurious content. They recommend moving to a robust, enterprise-level, dynamic publishing system with a DITA-aware editor built to do it from the ground up.
Rebekka Andersen, a professor from UC Davis, presented her research into why CMS adoptions fail. She followed a company from the early stages through their CMS evaluations and participated in the discussions every step of the way. In this case, the team not only decided against the vendor’s tool but also against CMS in general, but the reason why was not what anyone could have predicted. Her conclusion? The prevailing tool-focused approach to implementation. Don’t let tool define you: it should be the other way around. Her advice? Understand that technology can’t solve the problem or save the day. Your focus should not be on the tools. Tools should be <10% of project implementation; 50% of any implementation is change management and 40% is process management.
There was one presentation on using Sharepoint as a CCMS. If you just see the slides, it comes across as a success story, but the reaction of the audience (and the talk track behind the slides) made it clear that it really wasn’t. Not from any perspective except for the highly-paid consultants doing all the Sharepoint development ($$$$).
Me? I told success stories this year of companies who were 10+ years into their Arbortext/XML authoring implementations. You can find the slides and abstract here: Where Are They Now. After my presentation, Charlotte Robidoux (HP) said that she was glad someone was telling success stories. The conference was full of lessons learned and pain, and it was good to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
To put it in the words of some of the longest-running Arbortext customers that I interviewed for my presentation:
“This is all doable because we went to XML and Arbortext in 2004”
“This is ‘bottled gold’ because it gives us a HUGE advantage over our competition”
Overall, it was a great conference. The returns really are there if you frame your project as something that has enterprise-level impact (which it does).