Getting the most out of a DITA Component Content Management System (CCMS)

So, you have decided that a component content management system (CCMS) is for you? Congratulations on an excellent choice. Perhaps you have seen the value that component-based approaches can bring to your content management and publishing challenges and along the way, have learned that DITA is a standard file format to represent components. Alternatively, perhaps you find yourself needing some way of working with DITA content coming from a third party into your organization.

All roads are pointing you to a CCMS with DITA support. You look around and you find there are a wide variety of options which all look quite similar.

How do you narrow down the contenders to a more manageable list? Two very important extra considerations for a DITA-enabled CCMS worthy of your attention are:

  1. Content authoring challenges with DITA
  2. Content change management challenges with DITA

Content Authoring Challenges with DITA

If you will need to author or edit content in your CCMS, it is worth giving careful thought to the author/edit experience of your subject matter experts. Raw DITA is an XML-based format and many DITA editing solutions take the form of customized, general-purpose XML editors. The XML editor experience is not for everyone. I know some authors who love them, but the vast majority of subject matter expert authors I talk to would much prefer to work in Microsoft Word.

This preference is invariably down to familiarity and with that familiarity comes productivity. There is good news in that regard. DITA CCMS solutions like TimeArc® are seamlessly integrated into Word.

Perhaps you have seen the value that component-based approaches can bring to your content management and publishing challenges and along the way, have learned that DITA is a standard file format to represent components.

Content Change Management Challenges with DITA

If the content you create – or the external content you ingest into your CCMS – changes regularly, this is an area worthy of your attention as DITA content update cycles contain many ‘gotchas’ and traps for the unwary. For example, if you are a regulator or heavily regulated organization, you will need to make updates in accordance with the latest laws, research, and best practices.

Most of the challenges relate to the harmless-sounding issue of content identifiers – simply put, how the names of content components behave over time when content is updated, deleted and re-arranged.

DITA itself is agnostic about identifiers and CCMSs vary widely in how identifiers are created and managed over time. There are two main areas of concern:

  • Link rot: this issue occurs when a link to a DITA component that used to work, no longer works after an update.
  • Content drift: this issue occurs when a link to a DITA component is working fine after an update but no longer points to the information that it used to point to.
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Of the two, content drift is the more complex issue and unfortunately, it occurs regularly in content that undergoes periodic re-arrangement – a common occurrence in legal and regulatory content for example.

Both issues are critical to address in order to ensure that linkages can be made between CCMS content and downstream content such as policies, procedures, FAQs, templates, training materials, etc., that are likely to be highly dependent on good identifier/link management.

If change is infrequent in your use case, you can get by without worrying about it too much. However, if change is frequent – especially, if some of it takes the form of changes to externally supplied DITA content, you really should look at time-aware DITA CCMS solutions such as TimeArc that have specialized capabilities for managing identifiers and the issues surrounding them. Talk to us about what it can do for you. 

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