By Eric Armstrong on Oct 02, 2007
Not long ago, I blogged on the subject of build-to-order documentation. A few weeks later, along comes a system that is doing it. Today! It doesn't work in exactly the way I envisioned, but it's working and available, with no waiting. Now I know how hard it is to be a science fiction writer. You write about the most far-fetched thing you can think of, and the next week someone's announcing it.
Last week, I sat in on a webinar given by the folks at Flatirons Solutions (FlatironsSolutions.com). Head honcho Eric Severson ("See-verson") described the content delivery system, while Ajay (Ah-zhay) Singh focused on the MarkLogic Server the solution runs on.
Bottom line: They're delivering a build-to-order documentation system--today. It's built on DITA. It can be purchased, installed, and used to deliver custom documentation to an organization's end users.
They demo'd O'Reilly's use of it at Safari U, and demo'd one other application, as well. At Safari U., professors select chapters from multiple textbooks, arrange them in the sequence they want, and add filler material of their own to create a customized textbook for their class.
There was one particularly interesting comment from Eric Severson: "DITA-based XML is taking over the technical publishing space." With the kind of system he's delivering, it's easy to see why.
The system runs on the MarkLogic Server, which has a few interesting features of it's own:
- It can act as the underlying CMS, or it can be the delivery server for content it gets from an external CMS.
- It loads DITA files, XML files, and arbitrary other kinds of files, converting them to XML form in the process so they can be delivered to the end user.
- It outputs to HTML, directly to PDF, or to InDesign or Quark Express for highly customized PDF output.
The build-to-order system (aka "dynamic content delivery system") has an interesting range of options, from having the user answer a few questions to get a custom manual, to allowing the user to add or delete anything they want.
They identified two sets of business benefits that accrue from such a system:
- Top-Line Benefits:
- Ability to support more product variations & increase market reach
- Ability to move products into less sophisticated target markets
- Increased product sales
--from enhanced customer productivity / satisfaction
--from more effective field support
- Bottom-Line Benefits:
- Reduced publication costs
- Reduced content maintenance and review costs
- Reduced cycle times
- Reduced technical support calls