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It’s no secret that DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) and structured authoring represent the way large organizations will handle their legacy documents in the future for various reasons. Ease of updating and freedom in selecting publication platforms are two of the reasons that come to mind. Lower production costs is another, in the long run.
However, shifting from a traditional documentation platform to DITA has its own challenges. For most small and medium-size companies it’s not easy to leave traditional way of generating documents behind and shift to an XML-based authoring regime.
Let me meditate on some of the reasons why it requires a lot of resources, decision-making at the highest levels, and extensive retraining for such a shift to occur.
Pre- and Post-Production Cleanup
DITA is not automatic. You cannot feed in your old legacy documents from one end of the “DITA machine” and expect to get clean error-free XML documents emerging from the other end.
Both before and after DITA conversion, you need to clean up your document by getting rid of embedded style overrides, simplifying paragraph tags, simplifying tables with spanned rows and columns as well as long tables breaking across individual pages, and like.
The chances are you will have to do similar formatting clean up after the conversion process too. Such work costs staff time and money; it’s not free.
Need for Retraining
Structured XML-based authoring in general and DITA in particular requires retraining of technical writers and document team managers to understand this radically different way of generating topic-based modular writing. That again requires a company to commit its money and resources to bring its staff up to speed. This may end up with some writers leaving the company instead of facing the challenge of climbing up the learning curve to acquire this new technology. The company must factor in such possible disruption in staff profile as well and plan accordingly.
Cost of Consultants
Most companies who are determined to make the transition will call in professional consultants at some point in time to help with the transformation of their legacy silos into clean DITA documents. That costs money. Most DITA consultants charge somewhere around $1500 a day in the United States for their services. Some consultancy companies have additional charges on top of that daily fee, like charges per document character transformed, and/or annual “subscription fee” per staff member using the proprietary DITA tools owned by the consultancy firm. All such additional charges should be taken into account before the final decision is made to go with the shift to DITA.