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I've seen many queries here over the past few months on authoring tools and also questions on how to get a project approved. I'd like to share my experiences. If anyone would like further information or has comments please feel free to contact me.
Our company recently went through the process of evaluating authoring tools that would best meet our unique situation - i.e. no formal documentation department, many content providers and of course always tight deadlines and little time to learn new things.
In addition to selling the company on using XML, I researched all the tools, cost-justified the project and worked out a methodology that would work for our situation of "many types of users".
Prior to this almost all of our documentation was stored in a mainframe product called Endevor and created using a proprietary markup language created by Fleming. The language is very elementary and does not even include components of early word processors. Some of our documentation (all of my work) has been done using FrameMaker and then exported to HTMLHELP and other formats through the use of Quadralay's WebWorks publisher.
I did not feel that FrameMaker would be the right solution for our users for many reasons - one being the extensive learning curve. Since many of our content providers only author once a year it was important that Word could still be used for some of the original authoring. We also have some authors that provide content on a more regular basis and will be authoring directly in XML.
After doing all the research, we selected Arbortext EPIC along with their new server solution (E3) and I expect to begin implementation within the next two months. Products we considered included XMetal, FrameMaker, BladeRunner and Epic.
During the evaluations, I had many of our key content providers and programmers who are required to provide documentation sit in on the vendor demonstrations. I asked for feedback from these users at the conclusion of each demo. The users overwhelmingly preferred the EPIC product and further it was the only product that met or exceeded all of our requirements.
We will be initially using the Oracle IFS product for our repository but intend to eventually migrate it to the SAP Knowledge Warehouse when and if an adaptor is created.
Selling the concept of XML and it's benefits was not terribly difficult. The authors really hate the current methods and management bought into it when I was able to show dramatic cost savings by implementing such a solution. Part of the justification was done by showing the cost savings that was achieved when I implemented FrameMaker vs the Mainframe and Word but the largest factor was not in cost savings in authoring or even component re-use but time-savings in publication and end-user time spent searching for information vs the current methods. In a perfect world where the entire system is implemented with no learning curve I would be able to show payback 4 times the costs in under a year. However with the learning curve and other factors taken into account this is obviously very optimistic.
All in all, my time spent so far on this project has been most satisfying and very educational. There were many frustrating moments when I met obstacles in the "selling" phase and in the cost justification phase. It's difficult to sell the idea of component re-use and show a cost savings when there is no real measurement of how much information is currently being duplicated or redundant! Also, since Word is already on every desktop, it's sometimes difficult to convince management that large amounts of time are wasted using word for long document production and that Word will not cut the mustard for every situation. I was very lucky that I was able to show great results by using one copy of FrameMaker in conjunction with WebWorks publisher to produce a project that is very visable throughout the company (the I/T Standards). This made people realize the value of online information and they wanted to have ALL documents like this. When I told them it could be even better if we used a structured authoring approach and component management they believed me - but had I not been able to show results from the previous project I doubt it would have been so easy.
It's very exciting attempting to lead a company out of the dark ages in the world of documentation and trying to make it world class and I may not have the background of some people in the field. But when all is said and done I've been able to make our people BELIEVE in the value of online information. With their backing and willingness to change - I believe this project will be a success.
Off my monologue now and back to work ;)
SQA Tech. Writer
Fleming Companies Inc.
kkoldyk -at- email -dot- fleming -dot- com
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