Monday, October 20, 2014

S1000D and DITA

Do You Remember?

I don't know if you remember, was it earlier this year or last(?), that there was a flurry of activity around the topic of S1000D and DITA. A group of people had decided that the way to go was to create a DITA which conformed to S1000D.

The presentation was very interesting and, no doubt for some, it was the next exciting thing coming along for the Publications Industry. But for some of us it just didn't have it - and no this is not sour grapes. This topic has come to mind because of training courses that I have run for some clients of ours this year, both face to face and remotely via the internet.

I am not unfamiliar with DITA because:
  • Our company has a core of DITA specialists
  • Adobe FrameMaker can be used to handle DITA projects
  • Adobe FrameMaker comes ready for DITA out of the box.
So given the above why is it that I am not sure that DITA S1000D (or S1000D DITA?) is the way to go.

Why not?

Well, it is my observation that certainly the newbies (sorry but it is not meant to be a derogatory term) to S1000D Authoring have enough to cope with using all the features out of the box. This also applies to those who have been involved in S1000D for some time and who are experienced in that area. Quite often we get questions like:
  • Do we have to use all these different types of Data Modules?
  • Do we have to use this new Technical Information Repository stuff?
  • Do we have to use all these elements?
Of course the answer to all of the above is a resounding NO unless, that is, you are unfortunate to be a Technical Publications Contractor working for one or two of the companies that are insisting on using all the bells and whistles. The majority of users and main contractors/design authorities are not using a number of the extra and most recent features.

So when it comes to DITA and the ability to extend the functionality using specialisms it just leaves them cold. They have no notion or need to learn all sorts of extra stuff. The basic S1000D is quite good enough.

Listening to the guys in the presentation they were clearly very enthusiastic about it. They had be nurturing this arm of S1000D and were very familiar with all the nuances.

It is not just the newbies that don't want to go down that route. My chats with experienced S1000D Authors reflect the same attitude as those not very familiar with S1000D.

In one thread that I read there was the admission that "Both S1000D and DITA can be intellectually challenging to deploy and authoring S1000D data modules by assembling DITA chunks could add an additional layer of unnecessary complexity to your project." I think that this is probably an understatement.

So where are we?

A recent search of published material on the subject produced a very interesting result. There was a lot of information prior to 2010 and not so much post 2010.

Internally within Mekon we came to the conclusion some time ago that if a project was based on part numbers and had a long life then S1000D was the solution and we have seen nothing to change our view on that. If the project is software based (and other sort of related areas of work) then DITA may be the answer.

This was also the view of a presentation given in 2014 (DITA and S1000D Different verses to the same song?) where there was a flowchart included in the presentation. This is the last bit of the flowchart is shown here and I think that it shows that the Mekon view is, on balance, still right.

Overall there is the problem of having something that is well documented to work with. S1000D fills that criteria (well almost - having just spent some time trying to find something specific in the spec and failing) and all who use it know what is required of them. Some of the more recent additions are not really necessary and you can tailor the specification to meet your need - and this is allowed within the rules.

I'm NOT a Luddite

I am not a Luddite - honest!. I will (and am happy to), and have embraced new features, technologies etc. when and where they enhance the working environment of those people who have to document a whole range of projects and deliver the information to the end user in the best way for them. After all the maintenance and technical guys are our customers - the guys who use the information we write to do their work.

As evidence to my remark about not being a Luddite - I was the innovator who designed and delivered a touch screen handbook system for a complete train to a large London Based transport organisation in the early 1990's. Navigation was by means of graphics and this was before the days of Windows - so much easier now. (As an aside I met someone last year who knew what we were doing who commented "They are still not doing what we did then are they?")

So, I do ask the 'Innovators' to have pity on the technical authors who just want to do their job by using easy to use software configured to work with S1000D and not have to invent extra bits when they think that something extra is needed. S1000D works well, it has been around for a number of years now and has become reasonably robust (excluding the odd hiccough of course). Technical Authors (or Communication Operatives as I saw the occupation advertised) in the S1000D arena, even those just embarking on the journey do find most of S1000D Logical and relatively easy to employ in their day to day work.

Of course you may not agree. Bet you that there are a number that don't - always the way!

Monday, March 17, 2014

S1000D Events in 2014

The general S1000D environment seems to be picking up. We have noticed an increased activity regarding enquiries for our Software and general communications about more recent issues of S1000D than Issue 2+. This has also become apparent in interest in S1000D events.

UK Based

Here in the UK the Congility event is going to take place on June 19th and 20th in Crawley with pre-conference workshops on the 18th.

In the past these Congility events have been very well received and the feedback around the S1000D material has been of high quality. Of course part of attending these events is not only the presentations but the networking that goes on. Over the years old acquaintances have been seen as well as those new to S1000D. I think that it is in the latter area that Congility is so good, people are very happy and indeed keen, to share their knowledge and experience. S1000D will be more quickly adopted in the civilian sector with the mystique removed. Your will need to have a look at the programme to see which days you need to attend because as in the past it is a Joint DITA and S1000D programme.

No doubt you will remember me waxing on about just how good S1000D is for a wide range of non-defence projects and in these days of globalisation of development and manufacture, and the increasing use of common parts, S1000D is the obvious choice for many of these.

One big stumbling block that we have come across is the management of projects. Expensive engineers being used to produce the maintenance documentation in MS Word (oh yes!) instead of using an industrial strength standard on a choice of several platforms with guaranteed reliability and re-use with Authors doing the work. But that is a perennial problem which has been running for years and years and is likely to take many more years until it has become a miniscule problem with a small handful of companies.

So for those in the UK and wondering if you should dip your toe in the S1000D world and with an increasing confidence in the future, see if you can get funding to visit Congility and quickly ramp up your knowledge and confidence.

You can find out more about this by visiting the Congility website at but I will keep an eye on the programme and find out more details and let you know items of interest.

In the US

In the recent past S1000D and ATA have go in bed together to present a single conference which covers the AeroSpace industry. This year is no exception. We have the ATA e-Business Forum and S1000D User Forum taking place in San Antonio, Texas from June 23 to 25, 2014. their byline is Driving Value Through Effective Information Sharing and this is definitely what happens there. The programme is not so advanced as that for Congility but generally they manage to put on an informative set of presentations with a number of the S1000D influential members taking part or attending.

When I find out what is being presented I will update you but in the meantime you can have access to the programme as it is at present by going to the User Forum.