Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) has gained widespread adoption in the techcomm field, as both a tool and a standard for structured technical writing. Through semantic tagging and an XML architecture, it facilitates the re-use of content across different outputs and helps thousands of organisations around the world to deliver content more efficiently and cost-effectively.
And so it was with great interest that we received The Content Wrangler’s 2017 survey, which offers preliminary aggregate results on how satisfied adopters really are with DITA, as well as how they rate the benefits and the challenges.
Technical communication professionals working at 250 companies around the world have taken part so far. The DITA Satisfaction Survey is still open to DITA users – click here to have your say or read on for the survey highlights.
Main benefits of DITA
The benefits to business are clear. According to survey respondents, they are:
- Consistency through content reuse – 91% of respondents cited this
- Usability (structure provides predictability for users) – 87%
- Translation (savings from reuse) – 58%
- Customisation/segmention – 51%
Main obstacles to DITA adoption
While DITA was an integral tool for many of the respondents, 67% said that convincing other departments of its value as an authoring tool was a harder sell. They often experienced issues such as:
- DITA not seen as a solution to problems – 41%
- Proving value to other departments – 26%
- Finding the time to implement DITA – 15%
- Overcoming budget challenges – 19%
Main challenges of DITA
Despite the benefits, why were respondents dissatisfied with their DITA implementations? They listed the biggest three issues as follows:
- Topic re-use
The biggest benefit can also be the biggest challenge, and this often occurs as a result of not setting a re-use strategy, for example: what to reuse and how to find this content, what level of granularity (phrase, section, topic level) is marked for re-use, and then communicating this strategy to the documentation group or other stakeholders.
Some adopters found challenges in making DITA do what they wanted it to do – although this could also be about expectations when users still find a content mess beyond the content they’ve codified.
Finding suitable experienced staff or developing existing in-house skills was a key issue. Getting a budget for training is difficult, as the business focus is more usually geared towards capital costs. But there are other issues, such as many trainers teaching the tools but not the techniques.
Other challenges making up the top 10 included understanding the software, formatting (developing style sheets), governance, finding experienced talent, creation and measurement of content, and translation issues. You can hear more about the survey’s findings in this Brighttalk webcast featuring Scott Abel from The Content Wrangler, together with three DITA experts – Rob Hanna, Mark Lewis, and Keith Schengili-Roberts.
Solving the issues
CJ Walker, founder and director of Firehead, which recruits and trains in the field of techcomm, said of the findings: “Many users are satisfied with DITA, but it was interesting to see their challenges. For example, adopting a content strategy was one of the biggest challenges to DITA adoption, according to the survey. Once a content strategy is in place, this will help clarify the approach and can help in creating a better experience for both techcomm pros and, more pertinently, customers who are seeking help information or other content from a brand. DITA is an excellent enabler but it won’t set your goals for you.
“Of course, you also need to get buy-in from the board and so setting the right metrics in the first place and measuring the value of single source authoring is key to demonstrating ROI. Aligning to corporate strategy is something we all need to get better at to make the business case.
“The skills and talent gap is an interesting one for us as digital communications recruiters. At Firehead we have many experienced DITA users in our talent network but we are also trying to plug the skills gap by offering a DITA XML Basics training course, as well as training in other tools. This is something we are really building on in 2017 and more training options are planned to expand our offering.”
What do you think?
Is DITA working for you? What training would you like to see? Are you working with DITA already – what are the pros and cons? Let us know in the comments.