It's Not about Technology ... It's about Methodology:
HP's Lessons Learned
Scott Abel and Lisa Woods
In this case study, Pat Waychoff, a single sourcing visionary and strategist for HP Network Storage Solutions, TCE Metrics and Initiatives department, describes the evolution from traditional documentation authoring and publishing to single source XML content management. Waychoff offers advice for others who hope to tackle such an initiative on their own. HP's lesson learned: "To be successful," Waychoff says, "you need to recognize that there is no `software' solution. It's not really about technology. It's about methodology."
First, here's some background on HP Network Storage Solutions and the challenges they were facing:
Target audience: End-users, customers, operators, system administrators, technicians, field service personnel, customer call center staff
Deliverables: User guides, instructions, information, notes, and help systems.
Delivery formats: Print, PDF, HTML, Java Help, HTML Help, WinHelp.
Languages: English, Japanese for all deliverables. English, Japanese, major European and Asian languages for some deliverables.
Challenge: More than 100 content creators in 12 geographic locations (North America, Europe, Far East) required the ability to collaborate on documentation projects including: content authoring, localization, translation, and delivery into multiple output formats in order to reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve quality by eliminating unnecessary manual tasks.
Revelations: The HP Network Storage Solutions Team identified two requirements that would hold the key to tackling this challenge: the need to adopt structured writing (to address issues of consistency, quality, content reuse and re-purposing) and the need for a move to an XML authoring environment.
HP's approach: What they did and why
Waychoff describes his foray into the world of content management as a "four-year journey" that would not have been possible without adopting a structured authoring methodology. "Structured writing is foundational," says Waychoff. "Without it, single sourcing would not work."
To get the project off the ground, Waychoff and his team relied on research from the Society for Technical Communication, attending conference presentations, reading white papers from industry luminaries, and mastering the concepts outlined in the book Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy (New Riders), which Waychoff and team view as their "bible for single sourcing". The team also turned to the book
Single Sourcing: Building Modular Documentation (William Andrew Press) to learn how to author content in a modular fashion.
To succeed, they learned they needed an approach that would serve the needs of all their content creators, translation and localization staff ... and the clients they serve. They also needed tools that would help them to create more content with less money. "The bottom line," Waychoff says, "we had to reduce budget costs."
Convincing management Of course, taking on a content management project is more than just doing research and learning what you need. You also have to sell the idea to get the project funded. And this-convincing management of the need to fund a paradigm-shifting initiative-can be difficult, Waychoff says, especially if they aren't able to clearly perceive the necessity.
Waychoff's team was painfully aware of their need for change. They were struggling to create increasing amounts of documentation with decreasing budgets. "Most days," Waychoff says, "I felt like I was the Blue Light Special at K-Mart as far as budgeting went. Something had to give."
To illustrate the need for structured XML authoring and content management to those who control the budget, Waychoff's team set out to gather meaningful cost savings metrics. "We had no real budget to buy any new tools (such as an XML authoring and content management system). We had to focus on using tools that didn't cost much," Waychoff says.
Proof-of-concept The initial effort involved restructuring and reworking a sub-set of content using Adobe FrameMaker (an inexpensive commercial software tool that facilitates structured authoring and single source content creation). This low-cost, proof-of-concept exercise yielded impressive results. The move to structured authoring alone (before adding a content management system to automate workflow) significantly improved content creator efficiency and produced a noticeable increase in quality. Both benefits were realized, Waychoff says, by "freeing writers and editors from the mechanical processes of information development." Authors and editors were suddenly able to focus on key processes, effective information design, and the development of new content.
The proof-of-concept also yielded impressive payoffs for word and page count metrics. Waychoff and his team were able to reduce the total source word count of a single deliverable from 33,200 to 27,500 - a decrease of 6,000 words (approximately 20%). Total production page reductions were even more impressive. One restructured document shrank from 2714 pages to 1908 pages - a decrease of 806 pages. These reductions were made possible by structuring the content for reuse and using the "conditional text" feature native to Adobe FrameMaker. Real-world savings would be significantly higher, Waychoff notes, as these metrics don't take into account additional downstream savings including anticipated shortened review times, reduced translation and localization fees, and lower production costs (printing, packaging, shipping, and storage).
Page count savings (reductions in the number of pages published) led to impressive financial paybacks. Before single sourcing, revising 1306 pages of content would cost HP about $59,000US. After single sourcing was introduced, this cost dropped to $22,000US-a savings of roughly $37,000US on content production and development costs alone.
Determining additional savings While metrics collected during the proof-of-concept were valuable, Waychoff's team wasn't ready to stop there. They knew that to gain full advantage of the many benefits single sourcing and structured authoring can provide, they'd need funds to implement a content management system and a robust XML authoring tool. To get this funding, they'd have to provide potential cost savings estimates to management. And, they'd need to provide more than page count savings estimates: "We determined that measuring page count was not specific enough. We were not really measuring actual content, just the number of pages," Waychoff says.
The team used a cost savings calculator designed to factor in actual costs to generate potential savings estimates. The calculator worked with actual project data: number of writers, annual number of new content pages created, annual proportion of content in need of revision, number of languages required, translation cost, writing cost, conversion costs, labor costs, etc. The results? Substantial potential cost savings estimates. The estimated savings were so impressive that the team decided to err on the cautious side, and lowered the figures provided by the calculator before presenting a more conservative cost reduction estimate to management.
The proof-of-concept data combined with the results of the cost savings calculation "was enough to convince management to fund the purchase of a content management system and XML authoring software," Waychoff says.
Cost savings from structuring content Structuring content has resulted in a 5% to 44% reduction in total word count, as well as reductions in both content creation time and localization costs. "Today, we are using our own data (reduction in labor) to demonstrate that structured writing and XML are working for us," Waychoff says.
Cost savings from automation "We did a pretty thorough analysis of the tasks being performed, especially examining how much time we were doing manual tasks that could be automated [workflow, formatting, publishing]," says Waychoff. The content management system was recently installed and training is underway. Adding XML authoring and a content management system to the mix will result, Waychoff and his team foresee, in an additional 20% reduction in overall content development costs as a result of automating the labor-intensive manual formatting and publishing processes.
Outcome and lessons learned
Authors love it In the pilot project underway, Waychoff is hearing feedback from the participating authors that they prefer the new structured XML approach and that they "would not want to go back to the old way." The authors who were not involved with the pilot are pressing to get started as soon as possible. "There is excitement! [In the new paradigm] they really can spend most of their time on content creation," Waychoff says. "The tedious and time-eating tasks of formatting and publishing are automated. And reuse of existing content is also being made easier."
New role is required: Information Architect Waychoff and team convinced upper management to create and fund a new role dubbed Information Architect (IA). "You need someone to become almost an expert. They need to know your business and to make logical decisions that support your business model," says Waychoff. The information architect, in addition to performing tasks related to the structure of the content models, is also charged with helping to keep the initiative alive and with preparing the entire team for formal implementation.
Selecting tools requires analysis It was important that the new way of working didn't automate bad business processes and wasn't hostage to the limitations of the new tools. With this in mind, the IA and a writing management team of managers from four geographic business areas developed requirements for the authoring tool before the tool was selected. "We spent over a year analyzing tools available." In the end, the team selected Arbortext Epic as their XML Authoring tool. "We looked at everything. And while it certainly wasn't the cheapest tool, we determined it was the best investment for us."
After months of reviewing content management tools, the team selected Vasont as their content management system. Not only did Vasont meet their business requirements, but also another area of HP had been using Vasont for over three years. This fortuitously provided the department with an internal pool of advanced and expert users to help ensure the current project succeeded.
Training is key to success "Training in structured writing was most important," Waychoff says. "It set the foundation for our success." Training is provided at each geographic site and all content creators and editors are trained in the paradigm shift and the accompanying tools used to author and edit modular content. Structured writing rules are captured guidelines which are captured in a living document that evolves as the business needs dictate.
Grass-roots buy-in is critical While management support is crucial to getting your project funded, Waychoff says he cannot overemphasize the importance of also obtaining grass-roots buy-in. "You have to show the individual writers and editors what's in it for them. They have to be convinced that this is in their best interests. Persistence and dedication are key [to conveying that message]." Waychoff says.
Advice for others: Underpromise and overdeliver "Keep your cost savings estimates very conservative," Waychoff says. "Whatever you say, someone (especially in upper management) will remember and hold you to it."