DITA to that

GCN Insider

Service-oriented architecture aims to turn computational processes into services so they can be used for missions beyond their original scope. Now, an emerging Extensible Markup Language product promises to do the same for text.

Developed by IBM and later released to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards as an open standard, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, or DITA, is an XML Document Type Definition that can be used to mark up different sections of documents so they can easily be found later and reused in other documents. Although IBM first came up with DITA for its technical documents, it could be used across a wide range of organizational material, said Ann Rockley, who leads the Rockley Group consulting firm. Rockley spoke at the recent Gilbane content management conference in Washington.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Rockley's presentation is how easy DITA is for end users. Most good DITA-aware editors look like a version of Word loaded with organizational style sheets, she said. Each document has different sections, specifying title, author, and the different topics and subtopics. Each topic or subtopic can be specified by the user or an organizational list of topics compiled in a component management system. It is these topics that are indexed for later retrieval, Rockley said.

Reuse can happen in a number of different ways. Frequently reused snatches of text, such as boilerplates, definitions or policy statements, can easily be called up and placed into documents. Another good use is for what Rockley called multichannel documents, where one basic piece of text has to be used in multiple forms, such as in a brochure, on a Web page or for a white paper. Rockley mentioned one government customer who used DITA for a set of information that is customized for different constituencies. Sections of the core agency content are used in all the documents, which are then appended with the content specific for that audience. In this way, employees don't need to rewrite copy or even hunt down other sources to cut and paste the existing content. With this technique, an organization can often reuse as much as 60 percent of the content it generates.

Rockley admits that she hasn't seen a lot of federal agencies use DITA, though she does know that the Canadian Revenue Agency and the office of the Irish government use the technology. Of the document management system vendors, only Documentum supports DITA. Most content management systems could support DITA because their systems can ingest XML DTDs. For more information on DITA, see GCN GCN.com/782.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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