Think Efficiently, Think Single Sourcing
If you work at any company, big or small, you know the high cost of creating documentation. It takes hours to research, compile, organize, and publish documents. The average cost of even a small documentation project can be thousands of dollars. How many companies avoid the costly process of recreating what has already been written?
For several years, i-Squared has been using a method called single sourcing to create content for multiple outputs. These outputs may be user manuals, training materials, online help, or other documents, but each of them, either partially or entirely, contains the same content. Through our methodology, we produce these outputs with little additional time spent developing new content. It’s not hard selling the single sourcing concept to clients, who love the savings.
Once you understand single sourcing, the benefit becomes obvious; by reusing the same content, you hope to significantly decrease the time and resources needed for documentation.
The Problem Before Single Sourcing
Many companies still create their documents using Microsoft Word. However, going this route locks the content into an inflexible format that makes it difficult to reuse. Exporting content from Word and importing it into another format, like XHTML or XML, or even another Word document, introduces significant consistency and formatting problems. If your company does not use the single source approach, you are forced to produce outputs one at a time, thus wasting money and man hours on re-researching, re-developing and re-publishing documents.
Then there is the question of versions. If authors are copying and pasting to update and recreate various documents, how can users be sure they have the most up-to-date information? Companies run into huge problems when they rely on multiple versions of the same sales and product information.
Let’s take a closer look.
A client wants a procedure manual written for a payroll application. Employees will use the manual as a reference to perform their daily jobs. The client also wants training materials for the application. What if we were able to create much of this content once, and then reuse the manual to create company training documents, too? Or have an online version of the content that could be accessed and searched through a company intranet? What if we were able to assure our users that our information is always up-to-date and accurate?
With new technology, we are finding many ways to solve these problems and reach new and exciting solutions. Such technology includes:
- Authoring Tools that enable you to create content
- Content Management tools that automate various aspects of content creation, content management and delivery
- Workflow tools that ensure that content flows smoothly through the content life cycle
- Delivery tools that publish not only to traditional outputs (paper, HTML), but also publish PDF and XML
i-Squared uses XML authoring tools to allow authors to create content that is independent of formatting so that it can be put together in whatever way and in whatever format is most useful to the end user. We use these tools to reduce the overall cost for our clients and save hours of documentation effort.
Our Wise Content Clearinghouse delivers and maintains content with a focus on accuracy and efficiency. Content resides in a single location where it is tagged with XML for efficient reuse in multiple formats. Content is easily updated by a delegated person and easily accessed for use by many departments. Reusable content can save you 35 to 75 percent of your expenses to develop content.
Implementing a single sourcing initiative offers companies a number of opportunities, including reduced overall costs, streamlined projects and effective use of information. For large companies where content is shared across several departments, this cost saving can be in the millions for just one year’s worth of content development. In fact, in a report titled, “Making a Business Case for Single Sourcing,” JoAnn Hackos and Tina Hedlund site J.D. Edwards as an example of successful single sourcing. According to their report, the company realized a 290% return on thier single sourcing initiative, saving $3.5 million per year (4).
Single sourcing is poised to emerge as a vital component of business documentation. As the number of delivery formats increases, the ability to generate multiple versions of documentation in multiple formats grows in importance. Eliminating duplicate content can save companies maintenance costs, improve consistency, and significantly decrease the time and resources needed to address all your documentation needs.