By Michael Priestley and Amber Swope

XML gives organizations a way to create richly-described, unstructured content. But until the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), XML content traditionally was organized and written as monolithic documents — tightly coupled with organizational structures, such as pages and chapters, that rarely worked as independent, reusable units of content.

DITA is simply the practice of taking huge XML documents and breaking them down into logical, topic-oriented chunks. Now, every content chunk is an inherently reusable asset that is coherent as an object within the overall document.

DITA makes content more self-contained, and in that way, parallels Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and the loosely coupled, self-contained objects at the heart of contemporary approaches to application development.

Historically, developers built tightly coupled, massive applications for a specific function. SOA deconstructs those applications into sets of self-contained components that, when composed, address a specific function. Alternately, subsets of those components could be recomposed to create other applications to address other functions.

Likewise, DITA enables modular, reusable content. And similar to SOA, DITA has far-reaching implications for organizational technology, process, and culture that must accommodate fundamental, pervasive change in content authoring. DITA impacts the way content is created, stored, managed, and consumed; the tools that are used; and the content authors, who must learn to think differently.

For instance, DITA creates new opportunities to involve subject matter experts. Now, these experts can plug in and create topic-oriented content chunks much more easily than longer, monolithic documents. And the result of their contributions becomes more reusable and scalable — the building blocks for documents and other deliverables and the knowledge that drives key content-centric business processes.

Along with its compelling advantages, DITA carries a fundamental challenge. Like any initiative that brings significant, sweeping change, DITA can be daunting to implement. Moreover, XML and DITA are relatively new for many companies, which means that patterns, precedents and best practices are the guideposts to success.

The DITA Maturity Model responds to the DITA adoption challenge. Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, the DITA Maturity Model assumes companies will eat the DITA elephant one bite at a time, taking a graduated, step-wise approach.

In addition to proven patterns and best practices, the DITA Maturity Model helps each company find the right entry point for its DITA initiative, regardless of DITA competence or lack thereof. As a result, the DITA Maturity Model is quite flexible, adapting to each organization’s individual situation and goals.

The DITA Maturity Model also helps to measure success at each of the model’s six levels. Specific milestones help organizations understand where they are within each level, providing an overall, contextual understanding of progress as they work toward achieving maximum effectiveness and efficiency with DITA.

Despite the organizational sea change it introduces, DITA represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the value of XML content. The DITA Maturity Model can help any company navigate the DITA waters, whether it plans to dive into the deep end or just dip a toe in the shallow end.

About the Authors

  • Michael Priestley is lead IBM DITA architect for IBM Corporate User Technologies. Email Michael.
  • Amber Swope is principal consultant for JustSystems. Amber.