Fast, Flexible and Fine: Doing more with DITA

Leading professional development provider The Institutes increased its publishing output by 1900% in the first five years after adopting a DITA/Typefi production process, and now offers customised content on demand—all without compromising on design quality.

The Institutes is the leading provider of professional development for members of risk management and property-casualty industries in the US, and produces a range of print and digital course materials, including textbooks, course guides, review notes, and flashcards.

Prior to implementation, The Institutes spent months creating content for each individual product and then weeks manually copying and pasting the content into Adobe InDesign for publication.

As The Institutes had to continually update the curriculum based on industry changes, its priority was to maintain the existing products rather than to create new ones. Finding and updating the changes and additions and then copying and pasting into InDesign simply did not allow time to create new content without significantly increasing staff resources.

The Institutes decided this was an untenable process for growth, and decided to implement an XML-based solution based on DITA. This would enable them to organize their content in Learning Objects (LOs) within an XML-based content management system for flexibility and ease of reuse.

Rapidly producing professionally-designed publications was also a requisite part of the solution. The production team wanted to continue using Adobe InDesign, the market leader in page layout software, so they chose InDesign Server-based publishing automation platform Typefi.

The first year of implementation included converting the content to XML, organising the content in LOs within Documentum, and creating dynamic Adobe InDesign templates for automated publishing with Typefi.

This involved significant changes to the workflow, including restructuring the authoring process, and learning new tools. The production team also learned how to create InDesign templates that maximized the potential for automation while maintaining the professional design that customers expected.

Over the next five years, The Institutes increased the number of new products from four per year to over eighty, without additional staff. Within that timeframe, The Institutes also completed a complete rebranding without a hiccup, and were able to meet requests for customized content within 24 hours.

Each Learning Object now comprises content files that form the basis of textbooks, assessment files which become course guides, key points which become review notes, and glossary terms used for keywords in the textbooks and also for flashcards.
Initial authoring takes place in Microsoft Word. Content is then converted to XML—applying structured templates—and stored in the CMS. Graphic designers focus on digital asset building, creating the figures and charts that illustrate the content, and inserting metadata and links to the digital assets within the CMS.

Once the content and digital assets are ready, the designers create a product map using DITA. The product map—an outline of the Learning Objects included in the final product and the relationships between them—is then run through Typefi, which applies the XML to InDesign templates and automatically lays out the textbooks, course guides, review notes, and flashcards.

The layout process takes one hour, on average, and proofs are sent to the editors for a quick review. Any last-minute changes needed are made in the CMS and, an hour later, the final version is ready to publish.

As of 2019, The Institutes’ CMS contained over 8,000 Learning Objects! The organization continues to develop the publishing system to maximize efficiency, and to offer content to their customers in new and refreshing ways.

What can the audience expect to learn?

Professional development provider The Institutes achieved a 1900% increase in publishing output after adopting Microsoft Word and DITA for authoring, an XML-based CMS, and Typefi and Adobe InDesign for automated production. Learn how The Institutes realized this dramatic improvement without increasing staff, and how they can now meet requests for customized content within 24 hours—all without compromising on design quality.

Meet the presenter

As a Senior Solutions Consultant, Eric works with customers to determine the best way to use Typefi for their particular needs, and then implements their solution. He started in publishing over 20 years ago as a TeX typesetter at a small development house, where he learned such valuable skills as opaquing film, making Dylux proofs, and pasting up forms with hot wax. He also learned desktop publishing, which was somewhat more useful. He moved to a large educational publishing company and spent 17 years as a production manager working with his colleagues to re-invent how publishing works—several times.

Eric’s particular skillset focuses on publishing automation, workflow improvement, and single-source publishing for both digital and print. He has a degree in Rhetoric (writing, not arguing) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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