A Manufacturer Finds 65,000 Ways to Reuse Content

Field Report - Siemens, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

What do the John Hancock Building in Chicago and the Louvre Museum in Paris both have in common? They have heating, cooling, fire protection and security systems, and like thousands of stadiums, hospitals and other large commercial buildings, they have centralized monitoring and management controls supplied by Siemens Building Technologies.

Like many manufacturers, Siemens offers thousands of print and online documents to help employees, business partners and customers install, operate, maintain and troubleshoot its products. The equipment is designed to work with hundreds of brands of environmental and security systems, so the documentation has to cover thousands of possible variations and combinations of equipment and software drivers.

Before it embraced an XML-based, componentized publishing approach, the company's Integrated Solutions department struggled to deliver fewer than 200 support documents per year using Microsoft Word as the primary authoring tool. Without a component-based approach, there was little content reuse and too much inconsistency.

"We have several different groups within our department, and each was developing content its own way," says project manager Kristine Rodell. "We were also getting flack from the training department because it found that our documents weren't consistent. One set of documents would have a section on, say, setting up [software] drivers for third-party equipment, but the next set might not have the same sections. Users weren't sure whether setup wasn't needed or a section was missing."

More significantly, the content bottleneck limited the range of systems the company could support, thereby restricting potential sales. In a departmental deployment in October 2002, Integrated Solutions implemented the combination of ArborText's Epic Editor XML-authoring environment and Documentum (now EMC Documentum) for content management, but the initial deployment was "far from perfect," Rodell admits.

"The biggest problem was developing a consistent process — understanding what you need to do when, and in what order you update documents," she explains.

Productivity steadily improved, however, nearly quadrupling to 722 documents produced or updated last year, even though the core authoring team dropped (through attrition) from six employees in 2001 to 3.75 full-time equivalents in 2004. To ensure consistency, Rodell's group created 19 XML-based templates from which all documents are now derived. Even more impressive, the department found it could reuse 3,500 content "chunks" (such as product descriptions, details on third-party products and graphics) in at least 65,000 places. So when a single content element is created or revised, it's automatically updated in an average of more than 18 instances across multiple document types.

Rodell wouldn't divulge Siemens' total investment, but she says "I'm certain we've reached ROI because we track exactly how much time employees spend on each project," adding that their time is billed at $85 per hour. "We've cut down on labor and have improved consistency, and if we can do more and do it faster, that means we can sell more product."

Doug Henschen