Toshiba User Documentation: Automating the Process for Cost and Time Savings
By: Patrik Indola (Toshiba)
17 August 2011
Toshiba Europe created an automated authoring and production process using structured FrameMaker 9.0 and XML/DITA to streamline localization of user documentation. The results were impressive, convincing management to apply the process to more products developed by Toshiba Europe.
PC users and the way those users interact with user documentation has changed dramatically since the PC revolution in the early nineties.
The most obvious change is in the users themselves. People in every corner of the world speaking every conceivable language use PCs and laptops now. Meeting their needs with user documentation is a major challenge for PC and laptop manufacturers. Language, regulatory and cultural issues need to be considered for every piece of documentation produced.
The other major change is in the users’ perception and use of documentation. Not only do they expect information in their native tongue, they also want that information quickly and very accessible. Many users do not even use documentation any longer and, in fact, turn to search engines or social networks to get the information they seek.
More users around the world speaking more languages and dealing with different regulatory restraints coupled with the need of those users to get highly accessibly information quickly, has put pressure on PC and laptop manufacturers to streamline the development of user documentation. Several years ago, the localization department of Toshiba Europe, a division of the major manufacturer of laptops, took on this problem and began to explore how the company could produce user documentation for its laptops more efficiently. In collaboration with its partner, Rubric, a globalization and localization expert, Toshiba Europe created an automated authoring and production process using structured FrameMaker 9.0 and XML/DITA to streamline the development. The results analyzed by Toshiba were impressive, convincing management to apply the process to more products developed by Toshiba Europe.
Toshiba Europe is constantly experimenting with new production methods; but had produced user documentation in the same fashion for a couple of years. Documents would be localized for all of the languages for which Toshiba Europe was responsible. Technical authors would use FrameMaker 7.0 to handle the authoring of the documents. But FrameMaker 7.0 caused issues because it did not support some languages, notably Arabic and Hebrew, two important languages for Toshiba users. The entire user documentation process would experience a bottleneck with Arabic and Hebrew requiring, documentation to be reformatted and translated in Microsoft Word.
Rubric was convinced that switching to a structured environment would speed up and streamline the translation process, saving time and money for Toshiba Europe. But proving to management that the switch would be advantageous was not easy.
First Rubric developed a prototype of the process using XML/DITA to show management that it was doable. Then working with the Toshiba Europe localization team, they conducted a pilot to show how DITA could streamline the process. They also showed how automating desktop publishing would create efficiencies.
Importantly, in the prototype, Rubric focused on upgrading from FrameMaker 7.0 to FrameMaker 9.0. In FrameMaker 9.0, Adobe offered good support for XML/DITA. It also is a very versatile and adaptable tool. But the main reason for the shift to 9.0 was to continue using a tool of which technical authors were already familiar. Familiarity with FrameMaker was absolutely key to the success of the new process. Toshiba already had licenses with Adobe and their technical authors already knew how to use FrameMaker. The learning curve for working with XML/DITA is fairly steep, so it was important that the tool to create the XML/DITA content was familiar, which made the shift to 9.0 easy and simple.
With a successful pilot and an easy transition from FrameMaker 7.0 to 9.0, the management team was pleased with the new process. The pilot was successful. In fact, the turnaround time for Arabic and Hebrew was decreased tenfold.
How it works
With the successful pilot, Toshiba Europe has expanded its XML/DITA content process across more projects. But specifically for Arabic and Hebrew, the changes are dramatic. The ‘before’ picture required the following process: using FrameMaker 7.0 for content, then cutting/pasting into Microsoft Word to translate and edit, then publishing in Word. Now, the process is completely automated without ‘hands’ required. FrameMaker 9.0 is used for content and editing. Translated documents are automatically converted into pdf using a publishing engine from Antenna House that offers strong support of Arabic and Hebrew.
Advantages beyond structured content
Toshiba Europe uses the FrameMaker 9.0 to Antenna House automated process for all of its 22 languages. The advantages are multiple.
Global content which is not applicable to Europe can be deleted and European specific content added completely automatically.
The advantages to using XML/DITA for content authoring are numerous. In addition to allowing for structured content and automating the DTP process, XML/DITA gave Toshiba more options for output. Previously the only output options were a pdf for print or a pdf for online. With XML/DITA, many other publishing channels are being explored.
The results of the shift to structured XML/DITA are quite positive, allowing the division to expand the program significantly. We conducted significant research to evaluate the delta in desktop publishing costs and overall project costs, comparing projects before the DITA switch to those after. While we initially only had five post-DITA projects to compare against 32 pre-DITA jobs, the drop in DTP costs was significant, with the post-DITA projects costing on average less than 50 percent of the cost before the switch. As expected when DTP costs are reduced, the overall project costs were also reduced; the overall reduction was, on average, 25 percent.
Encouraged by the results from the first five projects, Toshiba Europe is now rolling out more and more translation projects using the automated process developed by Rubric. Eventually, the division hopes to create a global user manual in conjunction with Toshiba China, a goal that, if met, will significantly reduce redundancies, costs and time to market.
Patrik has worked in the software development department of Toshiba Europe since the early days of laptop computers. He oversees the group responsible for product documentation and the software pre-install testing team on laptops shipping to the EMEA region. Patrik is passionate about improving efficiency, speeding up the process and reducing costs through smarter ways of working. He holds a masters degree in computer science from the Helsinki University of Technology.