Adobe Day Presentations: Part V – Mark Lewis and DITA Metrics

After Val Swisher spoke about being global ready in today’s tech comm market, the final speaker of the morning, Mark Lewis, took the stage to speak about DITA Metrics.

Mark literally wrote the book about how DITA metrics are done, titled, DITA Metrics 101. Mark explained that ROI (return on investment) and business value are being talked about a lot right now in the business and tech comm worlds, so it’s worth having a basic understanding of how DITA metrics work.

Now, I have to admit, I know NOTHING about how any tech comm metrics are done, let alone how DITA metrics are done, so I listened and interpreted the information as best as I could. (Mark, if you are reading this, please feel free to correct any information below in the comments!)

Mark began by explaining that content strategy applies to the entire ENTERPRISE of a business, not just the technical publications. There are lots of ways to measure tracking through various means, including XML. Traditional metrics involved measing the cost of page, and the type of topic would be gauged by guideline hours. For example, a document outlining step by step procedures would equal four to five hours per write up of this type of procedure. Traditional metrics looked at the cost of the project through the measure of an author or a team’s output of pages, publications per month. It doesn’t measure the quality of the documents, but it concerned more with quantity instead of quality.

Mark referenced several studies which he based the information in his book, especially a paper done by the Center for Information-Development Management, titled, “Developing Metrics to Justify Resources,” that helped to explain how XML-based metrics are more comprehensive. (Thanks, Scott Abel, for retweeting the link to the study!)

XML-based metrics, Mark pointed out, uses just enough DITA information, concerning itself instead with task, concept and reference within documentation. XML-based metrics can now track the cost of a DITA task topic, showing the relationship between occurrences, cost per element, and total number of hours. The cost of a DITA task topic is lower because referenced topics can be reused, up to 50%!  For comparision, Mark said that you can look at the measurement of an author by measuring the number of pages versus the amount of reusable content of a referenced component. The shift is now in the percentage of reused content rather than how many pages are being used. Good reuse of content saves money, and ROI goes up as a result!

Mark introduced another metric-based measurement, namely through the perceived value of documents as a percentage of the price of a product or R&D (research and development), as well as looking at the number of page views per visit.  Marked warned the audience to be careful of “metrics in isolation” as it can be an opportunity loss, a marketing window. He clarified that page hits are hard to determine, because hit statistics could either mean the reader found what they wanted, or didn’t want that information. We have no way of knowing for sure. If technical communicators are not reusing content, this can make projects actually last longer, hence producing more cost.

Mark emphasized that through metrics, we can see that reuse of content equals saving money and time. Productivity measures include looking at future needs, comparing to industry standards, how it affects costs, etc. He suggested looking at the Content Development Life Cycle of a project, and how using metrics can help to determine how reuse or new topics cost in this process. By doing this, the value of technical communications become much more clear and proves its value to a company or client.

I have to admit, as I said before, I don’t know or understand a lot about the analytical part of technical communication, but what Mark talked about made sense to me. I always thought that measuring the value of an author based on page output rather than the quality of the writing didn’t make sense. Part of that is because as a newer technical communicator, I might take a little longer to provide the same quality output as someone who is more experienced, but that doesn’t mean that the quality is any less. So measuring pages per hour didn’t make sense. However, if consistency in reusing content is measured instead throughout all documentation, then the quality, in a sense, is being analyzed and it can be measured on how often information is referred or used outside that particular use. Using DITA makes a lot of sense in that respect.

More information about DITA metrics can be found on Mark’s website, DITA Metrics 101.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of all the Adobe Day presenters. They all contributed a lot of food for thought, and provided great information about how we as technical communicators should start framing our thought processes to product better quality content and provide value for the work that we do. I gained so much knowledge just in those few hours, and I’m glad that I could share it with you here on TechCommGeekMom.

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