Content management and layout – until a short while ago, these were two quite separate disciplines at Miele. With the XML revolution and the successive move of content to SCHEMA ST4, day-to-day work changed. The resulting performance improvement in content management made one thing very clear, however: The classic external DTP process had to change, too. Quickly the question arose whether ST4 could take over this process without loss and automate it. All this taking into account the high quality requirements of customer documentation.
Adrian Schröder, Content Management Team Lead in Technical Information Management at Miele, described the technical documentation team’s experiences of the transition phase at this year’s SCHEMA Conference. It wasn’t just about finding out whether ST4 can do layout at all, but about seeing how flexible and efficient this process is.
A big word, but definitely not entirely inappropriate. At Miele, layout, typesetting, and creating graphics is part of a technical writer’s daily work. With the large amount of content and formats, quite sophisticated requirements have grown over the years in regards to design tasks. Each technical writer will tweak the layout on a daily basis – correcting paragraphs, picture sizes, and title pages. That means a lot of manual work – a far cry from the abstract work environment of a content management system. And precisely this system is supposed to automate those tasks?
First Hurdle: Transferring the Layout
Miele delivers many different document types on a daily basis: from user guides to installation plans to modification and setup instructions. All of them are characterized by completely different content and format types.
As a first step, a method for integrating all existing layouts directly into ST4’s production process had to be found. The Page Layout Designer proved to be a performant solution for easily rebuilding legacy documents. Especially the WYSIWYG functionality was helpful, Adrian Schröder says.
How Efficient is Doing Layout in ST4?
Once created, Miele now profits with their PLD layouts in respect to design from all XML functionality. Thanks to inheritance features, layout-specific configurations can be transferred to various content with one click. The numbers that Adrian Schröder presents are quite impressive: Performance improvement in some of the processes, for example in the creation of packaging layouts, is around 70%.
Previous Problem Children Are Now No Longer an Issue
Looking more closely, increased efficiency is also evident in Miele’s display graphics. Once these have been created with the Callout Designer, the technical writer doesn’t need to touch them. ST4 retrieves the text content for all required languages with the help of variables tables from a database. If content is changed there, this is transferred to all newly created callout graphics.
Tables are also of great important to the technical writers’ work at Miele. For the entire product catalog, the most diverse table variants and table content exists, and needs to be constantly adaptable. And even in a worst-case scenario, it still needs to fit. The XML markup, with which the tables can be designed very individually in the editor, helps. In addition, table variants are selected directly via the project tree.
The translation workflow was redesigned as well: With one click of the mouse, ST4 configures display languages that deviate from the source language, so that specific content can be generated in the language of the device’s own display. If desired, automatic column breaks depending on the chosen language can be generated.
Everybody knows that not everything in the production process can be automated. Small change requests and flaws can always occur. Automatically set content always contains the risk of layout mistakes, especially when you produce in different languages. A one-liner in English quickly turns into two lines in German. One or the other technical writer – who will remain unnamed – will continue to encounter so-called widows and orphans.
In all these cases, it must be possible to react quickly, and not, as Schröder emphasizes, via the content, please. At Miele this was often the only pragmatic, if unpopular solution. The call became louder for a possibility to adapt relative values in the content without touching the content itself,. And it was heard: since the last ST4 update, the team works with Layout Recall on a daily basis. Now the changes are actually made where they should be made, with the advantage that the content isn’t tinkered with, but only the document-specific layout. And anything that is changed, can be saved, and is reused for the next production.
Additional Practical Usefulness
Additional potential lies buried in ST4 layouts. Miele uses them e.g. to optimize subsequent processes. In the layout, node IDs are extracted, and untranslated content is highlighted, saving time, effort, and helping the translator.
Was the Move Worth It?
Adrian Schröder offers a very positive summary: Yes, performance improved by a mile. And yes, the daily work processes had to be changed. So the time and energy gained now flow more and more into actual text creation and quality assurance measures.
In regards to secure documentation and an increasing number of device variants, this is undoubtedly a very positive and profitable trend.
After many years working as consultant, product manager, and, finally, development lead for Enterprise Content Management, Adrian Schröder moved in 2009 as Head of Technical Documentation to Miele. He is responsible for coordinating the creation processes of the technical product documentation. Since 2016, he manages the content management systems in the Technical Information Management department.