I’ve been working on some collaborative authoring scenarios for our Agile teams – we’re going from 5 people to 47 people in total who could author external or internal documentation within our two week sprints. Turns out, we likely represent some trends in the enterprise – Forrester just released a report about benchmarking your collaboration strategy. A quote from the abstract does describe our need to broaden our collaboration to more and more people.
A companywide collaboration strategy was once a nice-to-have. No more. Even in the current economic climate, 37% of organizations surveyed in Forrester’s Q4 2008 enterprise and SMB software survey consider implementing a collaboration strategy important in 2009. Two broad trends are driving this: 1) There’s a critical need to drive information worker efficiency and to manage the unstructured content artifacts they produce; and 2) while the value of improved collaboration is clear, the path to success has become more complex.
Also, I’m finding that we have broader considerations than just the technical publications department for serving up the best content for customers. While researching some solutions, I discovered that most enterprise-level solutions would require a jump from four-figure annual costs (less than 10,000 USD) to five-figure annual costs (greater than 10,000 USD). Or, to go from four-figure costs to four-figure costs while still meeting the author requirements may require an open software solution.
I’m blogging about it because it seemed like an interesting phenomenon. I don’t usually like to write about tools, because I don’t want to seem like I’m endorsing a vendor. And I’m not endorsing any vendors, especially with the new FTC guidelines. But I thought by sharing this on the Internet, I might get some clarity on whether there is a true trend in the field of technical communication towards collaborative authoring environments, and perhaps discover what are the collective forces that are pushing us towards collaborative authoring.
First, some requirements for the system we need.
- Must get a known version of the docs that were delivered with a particular software release
- Must output printed books – PDF is fine, previously we used Word .doc files delivered in electronic format however
- Must enable draft content to be available internally for review every week (even though we are on two-week sprints, three of six teams are on alternating sprints so once-a-week publishing, really once a day or on demand publishing would be required)
- Many other items like syndicated content, comments, ratings, web analytics, but these are not “must haves”
- Must fit into budget constraints (this amount is four figures currently)
- Must meet the existing server and client system requirements (Windows-based, with a SQL Server installation available)
- Must be supportable by three tiers: author community of practice, then the members of Agile teams, and then the corporate IT team
- Must enable two authors per Agile team minimally (12-14), ideally allowing all 47 members of production teams to create content
- Must enable concurrent use by authors in two different versions of the product
Possible collaborative authoring solutions
This list is not comprehensive, and I’m sure people would like to jump in with suggestions – feel free to do so. Remember that I’m in the “less than 50 users” category, and that the goal is company-generated user assistance articles, not community-generated articles. Authoring happens behind the firewall, but the content should be freely available once “published.”
Author-it Live: $30,000 (although their website is currently saying there are pricing discounts which make it about $15,000)
Sharepoint 2007 server: $40,000
Author-it to Sharepoint plugin: $25,000
Alfresco (compare to Sharepoint): $20,000 (blog entries hint at the cost)
Confluence: $2200 for 100 users or $800 for 25 users, annual cost (migration could be free depending on what tool you use to migrate content)
MediaWiki: free (migration would require WebWorks ePublisher)
WebWorks ePublisher: Server version $2000/year
Drupal: free (migration could be free depending on the method)
Migration is completely possible, when given the time to do it. We have over 4,000 HTML files on our helpsite currently. Interestingly, DITA could play into the migration scheme because it offers a universal “translation” like a Rosetta Stone, giving content some fluidity.
This is an open source project that takes DITA output and transforms
it to Confluence Wiki, and it could be automated with builds. Download
it from http://sourceforge.net/projects/dita2wiki/.
2. WebWorks ePublisher
This is a proprietary software tool that has an annual cost, available at WebWorks.com. I have a free version that I am using and it works, with lots of customization work in the designer we could get nice output, but at a cost. The Express version is $300 a year, but it would not give us the customizations on output that we would need. The Pro version is $800/year, giving us design, but not ongoing builds with the tool. The Server version is $2000/year which gives you designer plus a command line interface that could automatically build wiki output every time the product is built. WebWorks outputs to MediaWiki, Confluence, and MoinMoin. I have only tested output to Confluence, which works great.
3. Confluence DocImporter
This tool, Doc Import, is built into the Confluence wiki itself and offers a manual web-form-based import of Word documents. The pilot work I did worked really well. After we worked on a sidebar table of contents, however, no additional Word docs can be imported due to some setting where it won’t override existing pages. I would do more work on this method because the results are at first glance even better than those from WebWorks ePublisher. But, this method does not offer automation (unless we find an API that automates using DocImporter).
4. Drupal’s HTML Import
This method is as-yet untried for our content, but the idea is that we could take our existing HTML output, which is pretty well-structured, and use the Drupal Import HTML module on the entire site, a section at a time. I think this method would work, although it is more than a bit labor intensive for over 4,000 HTML files and all the links and images involved.
Topic-oriented, web content
There are two other options that come to mind when mentioning collaborative authoring. They are Acrobat.com at $390/year and Google Docs, with no price. But those options do not offer a topic-oriented content management system that you could use to output web content – instead you get bundles of PDFs or Word documents. I’m not sure either of those are viable for our requirements. But maybe I need to be thinking outside of the box?
What are some of your favorite collaborative authoring tools, and why?