How to optimise high intensity publishing cycles

Publishing Car Manuals

Optimize high-intensity publishing cycles

Every year, about 70 million cars are manufactured and sold. Every year, every manufacturer produces a series of brands, each brand has variations, each variation must comply with the regulations of a country, and the manuals for these cars need to be translated to roughly 30 local languages. Furthermore, brands may introduce changes and redesigns mid-year or custom-build some vehicles. So, a publisher is obliged to produce a car manual for every iteration, leaving them in a continuous publishing cycle.

What did this production cycle look like?

The publisher built a page layout in English with a series of InDesign files for one model of the car. When the version was changed, the production team had to identify the pages where alterations were made and ensure that the layout was maintained. Then, this file went to at least 30 translation partners who would send content back, and the publisher needed to ensure that all these variations fell within the layout. Therefore, publishers spent a considerable amount of time relaying pages to meet their quick turnaround times.

Why did XML come into the picture?

The publisher recognized that they were finding it difficult to keep up with all their time-bound obligations to the market and looked for solutions. After some research, they discovered a potential solution—XML. To learn more about XML, they attended a DITA conference where they connected with experts who helped them realize the scope of the solution.

What was the transition to XML like?

The publisher’s client, the car manufacturer, could not stop production while the publisher transitioned to this new technology. Therefore, the publisher had to manage this transition while simultaneously delivering the product.

During the transition, in addition to their daily tasks, the production staff learned how to navigate through XML technologies and transform their workflow to suit the solution. In a few months, the production team reduced their turnaround time from a few days to a few hours. Before adopting this solution, each revision would entail formatting and layout tasks that could take up to 2 weeks for one manual. Now, with XML, the team was able to complete and share the revised version in just 1-2 days after receiving feedback. 

In every transition, there are some inevitable trade-offs. When using InDesign earlier, the information architect would immediately make tweaks to the layout based on the revisions. In an XML-driven solution, the same tweak was achieved with a 95% similarity to the InDesign solution. At first, the publisher was apprehensive of the 5% gap in similarity. However, the value of the time gained in this process outweighed the need for the InDesign quality finish. Instead of spending a few days formatting a 100-page manual, it could now be achieved in a matter of hours.

The success of this publisher’s efforts can be attributed to various players. It was the publisher who initiated research to solve the problem. The DITA conference served as a place where a community of practitioners could meet and develop ideas. The support of the production staff enabled a successful transition. XML is just a lucrative tool waiting to be tapped by a collaborative group of stakeholders willing to embrace change.

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