How to optimise high intensity publishing cycles

How to optimise high intensity publishing cycles

A case study with a car manual publisher
Every year about 70 million car manuals are manufactured and sold. Every year, every manufacturer produces a series of brands, each brand has variations that year, each variation must comply with the regulations of a country and in this case needs to be translated to 30 local languages. To further this issue brands tend to introduce changes and redesigns mid year or some vehicles are custom built. So a publisher is obliged to produce a car manual for every iteration. This leaves the publisher in a continuous publishing cycle.

What does this production cycle look like?

The publisher built a page layout in English with a series of inDesign files for one version of the car. When the version is changed, the production team must identify the pages where altercations are made and ensure that the content falls within the layout. Then this goes to at least 30 translation partners who send content back, and the publishers need to ensure that all these variations fall within the layout. Therefore, publishers spent a considerable weight of their time relaying pages to make their quick turnaround times.

Why did XML come into the picture?

The publisher recognised that they were finding it difficult to keep up with all their obligations to the market and looked for solutions. After some research, they thought XML might be a solution. To learn more about XML, they went to a DITA conference where they connected with experts who helped them realise the scope of the solution.

What was the transition to XML like?

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

During the transition, in addition to their daily tasks, the production staff learnt how to navigate through XML technologies and transform their workflow to suit the solution. In a few months, the production team were able to reduce their turn around time from a few days to a few hours.

In every transition there are some tradeoffs. One of the key persons during this transition was the information architect. It was their responsibility to look at all publications and tweak layouts in certain versions according to customer needs. When using inDesign earlier on, the information architect would immediately make the tweaks on the document. In an XML driven solution, the same tweak was achieved with a 95% similarity to the inDesign solution.

At first, the publisher was reluctant to work without 100% similarity, however, the value of the time gained in this process outweighed the need for the inDesign quality finish. Instead of spending days formatting a 100 page manual, it can 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 the tool waiting to be tapped.