Since the mid-1990s, Extensible Markup Language (XML) has been used for a variety of computing applications, including finance, health care and application integration. XML-aware applications have also been used in professional publishing for more than 10 years, writes Rita Knox, research vice-president at analyst firm Gartner.
Given XML's derivation from Standard Generalised Markup Language (SGML), publishing applications seemed to be its most obvious use. Although many XML-based publishing products were released, there was little interest or adoption beyond for-profit publishing.
That picture is changing as enterprises expand their understanding and use of component-based publishing processes.
Collaboration between technical architects and business unit managers will yield the greatest results because computing resources and content production activities are aligned with a common focus, from planning to use.
Component-based publishing is an approach to creating and delivering content that is based on managing granules of content rather than complete assemblies, such as documents. Component-based publishing is used for internally-facing documentation, such as policies and procedures, as well as publicly delivered information, such as product documentation or insurance policies, which are often longer and more complex than office documents. The component focus also enables much greater flexibility to mix and match information for different audiences and modes of communication.
For example, it is common these days to "build" and price a car online. Although the body-type descriptions are unique, different models have the same choice of engines (such as V6 or V8) and colours. The common content (such as colour descriptions) is maintained and reused to create a final description of the custom-built car, whether it is accessible online or printed on demand. In essence, users are "publishing" their own cars.
If users can publish their own cars, they may now expect that they should also be able to publish books or other content aggregations, which are presumably more flexible structures than a motor vehicle.
Component-based publishing consists of functions that cover the content production lifecycle. These functions depend on XML to define content components, as well as the model for how that content is to be aggregated.
XML in the office
Standard office applications can support XML-aware processing. The International Organisation for Standardisation's approval of the Open Document Format for Office Applications, as well as Ecma International's approval of Office Open XML make XML document formats a safe investment.
Companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Sun use the standards for their office productivity applications. Enterprises, and particularly government organisations, are becoming insistent that documents be defined with XML and, in some cases, making the format standards required schema.
The availability of XML document format standards and product growth, the integration of XML with productivity tools, publicity, as well as enterprise and client requirements all drive a greater awareness of XML publishing options and simplify its adoption.
Enterprise content management: using XML for best practice
● Ensure longevity: industry regulators and businesses want a non-proprietary content representation that can be processed for the life of the document, which may have no retirement date.
● Ensure content consistency (for documents, communications, press releases etc), regardless of location or language. Document models can indicate which content parts may vary (for example, because of jurisdictions having different legal requirements), and minimise unnecessary variations and their attendant costs. These can also be used to manage contracted services, such as translation.
● Maximise the reuse of content and reduce the duplication of effort. Common models and granular information components support document processes that can be created once and used many times.
● Protect your brand by having a pool of established content components and output formats that all enterprises use to publish content, such as legal disclaimers, product summaries and the company logo.
● Ensure security. Enterprises may wish to show different segments of documents to different users. In some cases, a subsection may be pre-defined as off-limits to a class or group of workers.
● Ensure information governance. Obtaining control of content at the time of creation allows users to embed review dates, retention information and deletion information. These control the timing of content lifecycle events. By using workflow, users can set flags that will enable content to flow through a business process, to be archived and to be deleted as defined by records management policies.
● Drive process automation. Rich XML meta data, which exposes more information about the content, can help automate the movement of that content through workflows. Allowing the meta data to be acted on by rule-based workflow tools can take human labour out of a process.