Taken in 2011, the picture of Hillary Clinton tapping at her BlackBerry became iconic and produced the Texts of Hillary meme and a thousand Tumblr posts. Since that time, Research in Motion ― the maker of the BlackBerry phone ― has faced as many challenges, triumphs and disappointments as Clinton herself.
Research in Motion’s emergence into BlackBerry Limited saw the elimination of the production of hardware, and a pivot to software. With new products to build, sell and document, each department encountered new challenges in the transformation.
BlackBerry’s Technical Writing Department
Marco Cacciacarro, Technical Writer at BlackBerry, came to Toronto from Waterloo to run us through his departments’ workflows during this transformation. Presenting at the Adobe Technical Communication Roadshow, Marco explained how their previous Content Management System (CMS) relied heavily on a recently laid-off IT workforce. Marco and his co-workers needed to change to a system that gave them more control but with an ease of use that non-IT users could navigate and troubleshoot.
Without their IT department, the Technical Writing team set out to find a CMS that offered the features they saw as essential to fulfilling their mandates and gelled with their process. The features needed included:
- Versioning and Branching
- Localization Support
- Multi-format Output
- Easy Navigation
- Image Management for Branding
- Option for Customizations
Given we were at an Adobe Roadshow, naturally BlackBerry went with the Adobe product: Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). So, what exactly is AEM, and what capabilities does it possess that make it a good choice for a Technical Writing team?
AEM is an enterprise-level CMS which allows for control of output to the web or mobile, whether it is technical writing or marketing. An important feature of AEM for the technical writer is that it allows them to author, manage, and deliver DITA content alongside marketing content. DITA content can be made by anyone, including those without XML programming knowledge.
DITA? XML? AEM? CMS? IKR?
DITA : Darwin Information Typing Architecture
XML: eXtensible Markup Language
AEM and CMS, discussed above.
IKR: I Know, Right?
Thinking back over the day, I realized I still didn’t have a solid grasp of what XML and DITA are, and why it would be such an important feature for the BlackBerry Technical Writing team and AEM.
XML is a markup language that encodes documents to allow them to be human-readable and machine-readable. Here is an example of what that looks like:
When creating documents in AEM it is not necessary to write in XML (of course, you can, if you like to work that way). A document can easily be made in WYSIWYG mode and still be machine-readable.
DITA has been a slightly harder concept to fully grasp. It was developed at IBM and they eventually donated the framework as open source. At its core, DITA allows content to be reused and repurposed, which is especially helpful in the formation of user guides, help, and manuals.
As its name suggests, DITA is an architectural framework. It allows the user to arrange information into topics. The topic types are “Task, Concept, Reference, Glossary Entry, and Troubleshooting. Each of these five topic types is a specialization of a generic Topic type, which contains a title element, a prolog element for metadata, and a body element. The body element contains paragraph, table, and list elements, similar to HTML.”
Adobe provides a video on XML and DITA authoring within Adobe FrameMaker that gives a good visualization of its capabilities and how it works:
Thinking back to BlackBerry’s needs for their new CMS, DITA improves their efforts in localization, allows various outputs, is easy to use, includes branding elements, and customization. All of which make Adobe Experience Manager a good choice for the technical writing team, and more broadly, the company.
Photo Credit: Diana Walker for Time.