In the last few weeks I’ve discussed the benefits and costs of customization. This week I will review deciding whether to customize or not. If you missed these posts, you can read them here:
So how can you weigh the benefits against the costs of customizing? If we examine the criteria outlined above, a general pattern emerges, which provides the key insight in making this decision:
Benefits mainly go to end users, and costs mainly go to developers and administrators.
Installations with large user bases, where the value of customizations can be maximized, are good candidates for customization. Also, organizations that have dedicated staff for maintaining the Arbortext system will have an easier time managing customized installations than organizations where maintenance and development is a part-time task for staff with other responsibilities.
In organizations that have a small number of users, it will be difficult to realize enough value in customizations to make it worth the expense of implementing them. In these instances, it makes sense to stick with a mostly out-of-the-box installation using a standard doctype like DITA or DocBook, possibly with some stylesheet adjustments to get the desired output appearance.
Consider standard features first.
With all software, you can get the most value from your investment if you maximize the use of its standard features. If you are new to the software or perhaps not leveraging everything the software offers, you should explore the best practices and benefits first to determine if customization is truly needed. With Arbortext, PTC recommends an implementation approach called “Value-ready Deployment” which leverages the value of Arbortext using standard features and recommended best practices to maximize the value to each customer before any customizations are made.
Also consider prepackaged add-ons.
EAC offers several prepackaged add-ons which add capabilities to the Arbortext platform at a lower cost than a customization. One of our add-ons is EAC QuickPubs.
QuickPubs allows users to create aesthetically pleasing Operator Guides, Service Manuals, and Parts Catalogs quickly while providing an easy way to style documents that fit your brand. If you decide to investigate customizing Arbortext for your environment, EAC can help you explore your options with a variety of prepackaged add-ons, training, and implementation services.
Transform the way you design and publish product information through QuickPubs, an EAC product for PTC Arbortext. For more information about QuickPubs, you can download the brochure here. Publish faster, cheaper, and better today!
In my last post, ‘The Benefits of Customization,’ I told you I would review the cost of customization in my next post. If you missed it, you can find it here:
Of course, the benefits of customization don’t come without some associated costs. Here are some examples of the cost of customizing PTC Arbortext:
The most obvious cost is the cost of initially developing and testing the customization code. This will vary based on how extensive the customizations are. Also, don’t forget to keep maintenance costs in mind. Bug fixing, adding new features, and adapting customizations to changing requirements all require additional investment.
When you develop customizations, you generally work with a specific version of Arbortext. Depending on how extensive the customizations are, there is a chance that some part of the customization will break when you upgrade your Arbortext software to a new release version. In that case, you have two choices: either spend the resources to update the customization for the new Arbortext version, or commit to remaining with an out-of-date version of Arbortext to keep your customizations running.
Proprietary User Skills
With customization, you will need to take user training into account. For new features that don’t come out-of-the-box, you will have to develop your own training and support materials, and make sure your end users are up to speed on how to use the new features. In addition to the direct costs, this can also make recruiting new staff more challenging. There is a lot of DITA expertise in the marketplace, which you can leverage if you are using standard DITA. But if you are using a custom doctype and customized Arbortext Editor interface, you may not be able to get the same advantage from potential employees’ previous experience with XML editing or with Arbortext.
Technical Support Complications
PTC’s tech support staff know the base products quite well, and can help troubleshoot problems with out-of-the-box installations pretty quickly. However, with a heavily customized environment, troubleshooting can be more challenging, for PTC tech support as well as for yourself. In some cases, it may take extra time to determine whether a problem is due to a bug in the base Arbortext software, or something wrong with your customization code, or some kind of interaction between the two. In some cases, PTC’s advice for resolving the problem may boil down to “remove the customization.”
EAC has created a tool to help eliminate some of these costs allowing you to publish faster, cheaper, and better. QuickPubs is an EAC product for PTC Arbortext that removes the cost of development and provides a user-friendly interface.
While Arbortext comes with some publishing capabilities right out of the box, most users will acknowledge that they often need to customize the document stylesheets to meet their publishing standards. Customizing the stylesheets isn’t difficult, but it often requires prior training or hiring someone with the appropriate skilled and experience, both of which have an impact to turnaround time and cost. EAC has packaged attractive stylesheets for Operator Guides, Service Manuals, and Part Catalogs into QuickPubs so you can publish manuals that look as good as your products from day one. Should you need to modify the document stylesheet, QuickPubs also offers an easy interface to customize the style layout and formatting with a few clicks.
Stay tuned for the next post where I will discuss things to consider when deciding to customize or not.
If you would like to learn more about EAC QuickPubs and how you can publish faster, cheaper, and better, download the brochure here!
This is part one of a three part series regarding PTC Arbortext, deciding whether to customize or not. In this series, we will discuss the benefits of customization, the costs of customization, and deciding whether to customize or not.
You’ll often hear of DITA in the technical documentation world. DITA stands for ‘Darwin Information Typing Architecture’ -it’s an XML-based open standard for structuring, developing, managing, and publishing content. Quite the mouthful huh? What you need to know about DITA is that it leverages XML to be used as a way of writing and storing your data so you can manage it like an asset. What does it have to do with PTC’s Arbortext? PTC was the first company to ever deliver a complete DITA solution – one where organizations can finally start to maximize their investment in service lifecycle management.
One of the most fundamental questions you have to face when considering an Arbortext implementation is whether to use the technical documentation software out of the box or develop customizations to adapt the software to your specific use cases and work processes.
In practice, this is not so much of an either/or decision, as a how-much decision. In other words, nearly every implementation has some amount of customization, even if it’s just tweaking a composition stylesheet to add your own appearance specifications to the composed output. For some applications, where one of the standard doctypes such as DITA or DocBook is adequate, that’s all you need. For other applications, you may want to add custom features, user interface elements such as toolbars and custom dialogs, a tailored doctype or schema to support specific data requirements, connections to other enterprise systems such as ERP systems, and so on.
Adapting Arbortext software to your specific business environment can provide a number of advantages. Here are some examples where customization can add value to your implementation:
Custom features and user interface controls allow the author to work more efficiently.
Example: if authors frequently need to change one type of element into another similar element, then adding a toolbar button and/or keyboard shortcut to trigger the operation can let authors do it with a single click or key press, as opposed to using the Change Markup dialog.
Custom integration with software can streamline processes in the workflow.
Example: Suppose you have part data stored in an ERP system, and you are writing support documents associated with the part data. In a stock Arbortext installation, you might need to export the part data as an Excel spreadsheet, and then copy portions of the exported data in Excel to paste into the XML document in Arbortext. In contrast, a customization could allow authors to click a toolbar button, make a few quick selections in a dialog box, and automatically extract, format, and insert the part data in the correct location in the document.
Customizations allow you to add new features to Arbortext Editor.
Example: Suppose you have a metric that you want to track on your documents that depends on the number of specific elements in each document, such as graphic elements. You can easily add a feature that would count instances of a specific element and report that for a document. You could also generate a report for a set of documents found in a directory tree or a folder in a content management system (CMS). This would let authors get this information directly within Arbortext Editor, without having to switch to an external tool to do the analysis/reporting.
This publishing engine software can be customized in a number of ways, and frequently we see users customizing their stylesheets to make them look better or compliant with their publishing standards. Arbortext stylesheets are used to publish documents that have consistent styling and formatting, no matter who authored the document. Sometimes these stylesheet customizations can be significant and complex, but often we see a need to make simple modifications to the fonts, logos, and page margins. EAC QuickPubs provides users an easy way to make those simple style modifications and create great looking documents.
Stay tuned for the next post where we discuss the cost of customization.
If you’re looking for ways to adapt your environment to fit your organizations needs, EAC QuickPubs may be for you. It’s an add-on designed to style documents that fit your organizations brand at a lower cost than a customization to PTC Arbortext. You can create aesthetically pleasing part manuals, owner’s guides, service manuals and more with ease. Publish fast, cheaper, and better today!
Transform the way you design and publish product information through QuickPubs, an EAC product for PTC Arbortext. For more information about QuickPubs contact us. Publish faster, cheaper, and better today!