Automating Toshiba user documentation

PC users and the way those users interact with user documentation have changed dramatically since the PC revolution in the early 1990s. The most obvious change is in the users themselves. People in every corner of the world speaking every conceivable language use PCs and laptops now. Meeting their needs with user documentation is a major challenge for computer manufacturers. Language, regulatory and cultural issues need to be considered for every piece of documentation produced.

The other major change is in the users’ perception and use of documentation. Not only do they expect information in their native tongue, they also want the ability to access that information quickly. Many users do not even use documentation any longer and, in fact, turn to search engines or social networks to get the information they seek.

More users around the world speaking more languages and dealing with different regulatory restraints, coupled with the need of those users to get highly accessible information quickly, has put pressure on manufacturers to streamline the development of user documentation. A few years ago, the localization department of Toshiba Europe, a division of this worldwide laptop manufacturer, took on this problem and began to explore how the company could produce user documentation for its laptops more efficiently. In collaboration with its globalization and localization partner Rubric, Toshiba Europe created an automated authoring and production process using structured Adobe FrameMaker 9.0 and XML/DITA to streamline the development. The results analyzed by Toshiba were impressive, convincing management to apply the process to more products.

Toshiba Europe is constantly experimenting with new production methods, but had produced user documentation in the same fashion for a couple of years. Documents would be localized for all the languages for which Toshiba Europe was responsible. Technical authors would use FrameMaker 7.0 to handle the authoring of the documents. But FrameMaker 7.0 caused issues because it did not support some languages, notably Arabic and Hebrew, two important languages for Toshiba users. The entire user documentation process would experience a bottleneck with Arabic and Hebrew, requiring documentation to be reformatted and translated in Microsoft Word. Rubric was convinced that switching to a structured environment would speed up and streamline the translation process, saving time and money for Toshiba Europe. But proving to management that the switch would be advantageous was not easy.  

First, Rubric developed a prototype of the process using XML/DITA to show management that it was doable. Then, working with the Toshiba Europe localization team, the company conducted a pilot to show how DITA could streamline the process, and also showed how automating desktop publishing would create efficiencies. 

Importantly, in the prototype, Rubric focused on upgrading from FrameMaker 7.0 to FrameMaker 9.0. FrameMaker 9.0 offered good support for XML/DITA, and is also a very versatile and adaptable tool. But the main reason for the shift to 9.0 was to continue using a tool that Toshiba’s technical authors were already familiar with. Familiarity was absolutely key to the success of the new process, and Toshiba already had licenses with Adobe. Because the learning curve for working with XML/DITA is fairly steep, it was important that the tool to create the XML/DITA content was familiar, which made the shift to 9.0 easy and simple. 

With the smooth transition from FrameMaker 7.0 to 9.0, the management team was pleased with the new process. The pilot was successful. In fact, the turnaround time for Arabic and Hebrew was decreased tenfold. The overall XML/DITA exercise also prompted Toshiba to do a comprehensive review of their documentation and eliminate content that was deemed no longer necessary. This in itself led to less content and lower translation costs.   


How it works

After the successful pilot, Toshiba Europe expanded its XML/DITA content process across more projects. Specifically for Arabic and Hebrew, the changes were dramatic. The before picture required the following process: using FrameMaker 7.0 for content, then cutting/pasting into Microsoft Word to translate and edit, then publishing in Word. Now, the process is completely automated. FrameMaker 9.0 is used for content and editing. Translated documents are automatically converted into PDF using a publishing engine from Antenna House that offers strong support of Arabic and Hebrew.  

The change had the most impact on content authors, who were able to concentrate on writing more. Translators were presented with the translations in the same WorldServer environment that they already knew. Moving to a structured environment generally leads to better documentation because authors can focus on the content rather than on content and form. The other major impact was on desktop publishing, which was no longer required in the process. By reducing desktop publishing, the team was able to greatly reduce one of the major costs and bottlenecks.   

Toshiba Europe uses FrameMaker 9.0 to interface with Antenna House’s formatting process. The advantages are multiple. In fact, Antenna House can publish books in a fully automated fashion, removing the need for manual intervention. Using Antenna House allows Toshiba to publish PDF files on demand. It takes less than ten minutes to produce online and print ready versions of the manuals in 24 languages. Global content that is not applicable to Europe can be deleted, and European-specific content can be added completely automatically. 

The advantages of using XML/DITA for content authoring are also numerous. In addition to allowing for structured content and automating the DTP process, XML/DITA gave Toshiba more options for output. Previously, the only output options were a PDF for print or a PDF for online. With XML/DITA, many other publishing channels are being explored. It is an open interchange standard, which means Toshiba is not locked into a particular set of tools. In the future, other XML/DITA compliant tools may be deployed. 


The results of the shift to structured XML/DITA are quite positive, allowing the division to expand the program significantly. Toshiba conducted significant research to evaluate the delta in desktop publishing costs and overall project costs, comparing projects before the DITA switch to those after. While we initially only had five post-DITA projects to compare against 32 pre-DITA jobs, the drop in desktop publishing costs was significant, with the post-DITA projects costing on average less than 50% of the cost before the switch. As expected when desktop publishing costs are reduced, the overall project costs were also reduced; the overall reduction was, on average, 25%. In fact, the removal of desktop publishing shaved off 24 hours from the production process. The ability to produce fully automated PDF generated manuals enables the translators to see their translations in context whenever they require. 

Encouraged by the results from the first five projects, Toshiba Europe is now rolling out more translation projects using the automated process developed by Rubric. While the original plan was to roll out XML/DITA to all manuals within a 12-month period, the changeover was actually achieved in less than six months, and Toshiba Europe is now producing all manuals using XML/DITA. Significantly, Toshiba China is also now using the same process for its manuals.