Friday, September 26, 2014

Similar needs, different results

I recently had the pleasure of concluding two consulting assignments. Though both clients have a lot in common, the outcome was quite different. Why?

Situation and solutions

Both clients are publishers that serve national and international markets. Both offer multilingual products to professional users in PDF and XML-derived formats (such as HTML or ePub). Both need to update their publishing processes to keep up with changing stakeholder demands and are faces with outdated publishing infrastructures.

Image by Sean MacEntee from Flickr

But at one client we advised an Alfresco based solution, whereas the other client we advised a MarkLogic based solution. Being so similar, why two different outcomes?

XML as design choice

Needing editing by countless authors and editors worldwide, client A implicitly chose to set an open and well maintainable storage format as a standard. Generally, (X)HTML will not suffice for publishers, failing at standardisation of contents and the quality of the printed products. So XML it is.

Some excellent Commercial-off-the-Shelf XML products are available (including SDLs Live Content and Alfresco based Componize), but the of-the-shelf part usually means complying with their internal standards: DITA. Although DITA is a great XML format, it is not suitable in all cases, as it was in this case.

Wanting more specialised workflows and interfaces, we concluded that a custom XML based CMS combined with an online XML editor would fit this client’s needs best, with MarkLogic being the best platform to implement this. Binary content (like PDF) will be supported in the system through a layer of XML Metadata.

XML as an option

Client B’s content is mainly created in separate and formalised processes, with lots of content being available only in PDF. Editing being out of this equation, re-use and workflow were of much greater importance.

This client also sees the opportunities for XML and more dynamic publishing, but the hurdles are substantially bigger, and the rewards in editing would not be felt. Rather than going all-in on XML, client B will transform selected publications to XML.

For this client the out-of-the-box functionalities like workflow and flexible content storage tips the scale to an Enterprise Content Management System. Alfresco being the ECMS of choice, this strategic platform will provide the room to manage content and changing customer needs that will characterize enterprise IT for years to come.


It is often said that the devil is in the details. But these details often drive big design choices. Decisive product-ownership provides the roadmap for such strategic choices.

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