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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I know the answer, but I can’t say...

Well, I can’t say it on a public mailing list using my real name, anyway. But it’s too funny not to share.

The following conversation took place on a mailing list I subscribe to. The text in red is from a documentation manager who works for a competitor; text in blue is someone who is trying to be helpful.

Anyone with experience converting from AuthorIT to FrameMaker 7.2?

Did you have any significant problems? What sort of prep work did you do before converting?

Why are you interested in converting from AuthorIT to FrameMaker? I ask because I have just been working in a place where AuthorIT is being considered as a replacement for FrameMaker - is AuthorIT not delivering the goods?

My company uses FrameMaker and may go to XmetaL eventually. We acquired a company that outsourced the doc to a turn-key vendor that does not even store files on our corporate server, let alone use our standard templates, our file management system, and so on. This creates all sorts of problems, including putting our intellectual property at risk, severely limiting our control of resourcing projects, and so on.

At this point, I should mention that I have a pretty good idea of which company it is that got acquired: one I used to work for about ten years ago, in fact — although the outsourcing bit must have happened recently. And so the thread continues:

Thanks! That sort of outsourcing takes a lot of courage, or faith in your supplier, or stupidity!

You can probably guess what my vote would be. I was happy for the employees of this particular ex-corporation to see them get acquired; that’s a place in dire need of a culture enema. In fact, once the enema has been administered, I would consider working for them again.

I thought about jumping in on a thread on one of the other mailing lists that the competitor posted to, where my email address isn’t tied to the company I work for, but I don’t have anything to say that they probably aren’t aware of already — there isn’t a trivially easy migration path. You have to do what engineers call a “double-pump,” convert to an intermediate format that both programs understand, then convert that to your target format. If they are using structured FrameMaker, they could create AuthorIT templates to export XML in a format that their FrameMaker setup could use directly. Otherwise, they should export to Word format, using the same style names as their FrameMaker templates, and expect some cleanup work.

A question that will be harder to answer, but the manager is going to have to ask soon, is “Do we clear the decks of any ongoing work and do this conversion all at once, or convert each document as it’s needed?” There are advantages and trade-offs either way. Doing it all at once means you might miss some deadlines (which tend to slip on their own anyway), and you may end up converting documents that you won’t need later on, but you also don’t need to keep a rather expensive AuthorIT database around. Doing it piecemeal is probably easier, but you have to keep the old rig around (unless you just export everything to the intermediate format and do the second conversion later) and the goal line is hard to see (how do you know when you’re done?).

Such are the decisions a manager has to make. I suppose if I were the one making the decision, I would export everything to the intermediate format, and archive anything not being actively maintained. Then I could decommission the AuthorIT rig and “insource” some writers to import the active projects and get to work.

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