Five Takeaways from DITA Festa Japan 2015

Promotional Trade Show Robot ''Pepper''

[This blog post was originally published on the IXIASOFT website on December 10, 2015. It is reproduced here with permission].

Last week I had the honor of presenting the keynote at DITA Festa Tokyo 2015. Here are a few things I learned while I was there:

1. There is significant interest in DITA within Japan.

An event organizer told me that there were just over 200 registrants for DITA Festa, held in mid-town Tokyo, and judging from the rows and rows filled with people in the presentation hall, they all showed up. The event took place over one-and-a-half days, and was filled not only with writers but also translators, their managers, and at least a few executives. There were also representatives from a number of vendors supplying DITA-related tools, including IXIASOFT.

During the opening presentation at DITA Festa
During the opening presentation at DITA Festa

DITA Festa has been a growing event in Japan for several years now, hosted by DITA Consortium Japan. Previous keynote speakers included the likes of Dr. Sven Leukert, VP of Knowledge Management at SAP, who discussed how DITA has been implemented within SAP, as well as our very own, Eric Bergeron, IXIASOFT CEO, talking about DITA. The event is held twice a year, alternating between Tokyo and Kyoto.

With the exception of my own presentation, all of the sessions were in Japanese and from what I could tell alternated between discussions of a Japanese firm’s own implementation of DITA and XML-based systems, vendors talking about their products, and the basics of DITA for content creators and implementers.

2. DITA adoption within Japan is still in the early stages.

Tokushige Kobayashi, Director of the DITA Consortium Japan (DCJ) and owner of Antenna House, gave a presentation focused on how many companies in Japan are using DITA. While it was all in Japanese I could follow some of its points, and afterwards was kindly given an English translation of its contents. It was based on data collected from surveys given at previous DITA Festa conferences, along with member information from DCJ and other available sources.

I was particularly intrigued by the content of this presentation as my own research has only been able to track down about a dozen firms headquartered in Japan that are using DITA, and even then I suspected that it may only be their North American or European offices that are using it.

So according to DCJ, how many firms in Japan are using DITA? A grand total of 41, of whom 39 are actively using it and 2 are in the preliminary stages of converting over to DITA. The list includes a number of companies most people are likely to be familiar with, including:

  • NEC
  • Seiko Epson
  • Brother
  • Yamaha
  • Fujitsu Kyushu Systems

…and a few other branch offices and some specialized firms not as well-known outside of Japan:

  • IBM Japan
  • Yokogawa Electric Corporation
  • Sato Technology
  • Socionext
  • Coolia, Inc.

While all of this points to a solid number of early adopting firms within the country, what was interesting was that the majority of firms in Japan responding to the DCJ survey did not want their name made public. This list includes a number of electrical machinery firms, a steel manufacturer, some precision machinery manufacturers, one insurance company, and seven firms in the service sector.

DCJ Chairman Talking-About Percentage of Japanese DITA Using Firms Wishing to Stay Anonymous
DCJ Chairman Talking-About Percentage of Japanese DITA Using Firms Wishing to Stay Anonymous

At first I thought that maybe these firms saw DITA as a competitive advantage and didn’t want their business rivals knowing about it, but then I was told afterwards that for a few cases it was because the documentation team implementing DITA was trying to keep that knowledge from being known elsewhere within their own company.

Why? Because those innovating with DITA-based documentation were working at firms with entrenched documentation teams who they expected would not look upon such an initiative favourably, and were heavily invested in doing things “the old way”.

It will be interesting to see how this situation evolves over time, as this appears to be an additional hurdle for some Japanese firms to jump over when adopting DITA.

3. Japan is interested in how and why DITA is used in the rest of the world.

My keynote presentation focused on what I have discovered about industry adoption of DITA in North America and Europe. This was a unique experience for me as it was the first time I had a live-translator as part of my presentation. As I was speaking, she would jot down notes, then I’d pause allowing her to address the audience in Japanese. It was definitely a memorable experience for me as a presenter!

As I was introduced (“Keith-san”) the audience was asked by the Director as to how many people were aware of the DITAWriter.com website that I run, and I was pleased to see that roughly a quarter of the audience raised their hands.

Using information from over 570 companies and organizations that are using DITA, I talked about how and why DITA has grown, in which sectors it is most popular, and looked at the particular advantages DITA offers to given industry sectors. I also covered what to expect from DITA in the future, talking briefly about DITA 1.3, Lightweight DITA and DITA 2.0. I also took the opportunity to promote becoming a member of OASIS as a way to help shape the future of the DITA standard.

Keith (DITAWriter) During His Presentation at DITA Festa
Keith (DITAWriter) During His Presentation at DITA Festa

Given that there are DITA-using firms in Japan facing additional hurdles in their adoption of DITA, I am hopeful that the sort of information from my presentation can be used to help convince others within their respective firms that using DITA is a good idea.

4. Japan loves robots. And one day DITA may help them communicate with us.

This is well known, and should not be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about Japanese culture. One of the vendors brought along “Pepper”, a robot produced by SoftBank in Japan. It interacted with the people who came to the vendor’s booth, responded in Japanese or English (Eric Bergeron tried speaking to it in French and was met with a blank stare), and could do a surprisingly animated and fluid dance on command.

Promotional Trade Show Robot ''Pepper''
Promotional Trade Show Robot ”Pepper”

What does this have to do with DITA? Well one of the questions I was asked at the end of my talk was whether or not DITA might play a role within Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. My answer was that I believe DITA can play a role here, likely in better facilitating machine-to-human interactions. While I suspect that some form of transactional XML is more likely to be employed for communicating between individual devices or between the different parts of a smart assembly line, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the concise, modular nature of DITA somehow finds a place within machine-to-human communications. DITA metadata can also be employed to provide the context in which a topic should (or should not) be used.

It’s unlikely that robots like Pepper would ever speak using DITA topics, but where written, step-by-step instructions are required, DITA-based topics are hard to beat. Similarly, it makes sense for other machines that must interact with people to have access to modular chunks of information that can be assembled for a given situation – which is definitely possible with DITA. I’ll confess I’m far from being an expert in this area, but it seems a sensible approach and DITA ought to be a good tool for the job.

5. There is a whole Japanese-specific software sector devoted to documentation.

This was not a huge surprise, as I remember seeing a copy of Adobe® FrameMaker® years ago that had a UI using Japanese characters. But what was interesting was seeing the row of vendors at the back of the presentation hall whose software was all based in Japanese and was aimed directly at the local market.

IXIASOFT recognized the market opportunity, and the most-recent release of the IXIASOFT DITA CMS (v4.2) includes an interface that has been localized to Japanese. Nobutoshi Murata, IXIASOFT Regional Sales Director – Japan, gave a talk about the DITA CMS and its Japanese interface, and announced that the IXIASOFT website as of that very day was now available in Japanese.

Nobutoshi Murata Talking About the DITA CMS
Nobutoshi Murata Talking About the DITA CMS

Based on the questions we received at our booth after Nobu-san’s talk, it was clear that many people were interested in this development, and appreciative of the investment IXIASOFT is making in the Japanese market.

The next DITA Festa will be held in Kyoto in the Spring of 2016. Eliot Kimber, Principal Solutions Architect at Contrext Solutions and author of DITA for Practitioners Volume 1, is currently scheduled to be that edition’s keynote speaker.

I had a great time visiting Japan and with any luck will have an opportunity to return someday!

About

"DITAWriter" is Keith Schengili-Roberts. I work for IXIASOFT as a DITA Specialist/Information Architect. And I like to write about DITA and the technical writing community. To get ahold of me you can email me at: keith@ditawriter.com.

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One thought on “Five Takeaways from DITA Festa Japan 2015

  1. These events are so valuable , so much to learn . I am glad Japan is gaining interest in DITA .

    I eagerly want to have same kind of events in India too. I am among the very few developers who work in DITA–XML-XSL in India in a well known DITA training and consulting company. Developers over here alck in knowledge in DITA , XSL . We need to bring more developers in DITA to contribute their skill in DITA.

    This post in good.

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