(This article was originally published in CIDM Information Management News for March 2012. It is an update to a previous article by the same name on this site).
It all started innocently enough with a simple question asked in a LinkedIn forum.
I was looking for more information on companies that were using DITA for their documentation processes. I knew there had been a listing on the OASIS site, but that had subsequently evaporated. So I started compiling a spreadsheet based on other information I could find scattered throughout the OASIS site and then went to the LinkedIn DITA Awareness Forum and asked people whether they could tell me about the firms they knew that were using DITA. That’s when the floodgates opened, and my simple list of a few dozen companies suddenly grew to over a hundred.
At the time of writing this article, there are now over 250 companies and organization listed on my DITAWriter.com industry blog on the “Companies Using DITA” page. To my knowledge it is the first publicly available survey on DITA usage, and we now know that not only is DITA being used in just about every major industry sector you can think of, it is also used worldwide.
Please note that this information is informally researched: one person claiming that they use DITA at their company should not be thought of as meaning that the whole of that company is using it in all of its divisions. Many of the firms that have been added to the list outside of the LinkedIn references came from either DITA conference abstracts, press releases and success stories from DITA CMS manufacturers, or from public job listings where “must know DITA XML” was a requirement. My original intention was to simply identify firms that publicly claim to use DITA in some way, and while the results cannot be considered comprehensive, the story that emerges is of growing use of the specification among a wide variety of industries.
The Software Sector
It should come as no surprise that the Software sector dominates this survey, comprising 30% of the firms listed. Given that many of the early adopters of DITA were primarily from this sector, and that there are well-documented cost and efficiency benefits for publishing online help using DITA (especially when localization is added to the mix), it makes sense that software developers are the single largest group of firms represented in the listing.
“Software” is a pretty broad category though, and it encompasses a wide range of firms. The list includes firms that directly create editing tools for technical writers (including Adobe, Codex, DITA Exchange, Quark, JustSystems and SyncRO Soft) plus firms that develop content management systems (such as Alfresco, Astoria, Componize, Ixiasoft, Jorsek and Really Strategies). One would hope these firms would document their software using DITA, in what’s known in the software industry as “eating your own dog food”, but a wide range of other industry segments are also represented in the software sector. Here’s a small sample:
• Avaloq – banking software
• Algorithmics – financial software
• Apple – consumer electronic software
• Bazaarvoice – Software as a Service (SaaS) aimed at Social Media
• DS SolidWorks — 3D modeling and visualization software
• Esko – Pre-press software
• ESRI – Geographic Information Systems
• InfoTrust – Engineering Services
• Informatica – Tools for managing data warehouses
• LogMeIn – SaaS for remote control, file sharing and systems management
• Lumension – IT Security software
• MathWorks – Mathematical computing software
• Oracle – Database management systems
• Platform Computing – Cloud computing
• VMWare – Virtual Machine software
• Yokogawa Electric – Electronic testing software
These firms are a small selection from the over 90 firms in the full list that are recognized as software developers. It is about as diverse a base of software companies as you could hope for, showing that there are few places where DITA has not made significant inroads.
The “Other” Sector
While software firms represent the single largest sector, after that the “Other” category dominates, which reflects the genuinely widespread nature of DITA usage. It is comprised of a motley collection of industries and organizations that each fell below 1% of the total, but collectively make up 29% of the whole.
There are a many industry sectors represented here, including:
• Commercial Refrigeration
• Computer Hardware
• Computer Imaging
• Consumer Electronics
• Crane Manufacturer (Heavy Equipment)
• Data Warehousing
• Diversified Machinery
• Exercise Equipment Manufacturer
• Fluid Technology and Equipment
• Machine Tooling
• Mining, Mining Machinery
• Plumbing Fixtures
• Sensor Manufacturer
• Water Treatment
• Wind Turbines
There is clearly a wide range of organizations using DITA. This is good to see, since it implies that DITA is flexible enough to meet the documentation requirements of all of these sectors. This is arguably the most significant finding out of this survey, a point which is further emphasized in some of the other sectors that emerge just above the “Other” threshold.
Technical Documentation Solutions and Education/Training Sectors
The next most significant industry sectors are firms offering Technical Documentation Solutions and those offering Education and Training programs.
Not surprisingly, DITA has a strong foothold in the Technical Documentation Solutions sector (i.e., third-party firms that provide outsourced documentation services), as they react to the needs of their clients who demand more efficient/competitive pricing on documentation services. Given the efficiencies associated with DITA XML, it is good to see that these firms are finding DITA to be a competitive tool in their arsenal.
After that comes a number of companies and educational institutions that are actively using DITA. From what I am led to understand, they are using it primarily to create their course material. Given the work that OASIS has done with the Learning and Training Content Specialization, the need to adapt DITA to the particular needs of this sector runs deep. This list includes several universities, private tutoring firms, and several companies that use DITA to train about DITA. The wide range of institutions using DITA in this fashion testifies to the adaptability of the XML standard.
Health Care Technology and Semiconductor Sectors
A sizable number of firms that are using DITA are in the Health Care Technology sector. These are firms that produce information technology that is produced specifically for the health care sector. For example, AllScripts provides electronic health record technology, Elekta produces radiation therapy equipment, and Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics create in vitro diagnostics products. These firms along with more than a dozen others all use DITA XML in their documentation. I find this interesting and significant since this sector is heavily regulated. The success of DITA in this sector means that despite any uphill struggle there may have been in adoption, DITA can clearly stand up to rigorous regulatory scrutiny.
After Health Care Technology comes a significant number of Semiconductor firms. This includes many companies that are well-known (such as Intel, AMD, and Texas Instruments) and several which are not as well-known but are still significant (Freescale, Micron, and NXP Semiconductors to name a few). This is an industry sector where economies of scale rule, so the total number of semiconductor manufacturers is relatively small. To have so many companies represented in the list of firms using DITA XML almost certainly means that a majority of semiconductor firms are using DITA. This conclusion is backed up by other evidence, such as the Semiconductor specialization for DITA that is currently being worked on. DITA is becoming the norm rather than the exception for documentation processes in the semiconductor industry.
There is significant penetration of DITA in other technology sectors, such as Telecommunications (Nokia, Research in Motion), Computing Hardware (Cray, Dell, Epson, Xerox), Networking Equipment (Cisco, Juniper Networks, Sandvine), Data Storage (EMC, Hitatchi Data Solutions, Pillar Data Systems) and Consumer Electronics (Apple, Samsung, TomTom). Given the multi-national nature of most of these companies, I think it is a safe bet that the Return on Investment (ROI) argument for localizing their documentation more efficiently has been a key reason for their adoption of DITA in their documentation processes.
One of the things that surprised me out of this survey was the uptake that DITA has in some unexpected sectors, in particular the Petroleum sector (Chevron, Schlumberger) and some Non-Profit Organizations (FamilySearch, HealthWise). The needs of petroleum-related firms are many, and DITA may be used in any number of possible applications, including internal software or documenting how to operate heavy equipment, so it is hard to pin the specifics of this sector down. If the needs of the Mining and Energy sectors are similar to that of Petroleum in their use of DITA, we may be seeing the beginning of a significant new area of expansion for DITA adoption. It is also interesting to see several non-profit organizations that find DITA flexible enough to meet their own varied needs. Most telling to me is the World Agroforestry Centre‘s adoption of DITA, which is well-documented (see: http://voa3r.confolio.org/scam/5/resource/17 for their paper on classifying agricultural subjects using DITA XML).
While there are undoubtedly many other firms which could be added to this list, the emerging trends that appear are interesting. DITA is clearly here to stay, and its uptake in such a wide range of industry sectors demonstrates that it is flexible enough to meet just about any documentation requirement that is out there.
Until recently I have heard from some of my peers that DITA uptake is “slow” or “small”. I hope this list will go some way towards dispelling this myth. Clearly, DITA has been widely adopted and is likely the dominant documentation standard in some industry sectors.
I am not the only one who has expressed surprise in seeing the number of companies represented in this list. I am hoping that this list (and the DITAWriter.com site in general) will help foster a sense of community among the many technical writers out there who are using DITA XML. There is a lot we can learn from each other. With any luck, the list will also aid a few managers out there trying to convince upper management that there is a benefit to adopting DITA for their documentation strategy, if only because their competitors in their sector are already using it.