“The True Costs of DITA Adoption”

As I continue to research options for moving my organization toward a single source platform, I find myself running into the same types of hidden costs that Ruth Haworth describes in her post, The True Costs of DITA Adoption. There doesn’t seem to be an out-of-the-box solution for producing structured, reusable tech comms. The industry “favorite”, DITA, is complex and difficult to use. And I have seen no clear way to get a handle on up-front or continuing costs. As Ruth says,

There are many articles that advise doc managers about how to calculate return on investment for potential DITA adoption. Most of these articles seem to be written by consultants who make money by helping companies set up DITA systems: they have a vested interest in making DITA look beneficial. Also, they tend to help out during the initial migration and might not be around when some of the costs kick in: they simply might not be aware. Finally, they might deal mostly with large companies where large expenditures do not seem excessive. For whatever reasons, the literature seems to be underestimating the true cost of moving to DITA.

I’ve seen the quote in multiple places that, “DITA is free but not cheap.” For all the press DITA gets as an ideal solution for tech comms groups, I haven’t heard of any implementation that was straightforward, relatively pain free, or cost effective. For those organizations that do claim a return on investment, I wonder if they include all cost factors, or if it is more as Ruth says,

There are some organizations, such as ones that have to cope with hundreds of versions of a hardware product, that have a clear ROI for DITA. But many (most?) organizations could find that DITA doesn’t so much save money as redistribute money. Where before you spent the lion’s share of your doc budget on salaries for writers, now writer salaries will be a much smaller proportion of your budget. In many cases, companies could find themselves facing higher costs than pre-adoption: they will never see return on their investment. And given the complexities of using DITA, ongoing hassles and escalating costs, some companies are going to find themselves having to ditch DITA and go through an expensive migration to another system.