Needing to know what has changed
The NFPA is a major standards body in the USA and has a catalogue of around 300 fire and electrical safety codes and standards. In print form they are typically hundreds or even thousands of pages long.
When a standard or code is updated, typically every three to five years, many of their customers – including officials, professionals and training and certification bodies – need to know exactly what has changed. The NFPA publishes detailed documents, ‘Redlines’, which compare the current and previous editions of a specific standard or code. In the past they were prepared manually, taking many hours of painstaking work, so it was only practical to create them for their top fifty publications and only in traditional form, not as interactive HTML products.
Approaches taken, nothing worked
Working closely with clients’ Research and Development Departments, technical authors from Semcon are responsible for the preparation and delivery of service instructions, installation manuals, and owners’ manuals.
Tight deadlines for new product introductions create a constant flow of review sessions with global customers in the company’s offices every day of the year. With no latitude for error, transformation of original technical specifications into comprehensive, accurate manuals is critical. The ability to consistently identify updates and mirror changes in existing information carries added significance.
As technical documentation becomes more complex, using DITA or similar XML structured documents becomes essential.
The problem of transforming this technical information into user-friendly manuals also becomes much harder. Multiple updates and iterations are needed and these must be carefully controlled and reviewed.
Build or buy
With their substantial expertise in publishing technology, Wrycan evaluated existing differencing products against the cost of developing the capability in-house.
They recognised the NFPA wanted flexibility, rather than adapting their working to suit the product; they needed fine control of the differencing for different situations; and there were numerous complex scenarios that it needed to handle.
Senior technical specialists at Wrycan carried out detailed evaluations of the available technologies and concluded the best results and lowest project risk would be achieved by integrating XML Compare from DeltaXML.
XML Compare adds needed functionality
Wrycan delivered a project which combined their Content Base product with XML Compare. This allows the NFPA to manage all of their content in a single repository, adding automated comparisons in a product-agnostic form. Comparisons are made on the source content and saved in the same place. This allows NFPA staff to generate different products using the exact same difference data, including printed documents and HTML editions.
For HTML products, the system automatically applies styling to each change, in a way that is familiar to users of the printed publications. It also includes the capability to provide more comprehensive change indicators, including toggling the view of all deletions, additions and other changes.