Monday, February 9, 2009

Implementing XML in a Recession

With the economic hard times, a lot of proposed projects that would allow companies to leverage the real advantages of XML are being shelved until economic conditions improve.  Obviously, in my position, I would love to see more companies pushing to using XML throughout the enterprise. We’ve all heard of the advantages of XML: reuse, repurposing, distributed authoring, personalized content, and so on. These are underlying returns on investment for implementing an XML solution.  The old business axiom goes, “you have to spend money to make money.”  A corollary to that might suggest that getting the advantages of XML must mean spending lots of money.

However, here’s the reality: implementing an Enterprise-wide XML strategy doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, with numerous XML standards that are ready to use out of the box, like DITA and DocBook for publishing and XBRL for business, the cost of entry is reduced dramatically compared to a customized grammar. 

And while no standard is always a 100 percent perfect match for any organization’s business needs, at least one is likely to support at least 80 percent.  We often consult our clients to use a standard directly out of the box (or with very little customization) until they have a good “feel” of how well it works in their environment before digging into the real customization work.  Given that funding for XML projects is likely to be reduced, this is the perfect opportunity to begin integrating one of these standards into your environment, try it on for size while the economy is slow, and when the economy improves, then consider how to customize your XML content to fit your environment.

Any XML architecture must encompass the ability to create content and to deliver it, even one on a budget.  Here again, most XML authoring tools available on the market have built-in support for many of these standards, with little to no effort, you can use these authoring environments out of the box and get up to speed. 

On the delivery side, these same standards, and in many cases the authoring tools have prebuilt rendering implementations that can be tweaked to deliver high-quality content, with all of the benefits that XML offers.  In this case, you might want to spend a little more to hire an expert in XSLT.  But it doesn’t have to break the bank to make it look good.

The bottom line: A recessionary economy is a golden opportunity to introduce XML into the enterprise. In the short term, keep it simple, leverage other people’s work and industry best practices and leave your options open for when you can afford to do more.  Over time when funding returns, then you can consider adding more “bells and whistles” that will allow you to more closely align your XML strategy with your business process.

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