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Tag: SGML

Upcoming Workshop: Managing Smart Content: How to Deploy XML Technologies across Your Organization

As part of next week’s Gilbane Boston Conference, the XML practice will be delivering a pre-conference workshop, “Managing Smart Content: How to Deploy XML Technologies across Your Organization.” The instructors will be Geoff Bock, Dale Waldt, Bill Trippe, Barry Schaeffer and Neal Hannon–a group of experts that represents decades of technical and management experience on XML initiatives.

A tip of the virtual hat to Senior Analyst Geoff Bock for organizing this.

Smart content holds great promise. First with SGML and now with XML, we are marking up content with both formatting and semantic tags, and adding intelligence to electronic information. Using richly tagged XML documents that exploit predefined taxonomies, we are developing innovative applications for single source publishing, pharmaceutical labeling, and financial reporting. By managing content snippets in a granular yet coherent fashion, these applications are revolutionizing our capabilities to meet business needs and customers’ expectations.

What’s working and why? What are the lessons learned from these innovative applications? Does the rapid growth of web-based collaborative environments, together with the wide array of smart content editors, provide the keys to developing other business solutions? There are many promising approaches to tagging content while doing work. Yet we still face an uphill battle to smarten up our content and develop useful applications.

In this workshop, we the five members of the Gilbane practice on XML technologies will share our experiences and provide you with practical strategies for the future. We will address a range of topics, including:

  • The business drivers for smart content
  • Some innovative content management techniques that make authors and editors more productive
  • The migration paths from ‘conventional’ documents to smart content
  • How to apply industry-specific taxonomies to tag content for meaning
  • The prospects for mash-ups to integrate content from disparate application communities

We will discuss both the rapidly developing technologies available for creating, capturing, organizing, storing, and distributing smart content, as well as the organizational environment required to manage content as business processes. We will identify some of the IT challenges associated with managing information as smart content rather than as structured data, and map strategies to address them. We invite you to join the conversation about how best to exploit the power of XML as the foundation for managing smart content across your organization.

Will XML Help this President?

I’m watching the inauguration activity today all day (not getting much work done) and getting caught up in the optimism and history of it all. And what does this have to do with XML you ask? It’s a stretch, but I am giddy from the festivities, so bare with me please. I think there is a big role for XML and structured technologies in this paradigm shift, albeit XML will be quietly doing it’s thing in the background as always.

In 1986, when SGML, XML‘s precursor, was being developed, I worked for the IRS in Washington. I was green, right out of college. My Boss, Bill Davis, said I should look into this SGML stuff. I did. I was hooked. It made sense. We could streamline the text applications we were developing. I helped write the first DTD in the executive branch (the first real government one was the ATOS DTD from the US Air Force, but that was developed slightly before the SGML standard was confirmed, so we always felt we were pretty close to creating the actual first official DTD in the federal government). Back then we were sending tax publications and instructions to services like CompuServe and BRS, each with their own data formats. We decided to try to adopt structured text technology and single source publishing to make data available in SGML to multiple distribution channels. And this was before the Web.  That specific system has surely been replaced, but it saved time and enabled us to improve our service to taxpayers. We thought the approach was right for many govenrment applications  and should be repeated by other agencies.

So, back to my original point. XML has replaced SGML and is now being used for many government systems including electronic submission of SEC filings, FDA applications, and for the management of many government records. XML has been mentioned as a key technology in the overhaul that is needed in the way the government operates. Obama also plans to create a cabinet level position of CTO, part of the mission of which will be to promote inter-agency cooperation through interchange of content and data between applications formatted in a common taxonomy. He also intends to preserve the open nature of the internet and its content, facilitate publishing important government information and activities on the Web in open formats, and to enhance the national information system infrastructure. Important records are being considered for standardization, such as health and medical records, as well as many other ways we interact with the government. More info on this administration’s technology plan can be found at . Sounds like a job, at least in part, for XML!

I think it is great and essential that our leaders understand the importance of smartly structured data. There is already a lot of XML expertise through the various government offices, as well as a strong spirit of corporation on which we can build. Anyone who has participated in industry schema application development, or other common vocabulary design efforts, knows how hard it is to create a “one-size-fits-all” data model. I was fortunate enough to participate briefly in the development and implementation of SPL, the Standard Product Label (see http://www.fda.gov/oc/datacouncil/spl.html) schema for FDA drug labels which are submitted to the FDA for approval before the drug product can be sold. This is a very well defined document type that has been in use for years. It still took many months and masterful consensus building to finalize this one schema. And it is just one small piece in the much larger information architecture.  It was a lot of effort from many people within and outside the government.  But now it is in place, working and being used.

So, I am bullish on XML in the government these days. It is a mature, well understood, powerful technology with wide adoption, there are many established civilian and defense  examples across the government. I think there is a very big role for XML and related technology in the aggressive, sweeping change promised by this administration. Even so, these things take time. </>

Webinar: Structured Content for Innovation: Organize Today to Exploit Tomorrow’s Promises

Thursday, October 23, 2:00 pm ET
Third in a series of webinars on developing a strategic roadmap for structured content
Featured speakers from the first two webinars on the ROI Blueprint discuss how structured content can bring real innovation to business applications throughout the enterprise.
Participants are:

  • Geoff Bock, Gilbane Group
  • Eric Severson, Flatirons Solutions
  • Bruce Sharpe, JustSystems
  • Dale Waldt, aXtive Minds

Registration is open. Recordings of previous webinars are available if you want to get up to speed on the larger discussion of enterprise value of structured content. Moderated by Gilbane Group.

Sponsored by JustSystems.

Open Document Formats, Religion & Democracy

Two of the topics in the title are things we normally don’t touch in this blog. However, the tempest over Massachusetts’s OpenDocumentFormat decision is inflaming passions almost as much as religious and political issues do. In fact, I am writing about it because I woke up irritated at how ill-informed and irrelevant so much of the discussion about the state’s decision is. (Not a good way to start a blog entry!) I promised myself not to go on for more than the length of a reasonable blog-entry, so rather than dig into all the weeds, here is a short history lesson to bring out the big picture, and hopefully keep the debate focused on the real issue for Massachusetts’s and others contemplating similar decisions.

When we (in the standards community) debated open document standards 20 years ago, there was a religious and political fervor fueling the arguments of both sides. Our side (the SGML side, which included Tim Bray and Jean Paoli, now the chief XML people at Sun and Microsoft respectively), argued that nobody’s content should be held hostage by being stuck in a vendor’s proprietary format, and that the solution was a standard set of rules for describing whatever kind format was necessary that vendors were free to implement. The other side (the ODA “Office Document Architecture” side) agreed with that, however they thought the solution was for a bunch of vendors to get together and agree on a format that, instead of being proprietary to a single vendor, was proprietary to a self-defined group of vendors. This solution was even worse than the status quo for lots of reasons (lowest common denominator functionality, enhancements by slow international committee, unhealthy cabal-like motivations, …). At the time I thought of ODA as the soviet approach, and the SGML approach as the democratic approach. Fortunately, the SGML approach won, and that set in motion the developments that have given us XML today.

You can tell where I am going with this. But there is one more relevant aspect of this history to mention. One of the main arguments behind ODA was that the SGML approach was just too difficult to implement. They had a point, you have to pay for the freedom of flexibility. Their mistake was thinking there was an alternative that could anticipate all reasonable requirements. It can cost even more when you just can’t implement what you need to.

The situation today is a little different, but the need for organizations to be able to do whatever they want with their own content is exactly the same. The imposition of any single schema/format on all documents in any organization simply won’t work. Anybody who has been involved in helping organizations build IT applications knows that exceptions are the rule, and you can’t legislate them out of existence even in authoritarian corporate environments. A good decision for the state would be to simply require all documents to conform to one of a number of publicly documented and freely available XML Schemas – who cares what software did or did not create the content or did or did not design the schema? Certainly there are some complex details to work out, but there is no mystery.

We have had debates on this topic at our Boston conference last year and in San Francisco in the Spring, where there was more agreement than disagreement between Microsoft (Jean) and Sun (Tim) and the issues raised were refreshingly free from politics. It’s too bad we didn’t record it.

There is plenty of coverage on this topic. We have more comments and pointers, but also see Jon Udell and David Berlind.

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