How Much Does DITA Cost?

When talking about the cost of DITA implementation, I hear quite frequently: “What are you talking about? What costs? DITA is free!”

This is right. But this is only a part of the truth.

As a standard that you can download from the Internet, DITA costs nothing. But a standard alone is useless.

You can think of it as notes in music. You don’t have to pay anyone to put them together and compose music, but at the very least you still need: (1) to get a concept of what you want to compose; (2) to be trained; (3) to get a musical instrument. All this requires efforts and may even involve direct investments (for example, to buy a piano or pay for music classes).

The same with DITA. You don’t have to pay for using DITA elements, but you still need: (1) to come up with a concept of how you want to reuse and customize content; (2) convert your legacy content to DITA; (3) to get training; (4) to get authoring, publishing, and management tools. In other words, you need to implement DITA to make it useful.

A DITA implementation process typically includes:

1. Building information design. The major question that you have to answer is how you organize reusable information. For example:

* Should it be kept in one topic and conditionalized?
* Is it better to split it into individual topics?
* Is there a need for reusing a piece of content from one topic in another topic?
* What DITA attributes should you use to handle content variations?
* If the structure of your content doesn’t fit DITA requirements, should you rewrite the content or specialize DITA?

2. Converting legacy content. Apart from the technical part of the conversion, you need to understand:

* What legacy content actually needs to be converted?
* Does it require restructuring or rewriting?
* How should you convert content variations?

3. Designing output stylesheets or templates

4. Training

5. Choosing tools for authoring, publishing, and management

So costs are involved here. And the cost of tools, such as a DITA content management system, is one of the factors you should consider very seriously. That is why it’s so important to have a proper methodology for selecting tools.

I’ll talk about such a methodology in my next post. Stay tuned!

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