Typefi enabled The Institutes to increase its publishing output by 1900%* over five years and to offer customised content on demand, all with the same staffing resources.
* Not a typo!
The Institutes is a leading provider of foundational and continuing education and professional development for over 100,000 members in the risk management and property casualty insurance industries.
The Institutes’ knowledge solutions include more than 25 professional designation programs, including the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) designation program, and a range of introductory and foundation programs, online courses, executive and management education, industry research, assessment tools, career and networking opportunities, and continuing education (CE) courses.
The Institutes is affiliated with the CPCU Society, a community of credentialled insurance professionals who promote excellence through technical expertise and ethical behaviour, and The Griffith Insurance Education Foundation, a not-for-profit educational organisation that promotes the study and teaching of risk management and insurance.
Based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, a small production team handles The Institutes’ educational content, which is delivered in print and online.
The challenge: A whole-book approach becomes increasingly restrictive
Prior to 2007, The Institutes’ publications were produced as stand-alone products. The content was developed uniquely for a particular product, and written from start to finish as a textbook and course materials. After months of development, the content was then copied and pasted into Adobe InDesign for manual typesetting, taking a week on average to produce the final book.
In particular, the approach did not work for customising content for a particular course or organisation. Delivering a custom publication assembled from two existing publications meant either packaging the two books together as they were, or printing selections from each in a new book (but the pages, and sometimes the content, didn’t match up).
In 2007, The Institutes team decided they needed a new system that enabled them to be responsive, flexible and timely in their content delivery; however, they also understood that this would require a commitment to making significant changes in how they developed, managed and produced their content.
The solution: Modular Learning Objects stored in a CMS and assembled into educational solutions with Typefi
From 2008, The Institutes decided to develop educational content in modular units called Learning Objects which would be stored in EMC Documentum, an XML-based content management system (CMS), and assembled on demand into new products.
Typefi was the perfect solution to automate publishing, as its flexible API allowed for seamless integration with any XML-based CMS. (In basic terms, an API—or application programming interface—is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing web-based software.) The speed of the production automation process and the high quality of the output were also key factors.
“It was important that any new system be able to deliver print textbooks of the same professional design and quality our customers were used to,” said Paul Illian, Senior Designer at The Institutes. “Typefi is the only automated XML software that handles complex layouts to a professional standard.”
The first year of implementation involved much testing and trialling of both systems and workflows. The production team had to learn new technologies while authors had to adapt to a completely new way of thinking about and structuring content.
Over the next five years, however, the volume of The Institutes’ publishing output increased dramatically—from four new products a year to over 80 by 2013—with no change in staff resources.
The development of original content still takes a few months. Each Learning Object comprises content files which form the basis of textbooks, assessment files which become course guides, key points which become review notes, and glossary terms used for key words in the textbooks and also for flash cards.
Initial authoring takes place in Microsoft Word. Content is then converted to XML—applying structured templates—and stored in the CMS. Graphic designers focus on digital asset building, creating the figures and charts that illustrate the content and inserting the links and metadata to the digital assets within the CMS.
Once the content and digital assets are ready, the designers create a product map using the DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) XML schema. The product map—an outline of the Learning Objects included in the final product and the relationships between them—is then run through Typefi, which applies InDesign templates to the XML and automatically lays out the textbooks, course guides, review notes and flash cards.
The layout process takes one hour, on average, and proofs are sent to the editors for a quick review. Any last-minute changes needed are made in the CMS and, an hour later, the final version is ready to publish.
Speed and flexibility leads to a dramatic increase in output and customised content on demand
For customers who were already familiar with The Institutes’ publications prior to 2009, the transition to the new system was seamless and invisible, with visual consistency maintained across all publications.
The biggest impacts have occurred behind the scenes, with a dramatic increase in output and the ability to produce purpose-built content for customers on demand. After receiving a request for a new product from a customer, The Institutes can now produce that product within a day utilising Learning Objects which have already been developed.
“The speed with which we can assemble printed materials from our XML content is light years ahead of where we were,” Paul Illian said.
“Typefi has been a very positive experience. It has created a lot of flexibility for us, and enabled us to become much more adept at responding to customer needs in a timely manner.”
Standing the test of time
At the 2019 Typefi User Conference, Jim Cain, Solution Architect at Jacquette Consulting, offered an in-depth look at how his client The Institutes successfully integrated the DITA XML content model with Typefi, and the significant gains they have realised over the past decade.
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