Standardising Standards 8: Implementing and leveraging an XML workflow at ISO
In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) embarked on a long-term project to streamline and modernise publishing production processes, and improve speed to market.
At the core of the project was the implementation of an XML/eXtyles/Typefi workflow and the development of the ISOSTS DTD, which ultimately formed the foundation for NISO STS—the XML ‘standard for standards’.
In this presentation, ISO Editorial Group Manager Brian Stanton and Senior Developer Serge Juillerat share the story of ISO’s XML publishing journey, including challenges that the team faced along the way, and the benefits that ISO has realised since ‘taking the plunge’ into XML production.
SERGE JUILLERAT: Hello, and welcome to implementing and leveraging an XML workflow.
I took this photo to express the fact that our journey wasn’t completed in one day, like this natural rocky circus in Switzerland which is called the Creux de Van.
My name Serge Juillerat and I am Senior Developer for ISO Central Secretariat. I’ve been with the company since 2008 and I’m really happy to introduce you to my journey on the ISO publication chain.
We also have Brian Stanton.
BRIAN STANTON: My name is Brian Stanton, and I am Editorial Group Manager for ISO Central Secretariat. I’m responsible for a team of English and French language technical editors who assist in the development of international standards following the XML workflow.
ISO is an independent non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 162 national standards bodies.
Through its members, it brings together experts to share knowledge, and develop voluntary consensus-based marked-relevant international standards that support innovation and that provide solutions to global challenges.
As of January 2017, ISO has published over 21,000 international standards and standards-type documents, comprising nearly one million pages. Each year, experts representing over 160 standards bodies take part in more than 1500 technical meetings all around the world.
144 ISO staff coordinate the worldwide activities of ISO from its offices in Geneva.
In 2010, or goal was to improve our production processes and to bring them in line with modern publishing practices. Before 2010, our publishing workflow consisted simply of producing a PDF from a Microsoft Word document.
ISO’s main goals were to improve speed to market, and to streamline ISO production processes.
SERGE: In 2010, we started our journey by implementing Typefi Writer and Typefi Designer. This resolved one bottleneck, typesetting, as Typefi Writer was directly used by editors. This change led to the disbanding of our composition department.
We knew that this setup was temporary, that we needed to decide which flavour of XML we would choose, and would it be XML-first or XML-last?
In the end, we chose XML-middle. All the pieces came together. We chose eXtyles for the purposes of editing and producing XML, Typefi for our publishing platform, and the central piece, the NLM DTD, as a base to create the ISOSTS DTD.
This choice made sense as all the tools were very familiar to the NLM DTD.
Before setting up this production environment, the back-catalogue conversion of over 30,000 standards was the acid test.
The ISO collection contained documents going back to the late 1960s—a mix of Microsoft Word and scanned PDFs. The project was planned over two years with a high level of accuracy.
A few milestones for 2010 and 2011. After implementing Typefi Writer in 2010, we started 2011 with the selection of the XML schema. eXtyles was presented to the ISO editors in the course of the year. And ISOSTS version 0.6 arrived at the end of 2011.
We focused on three main areas, content, structure, and layout.
Our content was defined by technical committees using Microsoft Word.
For structure, eXtyles. Working with eXtyles was easy, as it is integrated into Microsoft Word’s ribbon. eXtyles provides powerful editorial tools, and can be customised if you need to add your own processes.
One of our colleagues coined the term ‘machine-generated XML’, which makes a lot of sense, as every export to XML from a particular Microsoft Word document will give you the same XML outputs.
For typesetting, Typefi. We use Typefi to generate the products that we make available to our standards users.
A single source allows you to produce multiple outputs. It is user-friendly, generally requires no post-production work, and reinforces our publication chain with brand-compliant publications.
BRIAN: We are creatures of habit, and change is tough. The move to XML publishing is a major task, and it is important to be vigilant, and to be ready to provide support and help to those directly impacted in the change.
Microsoft Word skills are key to mastering complex documents.
In September 2012, we started a pilot to handle surplus production with three additional editors in Manila. The collaboration worked well, so we expanded the team to five, then 11, and finally 14 editors. At one point they were handling the majority of the File Draft International Standards.
A few milestones for 2012. In May there was the release of the ISOSTS version 1.0 DTD, and at the same time we made available the Online Browsing Platform. We then started the back-catalogue mass conversion. eXtyles and Typefi were deployed in production in the summer.
2013 was largely devoted to completing the back-catalogue conversion. We started with batches of simple documents and then ramped up to more complex documents. As the project went on, we were also able to gain more confidence in the technology.
Outsourcing is a sensitive topic. It is complex to set up, and depends on the IT environment you are able to put in place. Our goal was to focus on flexibility and business continuity.
We also started thinking about accessibility in our PDF documents. As stated in the WHO Disability Report, 10% of the world’s population experience some form of disability.
The technology has enabled us to consistently produce PDF documents with accessibility features.
A few milestones for 2013. We started working on larger and more complex documents such as those produced by ISO/IEC JTC 1.
We kicked off the redline project, which compares two editions of a standard, and at the end of the year we deployed eXtyles SI to automate the submission of documents to ISO.
SERGE: 2014 was dedicated to experimentation. We chose DeltaXML to compare the XML files and to create redline versions of our standards in PDF and HTML on the Online Browsing Platform.
We also experimented with different layouts, and eye-catching covers in colour standards. As an extra help for the users of ISO standards, we created handbooks for high profile standards in A5 format.
The implementation of eXtyles SI was in response to a request from ISO members to have XML available at Draft International Standard stage. Using eXtyles SI allows us to save resources and time at this stage, although there is still some manual processing to do afterwards, as our documents come in many different flavours.
A few milestones for 2014. In April we completed the back-catalogue conversion. In June, ISO was contacted by Robert Wheeler from ASME to kick off the NISO STS project. And the end of the year was devoted to the Typefi 7 upgrade.
BRIAN: Even though some vendors claimed 100% quality and 100% automation, we knew this was just not realistic.
When we read through the contracts, one thing caught our attention. It was stipulated that the quality check had to be done at the vendor’s end and nothing was mentioned about any internal quality check. We were even told it’s digital to digital, what can go wrong? No need to check!
Don’t believe that. In response to this, we added internal quality control, and shared many best practices with the vendor. Not only was the full budget spent, but also a 20% contingency reserve.
Compared with what we estimated in our contract, we processed four times as many tables, 12 times as many equations, and almost twice as many images. The rule of thumb is, don’t underestimate the complexity of your content.
Because of perceived drop in quality of ISO deliverables since the start of XML processing, the ISO Technical Management Board (the TMB) set up a task force to gather feedback in April 2015.
The majority of issues identified were related to Microsoft Word files, and not the other products. However, the number of ISO corrigenda remained unchanged.
A few milestones for 2015, which was a particularly busy year. At the beginning of the year we started using eXtyles SI on Draft International Standards for automatic styling in documents.
In the course of the year, we implemented an enhanced table model to add flexibility to our workflow. And in October, we started the NISO STS project.
After five years of constantly moving forward, in 2016 we decided it was time to stop, and look back at what we had achieved.
In 2016 we focused on consolidation, and enhanced our production tools with new features like enhanced table processing, and automating the generation of EPUB.
We spent a lot of time with our end users to understand their frustration with the technology, to identify any potential issues, and to see how we could best resolve them.
A few milestones for 2016. The NISO STS project was our ongoing project for the year. In August we opted for Citrix as our main production environment, and the end of the year was spent on the Typefi 8 migration project.
SERGE: In the course of 2017, we set the stage for our future IT environment. The Typefi upgrade project offered more automation and a more robust production environment.
One conclusion of the TMB Task Force on quality was that the Word file provided back to committees was not good enough. We started looking into how we could create a Microsoft Word document from the XML file.
We also added more statistics on our publication chain to be able to flag bottlenecks, and give to management a clearer view of production.
And finally, on the ninth of October, the NISO STS standard was published.
Just two words to conclude: It works!
Our processing time has been reduced and we are publishing more standards each year. ISOSTS DTD was adopted as the basis of the NISO STS DTD, and we are already seeing new initiatives like STS4i.
We chose the right model to work with, and the ISOSTS DTD covers all our needs. It has been a great journey, and you realise how important it is to work with people who know their stuff.
We’d like to thank everyone who supported the project, with a special mention to Laurent Galichet and Holger Apel. And a huge thank you to Debbie and Tommie, Bruce and team, Chandi and team, Nette, Diwa, Ella and team, Sadhik, Rizwan, Saumya and team.
Thank you very much for listening. We hope this may inspire other companies and organisations to also take the plunge to implement and leverage an XML workflow.
Editorial Group Manager, International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
Brian joined ISO in 2005 as an English language Technical Editor. He worked as Editorial Program Manager and Technical Program Manager throughout the dynamic period when ISO modernised its production processes to implement a single-source publication chain.
He is currently Editorial Group Manager responsible for a team of English and French language Technical Editors who assist in the development of International Standards following the XML workflow. He is also ISO coordinator for the maintenance of the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 2, and plays an active role in the training programs organised by ISO.
Brian has a degree in French and German from the University of Birmingham, UK. Prior to joining ISO, he worked for 15 years in the field of education.
Senior Developer, International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
Serge has worked for ISO since 2008 as a Senior Developer, leading the IT efforts of implementing the single-source publication chain. Prior to this he worked for 10 years in various IT roles, all within the publishing industry.
Serge has always been convinced of the value of cross-disciplinary thinking and an understanding of content, and believes the keys to implementing a successful publishing project are keeping in mind the big picture, getting all stakeholders on board, and being pragmatic. Of course, humour goes a long way too!
His fields of expertise range from Framemaker to InDesign, SGML to XML, Omnimark to Saxon—publishing is a great playground to have fun in! He is also an active member of CEN’s XML Task Force and the NISO STS Working Group.