XML on the Fly
It's no secret publishers are turning to XML workflows to improve production and promotional flexibility.
XML-based publications can be printed, posted on the Web, burned to CD or DVD, e-mailed, displayed on PDAs, using exactly the same source files. XML also lets marketing departments automatically generate content for catalogs, e-mail messages and attachments, Web sites, and other promotional materials.
But for all its well-hyped advantages, XML packs a costly little secret. Hundreds, thousands, even millions of existing documents have to be converted by hand before the workflow can take advantage of XML's capabilities.
It's an expensive, time-consuming, nearly impossible task—one that eliminates any hope of immediate productivity and financial returns on a major XML investment.
One vendor has introduced a novel solution to the problem. CambridgeDocs' Xdoc Converter lets publishers import documents of practically any type into XML databases.
The $2,495 tool automatically converts document libraries, accepting from sources such as HTML, Quark XPress, Adobe PDF, and Microsoft Word. It includes a set of customizable "transformation templates" that tell the product how to translate content into popular XML formats.
Supported schemas include XHTML and NewsML, supported by the International Press Telecommunications Council; and DocBook, championed by Sun Microsystems, Arbortext, and Hewlett-Packard.
Publishers can also define and extend their templates, using included tools. The software was developed to help publishers preserve their massive content investments.
"There are two main benefits," says Rizwan Virk, CTO of CambridgeDocs Inc., in Boston. "Once you convert the document to have meaningful XML embedded, you can publish the same material cleanly in multiple formats, such as PDF and HTML. You can also combine pieces of documents, [which is] a good solution for reusing existing content to produce custom documents."
In most cases, documents are converted without human intervention. That's the case at Direct Mail Express Inc., in Daytona Beach, Fla. The printer is now automatically translating customer, marketing, and sales documents to XML, and storing them in an XML repository (a centralized, shared database).
This makes it easier to reuse proposals and print jobs. It also makes it possible to create documents once, and output them on multiple devices, without any additional work, company officials say.
Embedded XML tags also structure documents to improve search results, and foster seamless file sharing, content integration, and document collaboration with other organizations.
Perhaps most important, the process is transparent to Direct Mail's sales people. They continue to create documents using familiar tools, such as Microsoft Word. The Xdoc Converter handles the rest.
"Our sales people aren't technical," says Jim Murphy, business analyst with Direct Mail Express. "One of the best things about [Xdoc Converter] is that it makes the conversion effort invisible."
Moving to XML wasn't plug 'n play, but it was close. Direct Mail Express had to "tweak" its workflow to take advantage of the XML repository. Direct Mail also had to invest time to design the initial templates for Xdoc Converter, to facilitate automatic conversion of Microsoft Word documents.
- Jeff Angus