STC’s November program featured John Garison, who discussed Medidata’s, his company’s, migration from a FrameMaker and RoboHelp toolset to Confluence, a wiki.
Why make the change? A little more than a year ago, John’s companywas about to roll out a role-based user interface design for a product that would have frequent releases. Medidata’s agile culture required quick response from teams working collaboratively, and the separate silos of FrameMaker and RoboHelp did not make collaboration easy. In addition, while was is easy to import FrameMaker files into RoboHelp, post-import formatting was time-consuming, and the resulting documents had a dated look and feel.
Medidata needed a tool that enabled all teams to share and develop content, gave the writers final control over output, and could publish in multiple formats.
Why use a wiki? In contrast to applications like FrameMaker, a wiki makes it easy for multiple authors to work on the same content while retaining version control. In addition, the wiki format makes it easy to reuse content, publish to multiple formats, and received immediate feedback from readers in the form of “Like” votes and comments. The wiki’s ease of use also makes review cycles more efficient.
Why choose Confluence?After reviewing several wiki candidates, the Medidata team chose Confluence for its appealing presentation and sophisticated content-development features. Confluence provides knowledge spaces, interrelated spaces for project collaboration, products, and user locales. Content is not segregated by silo and is searchable and reusable within and across spaces. The tagging feature makes it possible to identify articles based on user role, product, article type, and internal and external publication. Confluence’s grouping and display of related topics is especially well done.
Other benefits provided by Confluence include sophisticated configurable searches (including searches on topic labels), single-sourcing capability, dynamic inclusion of LucidChart graphs and diagrams, integration with other systems such as JIRA, HipChat, and GitHub, many available add-ons, and a stable, known vendor, Atlassian.
If everyone can edit the articles, how does Medidata assure quality?Different levels of access can be created and assigned to Confluence users, assuring that technical sources can contribute information, but the technical writers and editors have tight control over the final product.
Was this a huge file-conversion processes?No. Surprisingly, there was no conversion of gigabytes of legacy data with the usual attendant struggles. Because Medidata used the changeover to Confluence as an opportunity to rethink their documentation, nothing was ported over unchanged. To begin writing user documents, the writers manually cut and pasted small amounts of legacy content into the wiki.
What did the content redesign involve?Critical to the redeveloped content is the “Every Page is Page One” approach. As a result, every article produced by the Medidata wiki follows these guidelines. Each article:
- Is self-contained
- Has a specific, limited purpose
- Conforms to a newly established article type
- Establishes the context of the information it presents
- Assumes the reader is qualified
- Stays on one level
- Links richly to related content
How much work was involved?Two task forces were needed: one to evaluate and select a wiki tool, and one to evaluate and redefine Medidata’s approach to developing user content. John provided this yearlong timeline:
- Initial discussions — November, 2012
- Investigation and early prototyping — December — January
- Business case and proposal — January
- Tool evaluation and selection — February
- More detailed prototyping & trial development — March — August
- Final approval — June
- Revisions — Began in June and have not stopped yet
- Initial installation and testing — July
- Infrastructure implementation — July — September
- First new articles available — November 2013
- Re-engineering legacy content — Ongoing
Confluence works for other groups, too. In addition to Medidata’s Technical Communications group, the Regulatory Affairs, Operations, and Product Architecture teams have adopted Confluence as a development tool.