We started our DITA tour in July, interviewing Keith Schengili-Roberts, JoAnn Hackos and Julian Murfitt. We now head East and stop in China. Our goal is to find out how DITA is faring in the region and what its prospects are. We meet Ray Fan, who has been working with DITA for five years.

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Ray Fan has been perfecting two skills in his fifteen-year-long career: Chinese-English translation management and technical authoring. He was Chinese language lead at Acclaro and Technical Author at Elekta and GE Healthcare. XSL writer and CMS Engineer at Sony, he has designed the company’s user guides, available in 23 variations and 56 languages. He first worked with DITA in 2010 and has conducted migrations and developed stylesheets and plugins. Based in China and having worked for European and US firms, Ray knows the Chinese technical publishing world and reports to us on their approach and what DITA weighs in the region.

Hello Ray, what brought you to DITA?

I learned xml when I was working for GE Healthcare. I understood that DITA would propel me professionally, so I studied xml and developed my skills. I progressed further when I worked with Elekta U.K. I use DITA in my current position, as Sony Mobile uses DITA in China and in Europe.

How is technical documentation perceived in China?

On the B2B market, technical documentation is perceived as an aftersales feature; its publication is mandatory but does not impact the purchasing decision. Machinery operators go directly to the diagrams and diagnostics sections and leave the rest aside.

What are the preferred formats?

Print and PDF are the preferred formats for B to B. On the consumer market, smartphones and the like, internet is the number one channel, html the preferred format. E-commerce encourages more compelling technical information, as the quality of the technical specs influences the visitor’s purchasing decision.

In the car industry, Chrysler has revolutionized the vehicle-driver interaction by introducing on-board driver help. The component’s help information is embedded in it and pushed for the driver to read; the innovation will be picked up by Chinese competitors in its wake.

How is content generated in China today?

Some large manufacturers, who often work locally and overseas, use Adobe InDesign™. Others, including top manufacturers, write technical content using free unauthorized downloadable versions of Microsoft Word™ or Framemaker™.

What is DITA’s level of penetration and potential? Who is using it?

The Volkswagen Joint Venture FAW and Foton Motors have deployed the DITA-based PTC Arbortext Windchill™. Overall only large firms implement DITA, with one exception: the small software firms, like Taiwan-headquartered Trend Micro in Nanjing R&D facility. They deployed DITA using Oxygen™.

When a firm does migrate to DITA in China, it often only goes part of the way, because it cannot afford a complete content management make-over, with external consultants, training and cross-functional project teams. eBao Software Technology has adopted this approach, for example they deploy DITA OT with an open source version control software. Some big businesses, for example Foton Motors, don’t know how to apply the keyrefs effectively, among other things, because there is no Information Architect in the team and no associated competency.

How much technical content is translated in China?

A limited number of manufacturers sell overseas because the domestic market is not saturated yet. It’s hard to say how long the situation will take to change. Medical device suppliers however fall under severe safety regulations; they must translate their technical publications in seventeen languages on average.

How is translation carried out?

Companies use internal staff or outsource locally. On the translation and localization market there is a mix of Chinese and foreign translation service providers.

Can DITA and structured content gain ground in China?

DITA is slow at catching on in China. I see three reasons for it. First of all there is a shortage in communication and networking channels. DITA has very little exposure compared to the US and Europe, where conventions, workshops and webinars are proposed year round. The same can be said of DITA training material in Chinese. I got trained to DITA in English and attended the courses in Sweden. Last but not least, financial investment is a major obstacle because technology companies do not see their publications as a strategic ingredient of their value-added. They are reluctant to put money into buying DITA or any brand of paid software. Cutting DTP costs, one of the benefits of DITA, will not weigh in the investment decision in China, as DTP rates per page are not significant, between 5 and 10 Renminbi (0.8 to 1.6 USD).

I would conclude by saying that DITA evangelists need to roll up their sleeves, promote DITA locally in our language and adapt their sales pitch to the publishers’ environment and culture.

Ray Fan’s take on the status of technical publishing in China urges us to dig deeper in how companies generate and manage their technical publications – and which opportunities lay in store for DITA. We will keep you posted as we carry out our survey. In the meantime we’d love to read your comments and experience in technical publishing in China.