December 2018
Text by Ulrike Parson

Image: Sitthinan Saengsanga/123rf.com

Ulrike Parson is the founder and CEO of parson AG. The company was founded in 2006 in Hamburg, Germany and specializes in technical communication, knowledge management and technical consulting. Ulrike Parson’s areas of expertise are content strategy, intelligent content and developer documentation.


www.parson-europe.com
www.linkedin.com/in/ulrike-parson-529b452/


 


 

Turning technical documentation into intelligent information

Developed by a group of highly experienced technical communicators, the Intelligent Information Request and Delivery Standard (iiRDS) is the new content delivery standard for technical documentation. It aims to provide machines and users with relevant, context-specific content. But how can your content become iiRDS content?

The Internet of Things and smart factories require us to rethink how we deliver user information. The classical document with hundreds of pages is no longer viable. Today, we must deliver small content modules that show only the content that users need at a particular moment in time in a particular context. 
Content needs to be enriched with metadata to create context between the content modules. Metadata makes it possible to select the right content from a large pool of content modules. Therefore, metadata needs to be part of the delivery, along with the content.

Metadata is structured data that contains information about the characteristics of other data. With metadata, you can categorize large amounts of data in a clear and automated manner, for example, when describing videos, documents, objects, sitemaps, or metatags. Content modules enriched with metadata turn technical documentation into intelligent information.

Intelligent information dynamically adjusts to the context of the user and the usage. It provides target-oriented information for all product lifecycle phases and various search and filter options. Intelligent information is modular, structured, semantically enriched, and applications can evaluate it for specific usage scenarios.
Intelligent information enables, for example, content delivery in an Augmented Reality scenario, where information about a specific component is retrieved from a content pool based on the metadata.

Connecting devices and documentation

But why do we need a standard for that? 

Consider a smart factory environment where devices and components are connected and communicate with each other. Their documentation also needs to be connected and aggregated to support queries and automated processing. We can only connect things, however, that speak the same language. 
Another example: Manufacturer A calls the manual "maintenance manual", but manufacturer B calls it "repair instructions". The person who does the repairs could be called "service technician" or "mechanic". How does an application that is supposed to retrieve the topics for the service technician display the correct information for the right person?

The answer is: We need to standardize the metadata. Only in this way can documentation content become exchangeable and usable for multiple manufacturers. That’s the fundamental concern of iiRDS.

 

Components of iiRDS

iiRDS consists of the following:

  • A package format for the exchange of packages with intelligent information between different systems, for example, web portals or content delivery servers. The package format makes it possible to exchange documentation deliveries, regardless of the manufacturer. An iiRDS package is a bundle of information units that include the content and the metadata for the delivery.
  • A standardized vocabulary for the metadata that enriches the content and for the relationships between the metadata. iiRDS provides the vocabulary as an RDF schema. The RDF schema contains the standardized vocabulary and docking points for proprietary extensions.

RDF (Resource Description Framework) is a standardized description language to express logical statements about arbitrary things (resources). These statements are defined as so-called triples, i.e., a subject and an object are related to each other. Example: John [subject] is the father [relation] of Mike [object]. See also www.w3.org/RDF.

 

The iiRDS metadata model

iiRDS is based on the PI-Class® model by Professor Ziegler. For detailed information on all classes of the iiRDS model, refer to the iiRDS specification, which is freely available on the iiRDS website.

Register to get the latest iiRDS specifications. 

iiRDS provides the following main classes: 

  1. InformationUnit: This is the metadata that is assigned to a content module. The module can be a document, a topic, or a fragment within a topic, such as a warning message. Most relationships to other metadata go out from InformationUnit.
  2. InformationType: Contains classes that describe topic types (e.g. task and learning), document types (e.g. transport and repair instructions), and information subjects (e.g. safety or formality).
  3. ProductMetadata: Contains classes for metadata that describe the product variant, product features, and product lifecycle phase that the information applies to, and the technical component that the intelligent information describes.
  4. FunctionalMetadata: describes events, such as error codes, required supplies and tools as well as planning and working times required for specific tasks. 
  5. AdministrativeMetadata: describes the status regarding the content lifecycle and provides an identifier for the information unit.

Figure 1: iiRDS ProductMetadata

 

 


Figure 2: iiRDS AdministrativeMetadata

 

 

The iiRDS package format

An iiRDS package is a bundle of information units including content and metadata for delivery from an iiRDS Generator, e.g. a content management system, to an iiRDS Consumer, e.g. a content delivery portal. 

The iiRDS specification contains rules regarding the directory structure and the names of files and directories within an iiRDS package.

 

No authoring standard

iiRDS enables the exchange of technical documentation across manufacturer and device boundaries. This does not mean, however, that technical authors write in iiRDS. All you need is an iiRDS-compliant documentation package when you deliver the documentation. It does not matter, for example, if the metadata for events has a different name in your content management system. If the applied output mechanism maps your company-specific metadata to iiRDS metadata and generates an iiRDS package, you are on the safe side. 

Also, iiRDS does not control how content is rendered by the content delivery server or application. If you want the content of different manufacturers to look equally good, you need some processing on the server or the receiver side, which is an intelligent rendering application.

 

From content management to content delivery 

But how do technical communicators generate iiRDS packages from their content? Usually, we use component content management systems (CCMS) to create and manage technical documentation. If the CCMS supports the iiRDS metadata schema, technical communicators can access the iiRDS taxonomy and classify documentation modules accordingly. This is the basis for the transfer of technical documentation via iiRDS to content delivery portals. The standardized metadata makes it possible that data from different management and authoring systems can be aggregated and delivered to different content delivery portals.  

Figure 3: iiRDS serves as a hub for exchanging data between management and content delivery systems. 

Source: © Empolis Information Management GmbH

 

Several companies are currently implementing iiRDS at their system interfaces or preparing for it. Empolis Information Management GmbH, for example, has already presented an iiRDS prototype implementation for the import interface of Empolis Content Express. 

Do I need a CCMS to create iiRDS packages? Not really. But you should author structured content and be able to assign metadata to your content. This can be done without a CCMS, for example, in a DITA authoring environment. You will also need an iiRDS Generator to generate iiRDS packages from your structured content. parson and Empolis are working on DITA-OT plugins for this purpose.

 

How does my content become iiRDS content?

To make content iiRDS-compliant, you will have to perform these major tasks:

  1. Develop a metadata concept for your structured content, including mapping to the iiRDS classes.
  2. Implement the metadata concept in your authoring environment, e.g. a CCMS.
  3. Assign the metadata to your content.
  4. Use an iiRDS Generator to generate iiRDS packages from your content and metadata. The iiRDS Generator may be integrated in your CCMS or be a separate tool.
  5. Use an iiRDS Consumer, e.g. a content delivery portal, to import the iiRDS packages and make content and metadata available to users. 

Summary and outlook

iiRDS makes technical communication part of the connected industry. It enables you to use content management systems and content delivery portals from different vendors because it provides a standardized exchange format. 
tekom released version 1.0 of iiRDS in April 2018. The working group that developed iiRDS has finished its work for now. Today, iiRDS is maintained and developed by the iiRDS Consortium, which consists of organizations, companies, and individual experts. You can be part of this development and become a member.