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What is a DITA Content Management System (CMS)? guest post by John Baker

by John Baker on Jan 27, 2020
categories: dita

In this guest post from John Baker, Content Marketing Manager for easyDITA, John explains what a component content management system (CCMS) is and why DITA is often used in these systems. John's article provides a solid introduction to why these larger, more robust systems are used with documentation. The ability to reuse content at a component level, assemble it into documents, track the component's usage across the system, include metadata, automate templates and formatting, and handle other tasks gives you a powerful way to manage content in an enterprise.

Note that easyDITA is a site sponsor.


The term “DITA CMS” is incomplete and misleading. Content developers use the term to indicate the function of the system, but the tool is actually called a Component Content Management System (CCMS). The distinction is important because the two are similar in intent but very different in underlying methodology.

A Content Management System (CMS) enables the creation, organization, and deployment of content at a document or page level. These pages are a series of related ideas, written down together and delivered for a purpose. We write pages and documents in a linear fashion meaning that ideas overlap, intertwine, and become contextually dependent upon one another.

A Component Content Management System (CCMS) enables the creation, organization, and deployment of content at a component level. A component is a single idea, word, or phrase that’s capable of being used in multiple contexts. A component is written in a way to convey an idea but avoids contextual dependence as much as possible.

Components matter because DITA content is written in the form of components. A typical CMS cannot manage components at scale; this is where a CCMS comes into play.

A CCMS is specifically designed to manage components by tracking links, versions, and metadata relevant to each component. It tracks a component’s location in the repository, relationship with other components, uses, and so much more. You can learn more about components here — What is a Component Content Management System?

Why use a DITA CCMS instead of just storing the files locally on your computer?

By managing DITA content in a CCMS, exciting things are possible.

  • Assemble components into documents
  • Link reused content from a single source rather than gulp copying and pasting
  • Automatically apply formatting on output, so authors just write
  • Multi-Channel publishing from a single source
  • Translate components once with translation memory so you don’t translate the same component twice
  • Update the original component, and the update automatically populates everywhere the component is reused

ALL of these advantages involve automation of brain-numbing tasks. This automation is only possible because a CCMS tracks your components and all the associated information.

This automation is straightforward with a CCMS but impossible to manage without one. By keeping your DITA files locally stored and outside a CCMS, you rob yourself of all that DITA has to offer.


Because DITA content is powerful and endures.

We’ve already seen how DITA content is powerful and returns value in the short term, but DITA content will also stand the test of time. This longevity is because DITA XML is an open standard with clearly defined rules.

DITA’s open standard is publicly available and community maintained so the value is not dependent on the whims of any individual corporation and the standard is not proprietary. There’s no DITA Inc. that would pull support if the project became unprofitable.

Within the standard, there are specific rules outlined for how to structure content. These rules can at first feel restricting to writers or engineers in a hurry, just like route assignments can initially feel restricting to wide receivers or recipes initially feel restricting to chefs at a restaurant, but they serve an essential purpose.

These rules are necessary to provide consistency and predictability between the teammates. The quarterback needs to know where the receiver is when the pocket breaks down; the rules of the route provide that consistency. The table server needs to know if gluten is hiding in the meal before he serves it to someone with an intolerance; the rules of the recipe provide that consistency. For content developers, the teammates are fellow writers AND the systems and applications that they use to write, manage, and deliver the content today and far into the future. The rules of the standard provide the consistency and predictability so that content can deploy to a portal, a chatbot, or new technology developed 5 years from now.

DITA content, written and managed in a CCMS, gives you the short and long term value of the content. The rules give you the consistency and predictability to automate tough tasks today and deploy to exciting technology in the future.

Where does easyDITA fit into this picture?

easyDITA is that all-in-one platform for the content development process. Write and manage content from easyDITA’s topic editor and CCMS. easyDITA centralizes, not just the content, but the content creation process. The result is that writing, editing, reviewing, referencing, approving, publishing, updating, etc. All of these activities occur in one, cloud-based system.

When this centralization happens, the results are exciting. For example, one of our customers has 30 writers and 600 engineers. Before easyDITA, they would review and edit via (wait for it…) printed PDFs. Review cycles took forever and left the team scrambling before product releases. Since shifting to easyDITA, all 600 engineers add reviews in the same, central system using comments and tracked changes. Writers then approve or reject the changes. Their review cycle time is a fraction of what it was, and their accuracy is dramatically improved. You can read more about this case study here.

We are focused on creating a system that centralizes the content and the content creation so that real organizations can take advantage of the benefits of DITA today and far into the future.

What’s new in the easyDITA world?

New Explainer Video Series — We’ve begun a new video series in cooperation with the Content Wrangler answering big questions like “What is a CCMS” or “What is Structured Content.” These videos are designed to speak to those who are new to the structured content world and want a fast way to build a foundational understanding of some big ideas. They are also a helpful resource for non-tech writers who want the gist and want it fast.

We also have a number of awesome updates that have been released in the last 12 months:

Real-time collaboration — easyDITA is the only DITA editor with real-time, simultaneous collaboration. No file locking and no slowdown. Writers and editors can easily work in a collaborative manner in the same map or even the same topic.

Tracked Changes/Suggesting Mode — Similar to google docs, users can now add tracked changes that can be accepted or rejected by writers. Users can also leave comments in the editor to add insight without changing the document.

Interface — we’ve spent years improving the functionality of the system, but now we’re bringing attention back to the interface. We’ve made a few tweaks in our latest release 18.1, but look for a major aesthetic overhaul in the coming months.

Dynamic Loading - It’s all about speed. We improved the on-demand dynamic loading within the topic editor so that you can open a map of any size, and it only loads the topics on which you are working. If you need to jump to the bottom of a 200 topic map, it takes just seconds to load.

Source Editor — We’ve made continuous improvements with the side by side source editor. Every week, I jump in and something is new or easier to use.

easyDITA Essential — easyDITA Essential is the most approachable, full-powered DITA component content management system (CCMS) and authoring tool on the market. Essential is everything small docs teams need to author, manage, and publish DITA content. An Essential subscription is fast, self-serviceable, and incredibly powerful. The core features included in all easyDITA Essential instances are:

  • Fully collaborative DITA editor
  • Full DITA support
  • PDF generator
  • Static Site Generator
  • Revision history

2019 was an exciting year for us at easyDITA and we’ve got some big updates planned for 2020. However, even more than that, we’re excited by the evolutions we see occurring throughout the industry. We can’t wait to see how that shapes and propels the future of techcomm.

About John Baker

John Baker

John loves big ideas and answering questions. As the Content Marketing Manager for easyDITA, his interests come together through the creation of videos, white papers, articles and other resources aimed to empower others with knowledge about structured content. Outside of work, you can find John spending time with his wife and three kids, reading most of an old book, breathing too much lacquer in his wood-shop, or cheering for Tottenham Hotspur FC.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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