The Business Case for DITA ON DRUPAL

Extending Drupal’s leadership in media publishing to the field of technical communication


To foster the development of features in Drupal so that tech comm shops ($1B USD market) who want to publish to Drupal can do so without encountering major hurdles.


  1. Encourage 3rd party tool developers in the DITA market to develop add-ons for Drupal, thereby providing a "good enough" feature set so that early adopters of DITA in the Tech Comm sector have a "bridge" to using Drupal.
  2. After this bridge has been established and a few notable wins have been established, encourage the development of full-feature set tools, establishing Drupal as a full tech comm/DITA CMS


Tech Comm is shifting from PDF publishing to HTML publishing. Drupal, as a leader in media publishing, can deliver sexy, attractive help systems into the stodgy and stale world of HTML help manuals. The adoption of DITA is opening the door for Drupal.

  • DITA is radically transforming the technical communication industry from PDF production to XML production. Instead of the final deliverable being a 500-page PDF manual, the market now wants the final deliverable to be a set of XML artifacts that are produced by "structured authoring" tools. The two drivers for this change are:
    1. Reuse. Common XML artifacts can be assembled ("late binding") in different ways so that they are easily to deployed on various devices, such as desktops, tablets, mobile and embedded systems.
    2. Translation. Translators need only work on the text of the XML artifact, rather than producing a styled and formatted PDF. For many tech comm shops, this is the major cost-saving got from the move to DITA.
  • Five essential features are necessary to provide a complete feature set for technical communicators who are adopting DITA:
    1. AUTHOR. Structured authoring tool
    2. SEARCH. Search and retrieval of XML artifacts
    3. TRANSLATE. Translation of XML artifacts
    4. TRANSFORM. Transformation of XML artifacts into renderable HTML and other markup
    5. PUBLISH. Publishing to multiple devices (web, mobile, embedded systems) as well as dynamic PDF generation
  • 75% of firms that have purchased DITA-capable CMS are over 1,000 employees. 25% of firms that have purchased DITA-capable CMS are in Computer Software sector. “It seems likely that there is a largely untapped market for DITA CMSes in smaller firms (under 1,000 employees). Any firm that can deliver a feature-rich product at a reasonable price will find buyers.” Keith Schengili-Roberts, AKA DITAWRITER


the mainstream market won’t adopt a solution with an incomplete feature set

  • Drupal does not provide three of the five essential features: integration with author tools (AUTHOR), search and retrieval of DITA XML artifacts (SEARCH) and transformation of XML artifacts into renderable markup (TRANSFORM). These shortcomings are show-stoppers in the adoption of Drupal by technical communicators.
  • Drupal does provide out-of-the-box one of the five essential features needed in the shift to XML: translation of artifacts (TRANSLATE).
  • Drupal also provides most, if not all, of the remaining essential feature: publishing content (PUBLISH). Drupal's web publishing and web services capability allows for publishing rendered markup. Using a system already developed, Drupal can provide another essential feature: dynamic PDF generation from selected nodes in a tree hierarchy. This feature produces a 500+ page PDF file in under 90 seconds.


  • Polycom is an Acquia cloud hosted application for which the dynamic PDF generation capability was developed. However when Polycom began the shift to DITA it began to look for full featured DITA CMS products. This threatened its existing Drupal based system. At present, it is unclear how the company will proceed.
  • Bazaarvoice initially published its API technical content on Drupal, but later abandoned the system for a proprietary CMS that offered a turnkey solution.


Enhancing Drupal with tools that provide a simple, but complete and “good enough” feature set so that the mainstream market can adopt Drupal as platform for technical communication.

  • DITA on Drupal is a project to address these shortcomings by the development of tools that provide a tight integration with development tools (AUTHOR), search and retrieval of XML artifacts (SEARCH) and transformation translated XML artifacts into rendered markup (TRANSFORM).


  • Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” research shows that a simple, but complete feature set will allow for the adoption of Drupal by the mainstream market.
  • Clayton Christensen’s study of disruptive innovation shows that the simple, but “good enough” and complete feature set will disrupt the existing DITA CMS market and provide an opportunity for Drupal’s dominance in media publishing to extend into the technical communication market.


Annual market spend for CMS and IT services for technical communications in the United States can be estimated at $1 billion USD, based on 5M developers, 10% of developer staff in technical writer positions, $2K annual spend per tech writer for tools and training, and an equivalent amount for CMS and IT support. The market leader in CMS and IT support for technical communications could achieve 25-50% market share, or double the share of the second largest provider. The market potential for that leader could therefore reach the $250-500M range.

  • Existing companies using DITA (http://www.ditawriter.com/companies-using-dita) will quickly identify which Drupal provider is positioned as the market leader for DITA on Drupal. Business success for this project requires a sponsor who can quickly develop and responsibly deliver a “good enough”, but complete solution. The established market leader will acquire a major share of revenue for platform hosting and services.
  • Some advanced capabilities of DITA on Drupal may be provided as products, such as plugins for the Eclipse-based oXygenXML authoring tool and the DITA Open Toolkit.


A business plan and product roadmap has been developed which is available at http://ditaondrupal.com and at https://groups.drupal.org/node/457768


  1. Establish DITA Tech Comm CMS group on DO to substantiate to 3rd party tool vendors that there is a market demand from the Drupal community.
  2. Post The Business Case for Drupal as a DITA/Tech Comm CMS.
  3. Develop contacts and discussions with 3rd party DITA tools providers, encouraging the development of integration with Drupal.
  4. Attend CMS/DITA North America in April.
  5. Formation of teams in the Drupal community to support their efforts by providing technical guidance about Drupal and offering support services, such as testing.

Mark Hicks, 28 February 2015