Businesses of all size now count content management systems (CMS) as a major asset in their content toolkit. Why? First of all, there has been a big shift from merely content production to content personalization.

Second, information silos make it increasingly cumbersome to update content enterprise-wide. But a well-tuned CMS across all silos makes single sourcing of authoritative information possible. 

Lastly, human labor costs have driven businesses to embrace for automated solutions such as CMS. A CMS, to some extent, could serve as a form of artificial intelligence, especially in terms of producing intelligent content. While you may know you need a proper CMS for your business, it can be tough to choose the right one.

For the sake of this article, we’ll focus primarily on DITA-based CMS. You may be wondering what exactly DITA is. Also known as Darwin Information Typing Architecture, DITA is an XML-based, end-to-end architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information,” according to its developers at IBM.

Some companies that use a DITA-based CMS include SAP, Netgear and Fujitsu, while major players in the DITA-based CMS realm include SDL Tridion Docs, IXIASOFT, and DITAToo.

Below, we explain what a proper CMS should do, and break down the different CMS options, given your business’ needs and growth opportunities. We’ll also explore the strengths and weaknesses of these DITA CMSs.

What is a Content Management System?

But let’s go back to the basics. What exactly is a CMS? Content management systems are predominantly designed to organize, standardize and streamline a content production process, from content creation to content editing and review to publication.
Generally, CMS systems have the below capabilities:

  • Versioning (revision history, tracking changes)
  • Strong topic management capabilities
  • Facet search and indexing
  • Flexible classification features
  • Open and flexible interfaces
  • The ability to publish content

Often time than not, a business driver for such a CMS deployment can be to cut costs associated with translation. Typically, the more languages you translate into, the higher costs of translations are. This is one of the main reasons to take a modular development approach, which DITA-based CMS is poised to address.

A CMS can also allow a business to realize efficiency gains. In other words, a CMS can allow the same number of writers to produce more content.

That’s why, prior to picking up a CMS, businesses need to take a disciplined approach to the CMS selection process and should carefully consider the system that meets their needs – or at least most of them. We’ll cover that in the next section.

Test Driving a CMS

Any technical investments start with a value proposition process. Depending on a result of that process, your CMS selection process may differ. But it’s wise to consider the below when selecting a CMS:

Determine User Scenarios

If structured authoring is a priority for your organization, does the CMS allow to create DITA topics within seconds? If you translate documents into many different languages, does the CMS allow to manage a translation process? And are translation statistics available from within the CMS?

These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself before settling on a CMS. Start with an established idea of what you need in a CMS, while also screening out those that do not address your scenarios.  In other words, cut those that are not compatible with your business’ needs.

You should also prioritize your use scenarios by importance, before launching a request for information to all vendors. Depending on the response, you should end up with a short list of vendors for a demo – also known as a test drive.

During the test drive, your objective will be to assign each CMS you demo with an objective score, based on its performance in accordance with your business needs.

Pros and Cons of Major DITA CMS Players

We mentioned some of the major DITA-based CMS players – SDL Tridion Docs, IXIASOFT, and DITAToo.

Below, we explain the pros and cons of each.

SDL Tridion Docs


  • DITA-compliant
  • Flexibility to implement parameters from within the CMS Graphic User Interface (GUI), which boosts productivity
  • Integrates with SDL WorldServer
  • Strong translation management capabilities
  • Solid product development roadmapping strategy
  • Robust publishing capabilities that adapt to all DITA OT versions


  • Less flexibility in interfacing with third-party systems
  • No WYSIWYG PDF engine
  • Database migration is a highly rigorous process.
  • No data migration available



  • DITA-compliant
  • Web-enabled workflow
  • Delta changes are translate-only
  • Graphic User Interface (GUI)


  • No WYSIWYG PDF engine



  • DITA-compliant
  • Word conversion to DITA
  • WYWG PDF designer integration
  • Can be up and running in just a few hours.


  • Poor capability of keeping sync with an ever-evolving DITA OT engine.
  • Non-cloud based
  • No parallel processing
  • Translation management and reporting is not robust enough
  • GUI experience is not that intuitive, especially with virtual drive
  • Less flexibility in interfacing with third-party systems

In the end, the CMS you select should most accurately reflect and serve your business’ needs and growth opportunities. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, as it can affect your content – and your business – for years to come.

The Author

Ray Fan is currently the Solution Architect at Digital Content Shanghai, a specialist firm that focuses on content systems. Prior to this role, he held a variety of managerial positions in companies such as Semcon China and Tweddle Group. Ray is a sought-after thought leader when it comes to content engineering and practice issues. He shares his expertise via presentations and speeches to the Chinese technical communication community. He also has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

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