S1000D is the least understood of all technical publication standards. But that’s about to change. Adobe FrameMaker will soon offer special S1000D content creation functionality. Astoria Software is offering support for managing S1000D content. Mekon is offering S1000D solutions and training and has launched an S1000D blog.

In this exclusive interview with Paul Haslam, TheContentWrangler.com aims to help demystify S1000D. Discover who is using it, for what purposes, how it relates to DITA, and where you can learn more.

TCW: Paul, thanks for agreeing to help us better understand S1000D. Before we begin with this interview, tell us a little about yourself.

PH: My name is Paul Haslam. I work for O’Neil & Associates, a Miamisburg, OH-based company that develops product support documentation and information solutions.  I personally operate out of Fort Worth, TX.  My main focus is in the sphere of implementing S1000D in a true Integrated Logistic Support environment with a particular concentration on the integration of training content and S1000D data modules. I am currently Co-Chair of the US Training subgroup, Secretariat to the Technical Publication Specification Maintenance Group (TPSMG) Exec, Editor-in-Chief and Web-based publisher of S1000D.

TCW: What is S1000D?

PH: S1000D is a specification for the production of technical information using what we call data modules and storing them in a Common Source Database (CSDB). It accommodates the requirements of all types of products including land, sea and air – and, with the upcoming Issue 2.3, will accommodate the first phase of the Civil Aerospace and training requirements.

TCW: What types of organizations/industries use S1000D today and for what purposes?

PH: Major European defense Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), for land, sea and air projects and similar organizations in the U.S. about to embark on its use. In the Pacific Rim there are similar organizations such as Australia and Singapore using S1000D. Primarily, these organizations use S1000D for the production of technical information. However, others are implementing S1000D – not only for technical information but also for training content.  Other organizations that have used S1000D, or are considering its use include, but are not limited to: the legal documentation profession and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

TCW: Can S1000D be extended for use in other industries – like automotive, or rail transportation, for example?

PH: Absolutely. The concept behind S1000D enables it to apply equally, say, to the engine on an aircraft, car or locomotive from a technical information point of view. Of course how those industries implement their information could very well be different but, essentially, the information has the same purpose – an engine needs to be maintained whether it is on a submarine, an aircraft, a generator or a locomotive.

Similarly, S1000D can be applied to any industry or field that has an aspect of “maintenance” and/or “operation” associated with it. Now, that association may require a modicum of lateral thought (such as maintaining and managing the health status of a diabetic sufferer) but the concept of S1000D applies.

Examples of diverse usage include: a train in South Africa and in a building construction project in Denmark.

TCW: Where is the best place to find S1000D online?

PH: http://www.s1000d.org

TCW: The S1000D website is not the friendliest online destination. Are you doing anything to make the content more accessible to those who want to learn about and perhaps use the standard but are not coming from defense and aerospace backgrounds?

PH: Yes, we have tasked a team, to look at that.  With regard to learning about S1000D, there are many organizations around the world that provide training.

TCW: What other resources are available to help folks learn about the specification? Are there books you can recommend? Magazine articles? Case studies? White papers?

PH: We tend to find that some organizations are beginning to make more information available but, you have to recognize that, since the information is often defense related it can be sensitive and, therefore not easily available. Searching the Internet is the best approach.

TCW: Is S1000D something most folks will need specialized training to use?

PH: Implementations can be very simple or very complex – depending on the complexity of the project requirements that S1000D is being used to support. However, the core concepts of S1000D are simple and apply whatever the (size/scope/scale) of the project.

TCW: Many folks in the content industry are quite excited by the release of the OASIS Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) and some folks are using S1000D in tandem with DITA. What is the S1000D organization doing to address the need for DITA (the things S1000D does not provide) and the implications using both standards will have on organizations that chose to implement both?

PH: We, in the TPSMG, are proud of the manner in which we strive to accommodate S1000D users requirements as they are brought to our attention. In support of this, we operate under Memorandums of Understanding, such as between ASD (S1000D’s parent organization) and ADL/SCORM; with a directive to harmonize S1000D and SCORM.  We have not approached DITA at this time.

TPSMG members are also involved in the development of Product Life Cycle Support (PLCS), which is AP239 of ISO 10303 the STEP standard.

TCW: Is there any reason an organization might not want to embed DITA topics in S1000D content?

PH: It really depends on the customer’s requirements and the use of information. One of the strengths of S1000D is the way it manages its data. Now, many customers have already invested in an infrastructure that takes advantage of this data management capability and DITA might not fit into that. However, if there is a gap in a project’s requirements that S1000D does not accommodate but DITA does, then it makes sense, in those cases, to use the two together.

TCW: Many technical communicators are interested in potentially using S100D. Why has S1000D been so removed from the technical documentation world and what are you doing to address this?

PH: I don’t think it is the case that S1000D has been “so removed from the technical documentation world”.  We have been here since 1989 and so the specification is quite mature and many subcontractors (OEMs) to platforms such as Typhoon (previously Eurofighter) produce their technical publications in accordance with S1000D. These OEMs have staffs who are members of organizations such as ISTC.

As I said before, many of the implementations of S1000D are defense related and so much of the information is of a sensitive nature. If there is a perception that S1000D has been “removed”, then that defense relationship might account for that.

What are we doing about it?  Well, the members of the TPSMG Exec promote the use of S1000D whenever they can. We are constantly being approached by countries around the world who wish to join our organization or contribute in some way. In support of that activity, we hold User Forums every year.

TCW: Using S1000d undoubtedly can provide myriad benefits. Can S1000D help prevent expensive equipment disassembly accidents like the one recently reported here.

PH: S1000D has a strict process for ensuring that the data modules are technically accurate and safe to use. That is the responsibility of the supplier. There is also the opportunity for the customer to be involved in this process. However, the specification itself cannot help prevent accidents like the example you give since it does not (and will never) “know” of the precise maintenance requirements of every project. Technical writers/authors, maintenance task analysts and others will still be responsible for the actual content of their technical information.

TCW: What are some examples of other benefits S1000D can provide. Please provide examples.

PH: Here are a few examples:

  • Reuse and re-purpose of information – correct application of granularity facilitates a single data module to be used in many places and for different purposes
  • Interoperability – not only across projects but also across nations
  • Customer savings – a customer can provide previously procured S1000D information to a new S1000D project as Government Furnished Equipment; supplier savings – the data is open and “tool” independent and so not tied to any proprietary system that may have heavy maintenance fees
  • Many Ministries of Defense have adopted S1000D for producing their technical documentation regulations and directives
  • The connection to Product Life Cycle Support by the interchange of product breakdown structure, configuration control and task information (e.g. Logistic Support Analysis Record data)
  • Ability to create an integrated run-time viewing package that interfaces with diagnostics programs or directly to the unit under test in order to collect information that can direct the maintenance flow.

TCW: Could S1000D help prevent a metric-imperial measurement mixup of the type that is believed to be responsible for the failed Mars Lunar Rover project?

See Spate of Failures.

PH: Interestingly, Unit Of Measure (UOM) is a hot topic.  However, I refer to my answer above about the accident with the pin. S1000D can only provide the structure, etc. for accurate technical content but cannot police the population of that content. In fact, S1000D “mandates” the use of International System of Units (ISU).  However, we cannot stop anyone from using any other type of UOMs, should their projects require it. There are strict rules to be followed when using the ISU and US/Imperial UOMs.

TCW: The European Union seems to be a leader in the S1000D arena. What’s taking the Americans so long to get on board?

PH: It is true that we have found differences between the ways that the U.S. and the Europeans operate with their technical information. I think this is also affected by the differences amongst the U.S. service branches and how they operate with their technical information. There is, however, a significant amount of work going on to find common ground using S1000D. This is evidenced by the fact that our User Forum in Clearwater this year was our biggest ever with the U.S. showing a growing interest.

Now, even though S1000D has not been yet widely applied in the U.S., there is a strong and very well-organized structure of working groups that is working on identifying their specific requirements for inclusion in S1000D. This structural model is also being adopted by Germany with their first meeting planned for this year.

TCW: How about civil aviation? When can we expect to see more adoption of S1000D? Which airlines are using it today and for what purposes?

PH: Issue 2.3 will contain the first phase of the civil aviation requirements requested by the Air Transport Association (ATA). These requirements will be fully implemented in Issue 3.0, which is planned for Q1 2008. The amount of work that has been done to identify, prioritize and provide the necessary detail for inclusion in Issue 2.3 has been phenomenal. As a result the Boeing 787 will be documented using S1000D.

There is also a memorandum of Understanding between Aerospace Defense (ASD), Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and ATA, which has just been extended and shows their commitment to S1000D.

TCW: Is there a glossary of S1000D terms available online?

PH: See Chapter 9.2 in the specification itself, which is available on-line free, at http://www.s1000d.org.

TCW: Is the S1000D specification available in languages other than English? If so, which ones and where might we find these translations?

PH: Currently, S1000D is only officially available in English.  However, the Bureau de Normalisation de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace (BNAE), which is a French standardization office (similar to Deutsches Institut fuer Normung, IEEE, etc) commissioned a translation to French of the Initial Issue Changes 8 and 9. Since then, however, this effort has stopped. There is also a German translation of the Initial Issue Changes 8 and 9.

TCW: If someone reading this interview would like to participate in the formation of future versions of S1000D, how do they get involved?

PH: S1000D has recently and very quickly become a large organization. To keep pace with that, we are undergoing an organizational structure review. The objectives of this include a formalization of the procedure for participation and ensuring everyone has an equal voice. In the meantime, interested parties should contact any S1000D representative from their home nation. Should they have no home nation representative they should look to contact a member of the TPSMG who is closest. (See http://www.s1000d.org).

TCW: What are the most common difficulties those who are new to S1000D encounter?

PH: S1000D, being a large specification, it can be difficult to assimilate all the information therein as it covers all aspects of planning, production and distribution of technical information. We recognize this and have formed a task team with a directive to improve the readability of the specification.

TCW: What advice can you share with others who are considering S1000D, but aren’t sure it’s right for them?

PH: Attend one of the User Forums and speak with one (or more) of the S1000D committee members together with other attendees, such as software and consulting companies, who are already using S1000D.

TCW: Is it possible to move to S1000D and really mess things up?

PH: Moving from one data format to another; whether S1000D is involved or not, is always going to be fraught with the danger of messing things up. In all cases, good forward planning and particular care to document analysis and, when moving to S1000D, the data module coding strategy, are key factors.

TCW: If you had an S1000D wish list, what functionality would you add to S1000D and why?

PH: At this stage, all the contributions for Issue 2.3 and those planned for 3.0 satisfy my wish list. However, there are two points that I am personally gratified to see being dealt with. These are:

  • Full integration with training content. From a pure data point of view, it is the same data. I acknowledge the differences in purpose, writing style, presentation, etc but again, there is a significant effort ongoing in my training subgroup to find ways to address these differences. We are planning to better if not fully accommodate harmonization between S1000D and ADL/SCORM in Issue 3.0 (planned for Q1 2008).
  • I believe that some of the management aspects of S1000D can be the key, from an ILS data point of view, in turning the “I” of ILS from “Isolated” to “Integrated”. However, S1000D is not an ILS specification and has right and proper boundaries. Having said that, there is a task team with a directive to providing more information and guidance into where S1000D fits in the greater scheme of the through-life support of projects. This is also supported by the integration with the S3000L, S4000A and SX000I being under development.

TCW: Thanks Paul. We appreciate you helping our readers better understand the S1000D Specification.