The Quiet Revolution

By Kurt Conrad, The Sagebrush Group

In DOE’s Strategic Plan for the Electronic Exchange of Scientific and Technical Information (STI), the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) is identified as the primary enabling standard. SGML is a non-proprietary, vendor-neutral standard for exchanging information among heterogeneous computing systems. Government and industry groups have chosen SGML as part of information management architectures that incorporate graphics, images, audio, video, and engineering data.

Despite the DOE directives, contractors are likely to derive more direct benefit from using SGML to manage non-STI data sets. The focus of office automation is shifting from personal productivity to life-cycle information management, collaborative computing, and computer-mediated communications. A reoccurring theme in process reengineering is the establishment of a shared pool of information that is accessed and updated by multiple individuals and processes. SGML provides unique capabilities for organizing complex information to facilitate its sharing and reuse.

By organizing information by structure and content, and not sub-optimizing the data for a particular process (e.g., print formatting), multiple applications can work against the same descriptive markup to support a wide variety of retrieval and delivery needs. SGML-based multimedia, workflow automation, and hypertext applications are becoming increasingly common. SGML standards for braille have even been developed.

A key issue facing contractor organizations is the cost of complying with the DOE STI Order as budgets are being reduced. The evidence indicates that a minimalist, compliance-driven implementation is likely to result in cost expansion. Using SGML for non-STI deliverables can provide both strategic value and a wider base of savings to offset implementation and training costs.

Value is also enhanced by using structured text as the common denominator for as many phases of the information life cycle as possible. Conversion of unstructured text to SGML is difficult and costly. A key challenge is to induce information providers to author in a structured environment instead of authoring for appearance. WordPerfect and Microsoft are entering the SGML market and structured authoring tools are becoming easier to use. In addition, the increasing use of email and electronic forms is introducing a wider audience to the fundamentals of structured authoring.

The presentation introduces the basic concepts and vocabulary necessary to understand how SGML relates to collaborative computing and life-cycle information management. It provides examples of other, non-DOE SGML initiatives and related different implementation strategies to their potential cost savings.


Copyright, The Sagebrush Group, 1994-2009.

This proposal was accepted and presented at the 11th DOE Office Information Technology Conference, August 23-25, 1994.