Case study presentation – Using Confluence for generating reports

Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf and Malcolm Tullett of Risk and Safety Plus Ltd will be presenting a short case study on “Using Confluence for generating field reports” at the 19 April 2011 meeting of the London Atlassian User Group.

The meeting is being held at The National Archives in Kew, Richmond. It’s free to attend – see the event and booking details.

Learning technical writing in twenty minutes

In January 2011, a Westminster girls school ran an event showcasing professions that use written communication skills. They asked if somone from Cherryleaf could talk about being a Technical Author.

We decided the best way was to take parts from our training writing courses, and teach them about technical writing. Here’s what we covered:

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Our client’s fire risk assessment report generator goes live this week

In the UK, every building, apart from private single dwellings, needs to be assessed for fire risk every three years. To do this, a fire risk assessor will assess the building and write a report on their findings and recommendations. For offices, these reports can be 30 pages long, and it can take an assessor a full day to complete the report.

We’ve been working with a fire risk assessment firm to create a system for them that generates these reports in less time and in a more consistent way. Like many organisations, they’ve been using Microsoft Word to write the reports, and this can lead to a wide variation in the way the reports are presented.

Cherryleaf has been developing a report generator for them that significantly reduces the time needed to produce their reports – they believe they can reduce the time needed from a day to an hour – and, this week, they’ve started to print out the assessments they’ve been writing.

So what did we create for them?

There were a number of potential software applications we could have used (for example, Author-it, Mindtouch and Confluence), but the best fit for this client was Confluence. Within this application, we created a master report ‘boilerplate’ that contained all the key information that should go into a fire risk assessment. This master boilerplate ensures there are no omissions in each report.

On the individual pages within the report, there are numerous drop-down sentences and blank text boxes for the assessors to choose. There are also ‘variables’, for chunks of information that need to appear in more than one place in the report – they are embedded in appropriate paragraphs. If you change the information contained in the variable, then this change is implemented at the appropriate places in the document.

The project has produced a number of challenges. For the client, they have been looking hard at the content that goes into an assessment report – and how to create a single report that satisfies the many different standards for fire risk assessments. For us, we’ve had to create a system that works for people who might not be very technically literate. For example, people who have never uploaded an image into a document before. We’ve also had to create something that’s very flexible – suitable for assessments of small buildings such as bandstands, bus shelters and suchlike, to big buildings such as tower blocks.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and we’ll soon be able to see how much time the client will save. The signs are looking good, and there’s likely to be further enhancements and developments to their system in the future.

At a rough estimate, there are 10 million buildings in the UK that need to be assessed for fire risk each year. If our system reduces, at a conservative estimate, the time needed to produce each report by 4 hours, then there’s the potential for it to save 40 million hours of writing time per year.

Need a Confluence or Mindtouch developer?

Cherryleaf has skills in developing and creating content for Confluence based systems, and we’re developing our skills in this area for Mindtouch Technical Communications Suite as well.

We’re available to work on your project. Contact us if you’d like to know more.

The SEO benefits of Web-based Help – case studies

Web-based product documentation is often the quickest way to learn how to resolve an issue, and we can see this from statistics provided recently by both Mindtouch and Atlassian.

Mindtouch is reporting organic searches account for almost 60% of referrals to its client Autodesk’s WikiHelp product documentation community. Online Help is also the number one lead source for RightScale, another Mindtouch user. According to Mindtouch:

Rather than relying on marketing to educate customers on how Autodesk products are solving real issues, they’re using SEO-friendly documentation on WikiHelp and the WikiHelp community to show 13 Autodesk products in action.

Sarah Maddox of Atlassian confirms this trend, revealling their user documentation Web site now attracts more traffic than the main company Web site.

You too can save your organisation money and have your documentation solution become a primary lead generation source for you. Contact us if you’d like to discover how.