Issues for developers moving from on-premises software to Software as a Service.

On Monday, I spoke at the Visma Developer Days conference in Riga, Latvia, about some issues software companies have to address when migrating from developing on-premises software to Software as a Service.

One of the of the biggest changes is that the revenues are spread over the lifetime of customer – they pay on a monthly basis rather than an initial up-front payment. It becomes vital customers don’t give up on using the software after only a short while, because you won’t have earnt much income from that customer. If the software is difficult to use, and if users cannot find the answers to questions when they need them, there’s a good chance they will stop using the software, and stop paying their subscription fees.

We’re seeing a number of software companies changing their approach to providing user assistance (user documentation). More companies are thinking about it at the start of the project, so they can do a better job of delivering user documentation than they’ve done for on-premises software. They’re seeing documentation as part of the customer journey, and part of the design process.

This is welcome news, although it requires development teams to combine product design with information design. I wonder if there’ll be similar trends emerging at the next conference I’ll be attending – MadWorld 2014.

Getting information from Subject Matter Experts

Flickr photo an interview by illustirInterviews with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are some of the most useful sources for Technical Authors when they are gathering information about a product or procedure. This often involves asking a developer or departmental manager a series of questions focused on the types of questions end users are likely to ask.

Interviewing is one of those dark arts that Technical Authors pick up over time – techniques for getting SMEs to find the time to speak to you and review your drafts, ways to avoid conversations meandering away from what the user will want to know, tools for capturing the interview, and so on.

So what tools should you use?

Coming armed with biscuits (cookies in the USA) is probably the most effective tool! After that, the most useful tool to have is a voice recording device. If you have a smartphone, in effect, you have a digital voice recorder. There are many voice recording apps for both iOS and Android, but the one we like is Recordium.

Recordium

In addition to recording audio, Recordium also enables you annotate the voice recording. You can highlight and tag certain parts of audio recordings (for example: to indicate a new topic or to mark sections that relate to definitions of terms etc), and add attachments to those sections as well. You can use it, in effect, as an audio-orientated note clipping application, similar to Evernote.

Recordium also enables you to vary the playback speed. We’ve found this useful when SMEs are using specialist terminology – you can slow down the recording to check what it was they actually said. Listening at a faster speed is also a useful way of reviewing a recording quickly.

Technical Authors still need to transcribe sections of the interview, so it becomes text. Unfortunately, Text-to-Speech applications still have some way to go. Dragon Dictation is available for Apple devices, and ListNote offers similar functionality for Android. However, even if you are just a two fingered typist, you’re probably better off transcribing the audio yourself.

Are there any other apps you’d recommend? Let us know.

Assessing the potential savings from single sourcing

One of the main benefits from single sourcing is the ability to reuse existing content. Different departments can avoid duplicating work, which means they can save time and money.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to quantify these savings before you move to an authoring or content management system that enables you to single source. Analysing all the existing documents in a business can be overwhelming, which means often organisations only quantify the savings after the single sourcing content management system has been implemented.

There are a few software applications that can help you analyse your existing content and determine how much duplication exists. You get a sense of how much time and effort was wasted in the past, which is a pretty good indication of how much waste you’d avoid in the future.

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The best Documentation Manager vacancy we think we’ve ever had on our books

We’ve been asked to a find candidates for a fabulous permanent vacancy at one of our clients.

You need to lead and develop their vision of the role of User Assistance and content. This means treating content as a function of design (and user experience), with the appropriate information provided to users at all points during the customer journey. Your role will be discover and incorporate the best ideas and practices from other leaders in content creation into your team.

In effect, this means they are looking for someone who is currently:

  • a content strategy manager (media manager/editor) with experience of developing user assistance for software, or
  • a documentation/technical publications manager with experience of content strategy.

You can work in Buckinghamshire or in Cambridge, and you can work part of the week from home if you wish.

For more details, see:

#4144 Documentation Manager/Content Strategy Manager, Bucks/Cambs,£55K-£70K DOE

Estimating production times for screencasts and elearning

Screencasts and video based learning content are growing in popularity, and we’re seeing a rise in the number of enquiries for this type of content.

Estimating the time required to develop this type of content can vary quite considerably. The easiest way to estimate the time required is to use metrics based on the duration of the screencast or video.

A simple walkthrough of a task or applications screen can take between 10:1 (ten minutes to produce  one minute of a screencast) and 100:1. The most generally quoted figure we’ve seen is 30:1.

If you want to add audio to your screencast, this is likely to be closer to 200:1. That’s because you’ll probably need to write a script, record the audio, adjust the audio quality, add the audio to the animation, and so on.

If you want to include video of a presenter, this will make the presentation look more professional, but it will mean you’ll need to allocate more time to development and production. In this case, you’ll be looking at a ratio closer to 300:1.You can reduce the time by using avatars (images of a presenter) instead of a real presenter. Adobe Captivate comes bundled with sets of avatars to help you do this.

Another factor is the level of professionalism you want to achieve. It can take time and effort to produce high quality audio and video. Lighting, in particular, can be a challenge. Adding quizzes and exercises will also have a significant impact on the time required. Creating your own music bed (a musical background to the narration) will also increase the time required. In the past, we’ve purchased audio background music files under licence, as it saved time.

What’s your experience? How long does it take you to create this type of content. Please share your thoughts below.

Planning and running a documentation sprint

Atlassian’s Sarah Maddox has posted her slides from her STC Summit 13 presentation “Doc sprints: The ultimate in collaborative document development”. It’s a useful description of a documentation sprint and its benefits:


Contact Cherryleaf if you’d like help and assistance in managing a documentation sprint.