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.

Popcorn Maker – “freeing Web videos from the little black box”

Mozilla has released Version 1 of Popcorn Maker, a free HTML5 Web application that enables you to create videos that interact with images, text, maps and other media.

This means you are able to add live content to a video. For example, if you have a video telling a user how to purchase an item, you could include details on the specific item they want to purchase, within the video.

Popcorn Maker

Version 1 of Popcorn Maker offers basic functionality. More advanced functionality (such as synchronising a text transcript with a video) is also available via a JavaScript framework.

Mozilla is promoting this as a tool for video makers, but it offers new capabilities to those involved in corporate training, support and user assistance.

In the upcoming weeks, Cherryleaf be advising our clients how they can use the technology in their training videos and screencasts.

See also: Screencast, eLearning and animated tutorial development services

Reducing app abandonment

app abandonment - app store imageAt the UAEurope 12 conference, SAP’s Keren Okman quoted a shocking statistic: that the average mobile or tablet app* is used an average of just 3-4 times by a user.

The issue of “app abandonment” is one that is likely to be of greater concern for software developers in the future, as they invest ever increasing amounts of time and money into developing apps for tablets and mobile devices.

Keren said SAP’s response has been to get their Technical Authors involved in writing the product descriptions displayed in app stores. This is the information people read before deciding to purchase. They plan to rewrite these descriptions and provide more guidance on how to use the produce before customers get started.

In the same way that developers are now considering a “mobile first” strategy when they develop new software and web sites, we may be seeing the beginnings of a “Help first” strategy as well.

A “Help first” strategy is where developers abandon the belief in the totally intuitive app (one that sells itself, requires no online Help and only needs limited support) and recognises the limitations of mobile operating systems require Help/User Assistance to be designed into the application from the very outset of the project planning.

To prove this, developers can use A/B testing to reduce app abandonment and evaluate how much User Assistance is needed.

Unfortunately, if app developers leave the planning for Help to the end, then their app has probably already failed.

*App is a term used for software applications for mobile and tablet devices.

Why Technical Authors make the best Project Managers for Agile projects

Red Gate Software’s Dominic Smith mentioned in his presentation at UAEurope conference that the company had found Technical Authors were ideally suited to take on the role of Project Manager for small Agile software development projects. In fact, Red Gate had morphed most of its Technical Authors into to a hybrid Project Manager role.

Dominic made a strong case why Technical Authors made good Agile software project managers:

  • They are focused on the user
  • They understand the user
  • They understand a lot of the technological aspects
  • They are used to delivering projects on time
  • They are more extravert and people-orientated than programmers (yes, this is broad generalisation)
  • They ensure User Assistance isn’t forgotten in the project plan, and that it is considered from the very start
  • They can provide a business focus to the project, and are able to kill projects that don’t make business sense any more.

Do you agree?

Disclosure: Red Gate is a client of ours.

New software that might interest Technical Authors

Here are some new tools we’ve found that might interest Technical Authors.

Google Ripples

Google Ripples is a tool that enables you to watch how posts get shared on Google+. If you publish user assistance or support information via Google+, it could help you track how far and wide it gets distributed. It could also help you see who are the most influential people, when it comes to transmitting a message.

Anthologize

Anthologize is a free, WordPress plugin that enables you to publish the content as electronic texts.

Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.

QR Tags – coming to your local Technical Author soon

We have been talking about the potential for using QR Tags since 2009, so it is great to see that MadCap Software has announced Flare version 7 will include QR Tag capabilities.

MadCap states:

In an online and searchable document, it is easy to include hyperlinks, URLs, etc., for users to access more information, but how do you enable this from a print document? With QR codes, authors can empower their users in ways never before possible, by giving them access to more relevant, actionable and up to date content wherever and whenever they need it, directly from any print document.

  1. Instead of creating a large manual with hundreds of pages, create a Quick Start guide with fewer pages. At the bottom of each page, step, topic, or procedure, add a QR code that allows users to access more detailed information online.
  2. For users out in the field that need access to updated information, include codes in printed manuals that direct them to the needed content in your Help system.
  3. You have a printed procedures manual with QR codes that, when scanned, link to movies showing the procedures in action.
  4. For external communication, include a QR code at the bottom of a document that takes them straight to a website where they can purchase a particular part or product.

Making predictions is a risky business – it’s possible to look back at our posts and see if our predictions have been spot on or widely off the mark. We believe it gives prospective clients some assurance we know what we’re talking about.

It’s a learning process. Do tell us if you agree or disagree with any of our predictions or if you think we’ve missed a trend.

Managing a documentation project – a guide (and a test of Camtasia)

This a short video overview of managing a documentation project. It’s something we put together as a test of some of the functionality of Techsmith’s Camtasia software.

Google Chrome OS Help – What will it be like?

Techcrunch has reported on an early glimpse of Google’s upcoming Operating System, Chrome OS. So, you are no doubt asking, will Chrome OS come with online Help? Will it be initiated in a similar way to Help in Windows or by some sort of new means?

From the screen shots on the Techcrunch site, it appears, yes,  there will be online Help. It will be initiated by clicking on a ? button in the top right hand corner. In short, it appears Google will be sticking to standard User Interface conventions. What’s unclear is whether the Help pages will be stored locally on the machine or “in the cloud”.