Changing times in technical communication

Deepak Chopra quotation Flickr image  Celestine ChuaWe’ve been on the road in recent days and weeks, visiting different documentation teams, and we’ve found there are distinct signs of change.

In previous years, most documentation managers have effectively been saying to us their organisations weren’t really clear about the value of documentation. As the Technical Publications team usually amounts to less than 5% of the IT budget, the successful companies have, in the past, not worried about this and left the documentation team to work out for themselves what they should be doing. However, for organisations that have been watching every percent in the budget, they’ve reduced the spend on technical documentation to the bare minimum. Of course, in a recession that’s been quite a few companies.

What we’ve been told by a number of documentation teams is senior management is starting to rethink their view and approach to User Assistance. You might think the impetus for this change was driven by a need to reduce localisation costs or create mobile-compatible content, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the motivation is more a need to create a better “customer journey” (or user experience).

We’ve blogged in the past about how the marketing funnel has changed as a consequence of Social Media and the “try before you buy” sales model  (see How technical content on the Web is turning traditional marketing strategy on its head). Google has also promoted this change through its “Zero Moment of Truth” videos:

With the technical content being important at the beginning of the customer journey, not the end, the drive to rethink User Assistance is coming from the Marketing department, and those involved in product design. They’re saying the current underfunded Help pages are no longer enough.

This is all happening within the context of Technical Publications teams that are overworked and hampered with using out of date tools (as there’s been no budget to upgrade to the latest versions). They’ve been stuck wasting time having to manually fix issues like broken links, numbered lists and PDF page numbering.

This means things have to change, if the organisation wants the documentation team to improve what’s delivered: the tools, the workflow, who is creating content, the amount of manpower available, what is delivered, and the media used. The good news is, there seems to be willingness from senior management now to support and fund these changes.

What do you think?

Please share your thoughts below.

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Larry Kunz

This is interesting and timely, Ellis. Social marketing is here to stay, and you’re right when you say that Tech Comm has a major role to play. In your travels, have you gotten a sense of how much this increased awareness is being driven by the Tech Comm departments? Or is the impetus coming mostly (or entirely) from Sales and Marketing?

Ellis Pratt

Hi Larry
It varies. If you look at Citrix, you’ll find their Tech Pubs department is now called Information Experience. They are writing articles in CIDM magazine, making conference presentations etc. In other cases, it’s those developing the content strategy or planning Software as a Service offerings that are driving the change.

Colum McAndrew

This is an interesting perspective. There is probably a conference presentation in there somewhere 🙂 It is a shame that the impetus is not coming from our industry, although I am not that surprised. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where the impetus comes from. The key thing is that we are involved in the process as an equal.

Ellis Pratt

The potential downside might be that Marketing decides which tools and content management system the organisation adopts, with the Technical Authors having to adapt to those decisions.

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