Archive for the ‘STC’ Category

2013 STC Summit Questions and Answers

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013

I look at the industry today and I just don’t get businesses’ attitude about content. Most feel that content is just a business expense that needs to be trimmed at every budget cycle. Ask anyone who has said, “Hey, if we follow this process, we can cut our cost by this much!” They came across as a rock star for a brief period, but then the next year came around and they were asked, “How much can you cut this year?” It’s as though the very first conversation went something like this:

Business Owner: “We have too much profit. We need to figure out a way to spend all this money. I know! We will waste a bunch of money writing a manual describing how to use our product. It’s perfect!”

I don’t think a conversation like that ever happened. In fact, I think it was the opposite:

Business Owner: “We need to generate more revenue. We need to figure out a way to increase our product value and make our customer more loyal. I know! We will write a manual describing how to use our product and deliver it in a way to increase our customers’ experience. It’s perfect!”

Somewhere along the line, content was turned into a contractual obligation or a liability defense and business strategists simply forgot about documentation. Well, Summit 2013 decided to stand up and say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

That was one of the things that made Summit special this year—a shift in a mindset that content can and will generate revenue for a company. Businesses need to start planning for that in their strategy. I personally feel the biggest push for this new mindset is the advancements in mobile technology. Mobile devices are going to outnumber PCs 5 to 1 this year, and 1 in 4 adults own a tablet. Now, instead of PDFs, technical writers have to think about Kindles, iPhones, Razors, Galaxys, and so on. This is actually a very good thing for content. Because of instant access on mobile devices, users now want their content to travel with them. Businesses can now increase customer satisfaction through multi-device delivery, and there were a lot of good presentations on that topic at the conference. We had many people coming by the booth and asking fantastic questions: What is HTML5 and how does it work across multiple devices? What tricks do I have to use to display content properly on a smaller screen? What kind of workflow will generate revenue, and how do I align my processes with my company’s business strategy? These are all great questions, and we want to answer them. You can find a few answers in our resource library, but we are also going to be releasing some related whitepapers and tips and tricks in the next couple of months.

One of the big questions was “What do I need to think about when delivering content across mobile devices?” The answer is this: It’s different from delivering by PDF. That is probably the concept most content creators are struggling with. For example, consider tool tips. On most mobile devices, the screens are touch. That technology does not have a hover function, which is what is used to activate the tool tip on a desktop. So, the first assumption is that you are going to lose some functionality when going to mobile. However, this is not the case. You have to remember that users are moving to mobile because it is their preferred method of receiving information. They are already familiar with a mobile environment and want it. Whatever features they can use on a desktop that are not found on a mobile device are just not important enough to them. This actually makes it easier for the tech writer. Design for a mobile environment, and you will be giving users exactly what they want. They will even prefer the layout if they move back to a desktop because the behavior is the same as it was on their mobile device.

We will go into more depth on the differences of a mobile environment in future whitepapers, so keep checking back with us. Soon, that budget conversation will go like this:

“Hey, if you invest this much money in our current documentation, we can raise revenue by 2%.” You will still come across as a rock star, and next year they will ask, “How much do you need this year?” Now isn’t that a better conversation to have?

Technical Communications—It’s Not Just Documentation, It’s A Mindset

Posted on: August 24th, 2012
Piecing Together The Workflow

The Tech Pubs Social, WebWorks monthly luncheon meet-up of local Austin technical communication professionals, is an informal gathering focused on discussing current industry trends and technologies. For this month’s meet-up, I set out with the topic “Authoring Tool vs. Editing Tool” in mind; however, since the meet-up is an informal round table environment, the conversation quickly migrated into a different direction.

I am ecstatic when I see our conversation veer from the predefined topic. When I see the conversation begin to evolve, I know we are making strides in the right direction. Business doesn’t revolve around predefined parameters; it adjusts to suit the needs of the market. So when I see the course of our conversation change direction, I know we are truly beginning to tap into real-world issues affecting our industry.

The course of this month’s Tech Pubs Social took us down the road of customer service. This conversation couldn’t have taken a better turn, as I believe that now, more than ever, is the time for Technical Communication departments to focus on the customer. Now don’t get me wrong—I know TechComm departments focus on the end-user, but I really think there is a new, special opportunity presented through our documentation that wasn’t present in the past, and now is the time to capitalize on it. All we need is the right mindset.

“Technical Communication is the most pivotal department in ensuring a company’s success.”

This is the mindset that I’m referring to. Documentation holds a very unique position that can help a company decrease its customer defection rate while strengthening its overall business strategy. This unique position allows for documentation to achieve this while giving maximum results.

For example, marketing is used to put the face of your company in front of potential clients. Sales will then have needs-based conversions: if there is a match between customer needs and product features, there is typically a sale. However, this is only about 10% of the process for the client; the other 90% is usage. While the customer is using your product, your product’s documentation is an extension of your company. Your documentation is getting far more face time with your end-user and speaks to the creditability of your company. It also has the ability to make or break you in the eyes of the customer who is looking for ease of use.

Allow me to emphasize my point. When users visit your documentation, it is for one of two reasons. (1) they want to learn more about the product they are using, or (2) they have an issue that needs to be resolved. The cost has already been incurred and the user is now dependent upon your product. This is where you have the opportunity to show your true value to an impressionable client. If you have an open line of communication to that end-user, like that of technical documentation, you have the most relevant form of information exchange with the end-user. Not only is this an opportunity to maximize the customer experience, it is also a great opportunity to gather information that can fuel your workflow. I have only been in the industry of technical communication for three years, but in that time, I have noticed that many companies do not take advantage of this opportunity, mainly because they do not have a proper workflow set up to capitalize on it.

Look at the reverse to further explain the premise. If as a company you don’t meet your customers’ expectations through your documentation, you instill a shadow of doubt in your customer and subsequently have to shift to playing defense the rest of the way down the road. Even if you reach a resolve through technical support, your customers’ expectations have already not been met.

Workflow

I have come to realize that discussing the breadth of a proper workflow exceeds the parameters of a simple blog post. Because of this, WebWorks has decided to compose a whitepaper discussing the steps of a successful workflow in a more detailed manner. This whitepaper will offer you a blueprint on how to capitalize through your documentation. Thus, the main purpose of this blog post is to put you in the right mindset and prepare you for the release of this paper coming soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with these thoughts about the possibilities of technical communication:

  1. Technical communication is not an expense that should have its cost cut year after year, thus making it an afterthought in your business strategy. It is a revenue generation tool that businesses can invest in and see an ROI from that investment.
  2. Technical communication is the most pivotal department in ensuring a company’s success!

Did you miss Christopher’s last entries? Check them out here!

Hot Topics From Summit 2012

Solving the Puzzle of Viewing Content Across Multi-Platform Devices

Solving the Puzzle of Viewing Content Across Multi-Platform Devices

Posted on: July 11th, 2012 No Comments
Multi-Platform Capabilities

This is the second installment of my three-part blog series, which began on June 8, entitled Hot Topics From STC 2012. This series brings to light the three hottest topics at this year’s STC Summit 2012; change, multi-platform mobile devices, and new ways to look at workflows. The first installment covered the topic of change, so in this post I would like to move on to our second topic, multi-platform mobile devices.

The multi-platform topic seems to be an issue EVERYONE has been discussing lately; I’m not just talking about the technical communication industry, but anyone with a web appearance. I personally, have read many articles and researched this topic thoroughly prior to the release of our in-depth whitepaper entitled Responsive UX Design just over a week ago. The whitepaper covers one of the more popular solutions to cross-platform viewer experience achievable today. In today’s market, WebWorks ePublisher is the only authoring tool that automatically codes Responsive Web Design directly into the users output. Now, I’m not bragging (well, maybe just a little), but my primary goal is to let you know that we have done our research on the topic of Responsive Design and what I find missing in almost all of the conversations is the answer to the following questions: Why is it important to be cross-platform compatible? I believe the reason for the omission of this question is that most writers feel their audience already knows why it is important to be cross-platform compatible and therefore think the knowledge is inferred.

So why is multi-platform compatibility so important? The fact is that because there are so many individuals watching this topic today, there are a number of different reasons why it is so important. Personally, I feel it is important because a business wants to reach its entire audience, not just part of its audience. With the advances in mobile technology, more and more of your audience is receiving your content on the go using various mobile devices. A successful company needs to be prepared to meet this demand.

My company’s mission is to help businesses retain their customers, which is why we developed our solution in accordance with this growing trend. We looked at several different ways to resolve the issue of cross-platform compatibility, specifically focusing on the three most common solutions described below, in order to determine the most viable.

Dedicated Mobile Sites
The concept of dedicated mobile sites simply means managing two separate sites: one for desktop viewing and another for mobile users. In this scenario, viewers are directed to the appropriate site when their device characteristics are detected.

We do not see this as a valid solution for a couple of reasons. First, you are doubling your workflow, as two separate sites means you have two sites to maintain because your mobile compatible site is completely different. You’re managing separate forms of navigation, imagery, and at times even content, and this can easily get out of hand or cumbersome to maintain. Second, this method can have a negative effect on your SEO rankings. Having two separate sites with similar content but separate locations can easily have a negative effect on the link juice depicting your ratings. This can also affect your user experience; for example, when a mobile user submits a search query, it has the potential to return content from both your desktop version and your mobile version. If users click on a desktop result, are detected as a mobile device, and then are redirected to the alternate mobile content, they may not be able to find the pertinent information they are looking for. For these reasons, we decided to discount the dedicated mobile site as a viable solution.

Mobile First
The mobile-first solution focuses on adapting content to the smallest device possible. The theory here centers on the concept that when your users move to larger devices, the content will resize to adapt to the larger viewport. This approach was very popular when it first came out; it seemed to be a solution of relative simplicity, and to a degree, it is. However, I think we need to redirect that experience. The process of authoring should be simple, allowing authors to focus on delivering their message to their audience rather than to a particular device. One problem with the mobile-first method is that quality is easily lost. I have seen sites that look great on small devices, but when rendered in larger devices, they become fuzzy and harder to follow. You also lose the ability to take full advantage of the useful features commonly used in larger devices with this method. Again, this method just misses the mark for delivering top quality across the gamut of all devices.

Responsive UX
The Responsive UX solution is coded within the page itself. This solution is also referred to as fluid design. Basically, the coding makes the page a little smarter. It tells the site to detect the device or viewport size and then display the layout to optimize the screen’s real estate. This method focuses on one single site, thereby alleviating the hassle of maintaining a second set of content. It has the capability to handle content around graphics, giving the user the ability and option to scroll a picture, but it resizes text content around the graphics in a readable, non-scrolling fashion. Most importantly, the layout relies on the capabilities of the browser, giving the author freedom to focus on delivering his/her content to the audience. Responsive UX is a technology that is still early in development and fairly fresh to the world of web content, but it has amazing capabilities already, and we feel that as it grows, it will keep getting better.

In summary, after much debate and research on the topic, I, as well as the WebWorks team, feel that the Responsive UX solution is the most progressive, forward-thinking solution, and it offers the most dynamic capabilities to our end users when it comes to the topic of multi-platform capabilities. It puts the heavy lifting on the browser and frees up authors to focus on their content. Furthermore, it lives on a single URL, allowing no deviation in SEO rankings, and it allows users to take full advantage of all the features their device is capable

Hot Topics From Summit 2012

Posted on: June 8th, 2012 No Comments
STC Hot Topics

One of the things I like to do when I’m in the booth is ask people what they liked about Summit. I think STC does a good job putting the hot topics in front of its members and then bringing in people with good opinions about those topics. I am always surprised to see what topics are referenced the most. This year, three topics bubbled to the top: change, new ways to look at workflows, and multi-platform mobile devices.

These are great topics, and really, they are all related. I’d like to shed a little light on how we at WebWorks look at these topics, but to cover all three would be far too broad for a single blog post. So, I will cover change in this blog post and follow with posts about workflow and multi-platform mobile devices. Now let’s look at the topic of change.

There are many good techniques for implementing change in the workplace, but first, it is important to understand why change is needed so that the implementation can be on track. Change in the workplace is needed because the technical communication industry is changing. If you follow the timeline of help documentation, you’ll see that for a very long time, the only medium available was a printed manual. This left a lot to be desired when it came to accessibility because if you didn’t have the manual with you, then you didn’t have access to help. I remember when I was growing up, we had a drawer in the kitchen for all our manuals. There was no organization at all, but if we needed a manual, we knew it was in that drawer, which we nicknamed the “Smithsonian.” Sometimes I would go through it and find manuals of appliances we owned in a different era and then act like I had just found a hidden treasure (like the Acme horse buggy’s whip user guide).

But like all industries, technology would bring a change to help documentation and the technical communication industry. In the ’80s, the personal computer brought desktops to the consumer world and created a need for electronic documents. PDFs emerged as the standard electronic manual. They still held the format of a printed document, but they could link TOCs, which made it a little easier to search for topics. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best technology at the time. Companies adapted the idea of PDFs quickly because they no longer had to worry about printing or shipping costs.

I personally believe this is when technical communications began to be spotlighted in the debit column of business ledgers. This change put a mindset in managers’ heads that technical communication was a business expense and, to manage it properly, they had to look for a way to cut costs.

The next stage in the evolution of technical communications came via Al Gore and his birth child, the Internet (chuckle). Users wanted URL availability for their help content. It seems logical that most people who used a computer would have a hard time remembering a location in a file directory, but they sure as heck could remember anything that was preceded by a “www.” Also, HTML allowed for the introduction of some very rich features with help sets, such as:

  • Multiple ways to express a message or add company branding without having to follow the guidelines of PDF, CHM, or other localized output.
  • Search features for whole document sets and real-time updates through centralized storage of the help set.

Still, there was one barrier that remained: accessibility. Users were either bringing a desktop computer with them or using a manual to access content. If only there were some way to make a computer smaller to give the user some mobility. Now we enter today—the era of Apple’s reinvention of the phone, and the dawning of MOBILE TECHNOLOGY. (You were supposed to hear a booming voice when reading that phrase. If you didn’t, I would suggest going back and reading it again to get the full effect because mobile technology is really pretty cool.)

I would like to add a disclaimer at this point. I understand that I have left out a few things in this timeline, but keep in mind this is a blog post, and I am trying, unsuccessfully I realize, to keep this short. I am also looking at this from a business point of view. We are trying to understand why we need to change the industry, or the workplace. The points I have illustrated on the timeline really did not become a factor for all businesses until they were widely adapted by the market. Businesses do not make changes unless they are certain they will be adopted by a larger proportion of the market. Good businesses make a specific change before that adaptation, while great businesses lead the change. Take, for example, the notebook computer. It has experienced some huge improvements in power, weight, and size, but more people are turning to their phones because they can ACCESS them almost anywhere. That means mobile adaptation is a HUGE concern for businesses . . . which brings me to my final observation.

Why is this evolution of help documentation tied to technology? I mean, really, who cares when and how you get your help documentation? To get in the right mindset for the answer, I want you to think about this: Back when PDFs first came out and managers were looking to cut expenses, why didn’t they just cut out the help manual all together? Because clients, customers, patrons, or whatever you want to call them have always wanted relevant, focused, and accessible help documentation. The exciting part is that they’ve never really been 100% satisfied with the options that were out there, but with today’s advancements in technology, they now know they can get the help they need in the format they want. Thus, today, help documentation is shifting from being a “need” to a “demand.” Needs are cool because if you meet a customer’s need, then you generate revenue for your company. Demands separate businesses into two columns—winners and losers—because if you can’t meet the customer’s demand but your competition can . . . well, I will let you figure out which column your company will fall in. Change can be very good for business; you just need to embrace it and stay on top of it.

STC Summit 2012 Recap For Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 No Comments
STC Summit 2012

I really like walking into the exhibition hall first thing in the morning. It is very quiet in the room, and everyone is focused on making those last-minute changes to their booths, thinking “Ok, how do I position this pen to catch the eye of potential clients walking by?” Most people would think this level of detail is silly, but if you think about it, all we are doing is trying to use our presentation to help us deliver a message, much like we deliver a message through content. Presentation helps us guide our audience to the things we would like them to see, or places we believe they want to go. An example of this in content is our responsive Reverb output. When it detects a smaller screen size, it expands the table of contents so the user has more relevant information to work with. It changes its presentation of the material to engage the user and improve the experience. Of course, there is one thing that every good communicator thinks about before the presentation, something that is key to the success of delivering any message, but is often hard to understand: traffic.

Here is a good example of traffic. Next time you walk into an exhibit hall, ask yourself, “Would I want to be the booth in the back?” Lack of traffic means lack of opportunity. It is the same with help documentation. Less traffic means less opportunity for you to provide the information your audience needs.

We feel it is important in todays world for technical communicators to understand traffic, which is one reason we always sponsor Patricia Boswell’s Analytics for Web-Based User Docs course. Analytics is a good way to measure the “traffic” of your audience using your help documentation. It helps you know where to deliver the most important information so you can be certain your audience will see it. It can also be used as a tool to measure the effectiveness of content. I can see businesses someday using help documentation to effectively measure an ROI from the content they are putting out to their customer base.

I really like Patricia’s class, and this year she delved deeper in to the numbers and introduced some new tools. The team and I had a chance to sit down with Patricia over wine and sushi rolls Tuesday night. She told us about her back ground with Google and her extensive knowledge on analytics. She is a very interesting person to speak with and certainly the right person to learn from on this topic.

We both agree that Analytics can and will be a key factor in help documentation in the future. It will help technical communicators analyze patterns in their audience, and with that data, they will be able to shape their content to provide the best user experience by displaying the most relevant content at the right time. If you attended Summit 2012 then you should have access to Patricia’s presentation. If you were not able to attend, you can log in and purchase access to all the presentations from Summit 2012 at the same site.

STC Summit Rosemont-Chicago, First Day

Posted on: May 21st, 2012

The WebWorks Team landed in Chicago around 11:44 a.m. Eagar to get started, we headed outside the airport to the bus and shuttle stop to catch our ride to the hotel. The shuttle for the Hyatt Regency O’Hare pulled up, and other eager conference attendees boarded with the usual sounds, except for one. Erin, part of our team and much more a stickler for detail than I am, asked the driver, “Hey, is this the Hyatt you are taking us to?” The driver looked at the address she was presenting and said, “No, that is the other Hyatt.” The other Hyatt? I was thinking, “How many Hyatts can Rosemont hold?” Well, what a surprise to find out that I had booked rooms at the wrong Hyatt. I had made my first mistake of the conference, and I have not even left the airport yet. Now, it was not as bad as it seemed. The other Hyatt was less than a mile away, but it was still the wrong one, and when I asked if we could walk, I was told the mile was more like Da Nang. Cab escorts for us then.

Making a split decision at the airport, I said, “Take us to the right Hyatt” because I had to set up the WebWorks booth, and let’s face it, I was still excited about being at Summit 2012. So, we set up the booth and met our channel partner, Georg Eck from SQUIDDS. Something you have to keep in mind is we had tickets for the 1:30 game at Wrigley Field. It was the Chicago White Sox visiting the Chicago Cubs, and I didn’t care if Santa had become a mutant and I had to get him the antidote to save Christmas, I was going to the Sox v. Cubs game first.

This finally tuned WebWorks team set our booth up in record time. Then we headed to our “wrong” hotel to check in and drop off our bags, and then finally on to Wrigley Field. Now STC was the reason for the trip, and I was buzzing with excitement after setting up Booth 208, but back in February, Jack Newman told me that seeing a game at Wrigley Field was on his bucket list. Jack has been with Quadralay for about 4 years now, and he is a big part of the WebWorks family. When your family comes to you with a request, well, you can’t refuse. So my family and I made it happen (shouts out to Erin and Georg). The game was legendary. The visiting White Sox beat the Cubs 6 to nothing. We have pics of the family in front of that iconic Wrigley Field sign. If I had to do it over, I would make the same decision and the same mistakes, because that perfect game for the Sox turned out to be the perfect game for us. Jack crossed an entry off his bucket list, and our channel partner for Germany witnessed his first American baseball game at Wrigley Field, Chicago v. Chicago.

When I thought the day could not get any better, we headed back to the conference in preparation for the Welcome Reception and Expo Open. Seven p.m. came around, and the doors opened to the hall with the music and chatter buzzing. I was excited before, but as my old and new friends started pouring in, I just got happy. Manning the Quadralay booth with pride as always, and with the new release of 2012.1, I had a lot of bragging points, but most of the conversations were centered around procedure and our sense of purpose. I can see now that when I told myself back in Rosemont that anybody, at anytime, anywhere can open a help documentation set and do what they were born to do, I was right­, and not only can it happen, but it has to and will.

Finally, with the reception over, Georg, Jack, Erin, and I settled down for the evening meal. Georg and I talked about what he would like SQUIDDs to get out of the conference. Georg is an expert on work flow. He told me that often, Tecom Workflow does not align with business strategy. He told me about how in Germany, Tecom Communicators are experts on procedure, but they often are kept in the dark about overall business strategy. I talked to him about his experience, and we shared our vision. After hours of conversation, Georg sat back, smiled, and said, “Christopher, you realize this is bigger than the both of us,” and I said, “Georg, if it wasn’t, we would not be interested.”