Target groups are still often barely taken into consideration in technical documentation. At the Schema User Conference 2014, Thomas Richwien demonstrated the extent of the useful effects of dealing thoroughly with one’s target groups.
Thomas Richwien studied engineering in Dortmund and Bochum. Subsequently he worked in mechanical engineering and software companies for several years. In 2004, he joined Agilent Technologies and there led the implementation of the content management system SCHEMA ST4. As manager of user information, he is now responsible for the preparation and supply of product-related information for the target groups spread across the world to customers’ sites, business partners and around his own company.
Agilent on Its Way to the Future
In 1999, Agilent has emerged from Hewlett-Packard and is one of the leading suppliers of measurement technology and test engineering. At the site in Waldbronn, Agilent produces liquid chromatographs and systems for electrophoresis. About 700 employees are working there. In the fall of last year, Agilent announced that in November 2014 the company is going to split off its business unit of measurement technology and test engineering for electronics and with the remaining business unit will focus on measurement technology and test engineering for life sciences, chemical analysis technology and diagnostics.
How does reorganization like that affect product communication? Which challenges need to be faced, what opportunities should be taken?
Documentation at Agilent
In the last years technical communication has gained importance at Agilent. It contributes significantly to more and more business processes, it communicates more products and generally creates more publications compared to only some years ago. The increasing importance is however not manifested in a larger workforce or bigger budgets.
A predicament that can only be solved by ever growing efficiency. And which is intensified by new markets, new technologies and the modular structure of the products, that is by additional challenges.
At Agilent we implemented basic measures to face these challenges and increase our efficiency. By migrating to ST4 as the central authoring tool an important foundation has been laid. It enables us to manage the content independently of the documents and products and to provide data in media-independent formats and, in addition, to simplify the document structures. Using the central content management system we automate documentation processes and slim down the localization process (no small matter when handling translations to more than 30 languages). All in all we had already achieved a visible simplification of processes and a reflected handling of the acquisition, development and maintenance of content merely by announcing the new organizational structure.
Our Documentation Goals
Where could there still be potential for optimization? It turned up at a rather unexpected spot: the target group. By adjusting to our target groups and understanding what they are doing we can use this knowledge to depict it in our business process models. The goal is integrated technical communication. Integration can happen on many levels:
- modular product components integrated with each other
- organizational integration
- integrated supply chains (outsourced and spread worldwide)
- integration of the user groups into a comprehensive communication concept
- integrated communication channels (return of information to technical communication)
- integration of internal tools, formats and processes.
In order to arrive there, we advanced in three steps.
- We reviewed the existing documents in a nominal-actual analysis and made requests. The central question we asked was: “What does the user information contribute to in the core business processes for adding value?” And thereby we realized that we are by no means any longer the classic documentation team that does not do anything else but write down the product information it receives from the development department.
- In a second step we put the user groups and information types in a matrix in relation to each other. Via a gap analysis we could thus compile priorities for the content and formats that need to be delivered.
- In a third step we will implement the hereby gained requirements and combine all content, online help, web and manuals and process them in such a way that they can also be used on mobile devices. They will be available for all user groups on a new reader platform. Multimedia content will (wherever possible) be preferred over text passages and translation costs will thus be lowered. Besides, this kind of presentation of content is much more adequate to the communication patterns of many users changed by the use of mobile devices and Web 2.0 applications.
Integrated Documentation – Result
It is worthwhile taking on the challenges and strategically focusing on technical communication. The user information becomes more important by a close connection to the needs of the target group and the internal business processes. It can now be strategically geared to the value chain, becoming leaner and at the same time more relevant. User information thus turns into an instrument for dialog with the customer and helps improve business processes. And in the process the regard for technical communication within the company improves.