ST4 in Small Technical Documentation Departments? – “For Us, It Was Definitely Worth the Effort!”

It’s evident that an expert tool such as SCHEMA ST4 is also well received in the world of small Technical Documentation departments, so we have asked another customer to tell us about his experience with ST4 in a “one-person Technical Documentation department.” Here, Marcus Eichhorn, technical writer at Becker-Antriebe GmbH, describes what changed for him when he started using ST4.

Mr Eichhorn, you are a technical writer at BECKER-Antriebe GmbH. Can you tell us in a few words what kind of products your company makes?
Becker-Antriebe GmbH, located in Sinn, Germany, was founded in 1921 and is still privately owned. It is a midsized company with about 330 employees worldwide, about 230 of them in Germany. We manufacture electrical drives and controls for rolling shutters, sun protection systems, gates and special applications. With the Central Control house automation system, developed by BECKER in 2011, we are also addressing the future “smart home” market.

Our products are sold by our affiliates in the Benelux, France, Spain, Czech Republic, and Turkey, as well as in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa through cooperation partners.

What did the initial situation in the technical authoring team look like prior to introducing ST4?
We used to create all instructions with InDesign, and the graphics were (and still are) created and edited in CorelDraw. InDesign allowed us to be very flexible in our design, but the effort to create and maintain the layouts was quite high.

Where did you come into contact with ST4 for the first time? And since when have you been using ST4 for your technical authoring work? How did that come about?
I first came into contact with ST4 at a tecom conference in 2009. Back then, it was clear that we needed a different solution for our documentation, because the effort with InDesign was getting to be too high. So I thought about ways to make the authoring tasks more efficient, and researched the topic of content management systems.

We evaluated costs, benefits, advantages and disadvantages and made the decision for SCHEMA ST4. It was essential that the technical writer could create and change layouts himself without needing to know how to program. I have now been working with the system for four years.

What has changed for you since implementing ST4? Can you give us concrete examples?
First of all, my personal working methods have changed since we’ve implemented ST4:

Initially, the separation of content and layout was quite odd, and I would often check the preview to see what the PDF document would look like. Today, I only look at the final PDF file and “tweak” it here and there, and am done. This gives me more time for my authoring tasks.

The structured storage and precise reuse information gives me a better overview of existing text modules and graphics.

There were also extensive improvements to the entire authoring process by implementing ST4: Today, we produce the ST4 print products in-house with a print-on-demand solution, which has distinct advantages: great flexibility, low storage, quick implementation of changes and additions, which means hardly any paper waste through overproduction, in turn saving important resources regarding sustainability.

Was the investment worthwhile? Often, the argument is “it’s not worth it for a small Technical Documentation department.”
The investment for us more than paid for itself. For layout creation and changes alone I save a great deal of time by using ST4.

In addition, the translation process has significantly improved: We only export text and graphics for translation that really need to be translated or localized. And we save all costs for translation that we used to have through layout changes.

Let’s look at the layout: All in all, by using ST4, we reduced costs by over EUR 12 000 per year.

Standardization is one of the important aspects for ST4. What is your take on that as “one-person Technical Documentation department?”
I may be by myself, but at the moment I am responsible for about 1300 instruction guides and 20 languages. This volume alone makes standardization a central aspect of my work. The more standardized the documents, the quicker I can react to changes without reducing quality. Sometimes, though, this requires convincing the project leads.

What,for you personally, are the greatest advantages of ST4? Are there also disadvantages? How did you handle them?
Being able to manage text and graphics in a single system is an advantage compared to other solutions. And, as mentioned, layout management plays a central role for us. The greatest advantage of ST4 for me, then, is that you can create your own layouts once you’ve had the requisite training. This allows you to react very flexibly to CI changes and customer requirements.

There are also a number of features that simplify an technical writer’s everyday job: With one click, I can see an overview of the reuse of texts or graphics. The layout preview allows me to see the results of my work immediately. And the translation report allows me to see at a glance which translations are current, which texts are being translated at the moment, and which still need to be translated.

Sometimes standardization has its price, because once implemented in the system, it reduces flexibility to a certain degree. That, of course, is not a disadvantage of ST4, but rather the price you pay for working more efficiently.

Finally, do you have a tip for other one-person Technical Documentation departments that are interested in implementing ST4?
In my experience, it’s extremely important to take enough time in the beginning to create management concepts and build the structure, even if you’d rather get down to creating documentation right away. Also, it makes sense to create all new documents with ST4 right from the start, even if this initially takes longer. The time invested pays out quickly in the end.

Marcus Eichhorn has been working for Becker-Antriebe Gmbh since 1997 and has been responsible for technical documentation since 2002. He is a skilled industry mechanic and studied to be an industrial management assistant, and in his free time he is a sports marksman and likes to go to the gym.

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