Peter Wagner is a consultant for Dakota Systems in Chicago in the US, a company that develops enterprise publishing and content management solutions. Previously he worked for more than 25 years at Siemens Building Technologies in Buffalo Grove in the US. He has a Master’s degree in journalism and is a member of the Society for Technical Communications. In the course of his professional career, he has learned about almost all aspects of technical communication: working as a journalist for a technical magazine publishing house; developing printed manuals and online help, developing user interfaces for Windows programs, and developing and teaching RoboHelp seminars. In 2008 he became the key user for ST4 at Siemens, and told us about his experiences at the SCHEMA Conference 2015.
Peter, can you tell us a bit about Siemens Building Technologies?
We produce control systems and products for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as fire prevention and security systems. Our broad product palette includes everything from hardware, such as valves and electrical drives, to software. And everything in between, of course.
Accordingly, our documentation landscape is multifaceted as well: We create data sheets, marketing materials, manuals, service instructions and much more. And we target both internal audiences (sales, service, and support) and external groups (potential and existing customers). Typically, we produce both print (PDF) and Microsoft HTML Help (.chm).
How did you arrive at ST4 as your content management system?
Full of hope, we started in 2006 with a project in Buffalo Grove to implement a CMS system, but unfortunately, the project got cancelled the same year because of across-the-board company budget cuts. In 2007 I joined a global project, with which we introduced SCHEMA ST4 DocuManager in Buffalo Grove. And so we became part of a global Siemens community which has grown to approximately 80 authors. Someplace in the world, somebody is always working with SCHEMA ST4.
And what does a key user do?
The key user supports the users in his group or region, and represents them in the global Siemens ST4 community. He helps the authors with onsite training, with problems, or how to use the software in general. To be frank, a key user needs the enthusiasm of cheerleader, and the patience of a saint.
As the North American key user, I represented more than 20 authors in Buffalo Grove, Florham Park, NJ, and in Atlanta. Apart from your tasks as a key user, it’s also expected that you manage a large number of projects. So we designated three additional local power users so that I could keep up with my project work, in addition to my key user activities.
How do you work with ST4?
All new product lines are created in ST4. Existing product lines are imported into ST4 when they get updated, and from then on they live only in ST4. We continue to maintain a small number of products, which we know will be discontinued soon, with the old tools.
What were the biggest differences to your former method of working?
Actually, the biggest challenges weren’t of a technical nature, but rather cultural. Authors have less influence on document formatting, and some are bothered by that. For me, honestly, it was a relief: instead of having to fight with Word, I can concentrate on writing good content.
A CMS really forces you to write in a structured way. If you are used to working a lot with copy and paste, then switching over is challenging in the beginning, of course. Old habits sometimes die hard.
Did everything work out technically?
I think the most critical thing is to get the IT department on your side. ST4 runs on IT’s servers, and their infrastructure and support is essential. In our case, unfortunately, IT support had been outsourced. So our relationship had always been, let’s just say, “difficult,” and this has led to some bumpy system experiences over the years. I have to say though, that more than 90% of all the so-called “ST4 problems” turned out to be our IT infrastructure mistakes or issues. So get your IT department on board – consider them as partners in your CMS (ST4) endeavors.
In conclusion: What moved you the most personally?
I was fascinated the most by how easily people in different source languages could contribute to the same documentation pool. You definitely have to first define some processes and agree on standards. But then, German and American authors, for example, are able to work seamlessly on the same project, each in their own language, and from their respective locations. And that really brings a global community together .
Thanks very much for this fascinating conversation
Thanks to you, too!