Content delivery is a hot topic in the field of technical writing. While most technical writers are quick to recognise the benefits, some remain hesitant, as it can appear to be a daunting task.
Caterpillar Energy Solutions has successfully taken the step towards content delivery. In her presentation at the SCHEMA Conference 2020, Jenny Sester, Key User for SCHEMA CDS, shared her experiences of how CDS can be successfully introduced without any major difficulties.
Most people know Caterpillar as a manufacturer of construction vehicles. The Caterpillar brand encompasses a wide range of other companies, however, including Caterpillar Energy Solutions GmbH in Mannheim, Germany. Here, gas engines and plants that are used in combined heat and power plants are manufactured under the MWM and CAT brands. Until now, the instructions for these products have been produced on paper and in digital format on CD and any amendments have been announced by means of circulars.
Preparing a total of around 16,000 documents presented a huge challenge to the team of technical writers. Not only did the documents themselves need to be created and maintained; the task of assigning the documents to the two brands and managing the document users was also far from trivial. An online portal for document exchange did already exist in house, but this had a few key disadvantages. Over time, new media and types of information as well as a considerably greater volume of data had to be handled, which pushed the systems to their limits. It was also difficult to search through the content. Users struggled to find their bearings in the overwhelming amount of information. When the provider of the previous system announced at the end of 2018 that in future the servers would no longer satisfy the technical requirements for the existing systems, it became clear that a future-proof system for content delivery was required.
From the plan to CDS
Even if the best-made plans don’t always survive contact with reality, it pays to take certain aspects into account from the outset. At Caterpillar Energy Solutions (as is the case with most CDS introduction projects), these were as follows:
- The layout:
The actual layout didn’t pose a problem; fine adjustments could be made at a later date. With two brands (CAT and MWM) and a large number of CI guidelines, however, some additional work was required. It became apparent that a standard layout with three views was the best way to cover all creative requirements.
- The migration:
Existing content clearly had to be included in the new system. But was all the content really still needed? And in what format? With 16,000 documents, these questions could not be glossed over. Important aspects account such as retention and provision periods also need to be taken into account here. Initially, Caterpillar Energy Solutions decided only to transfer existing PDFs following consultation with the info owners. These were then automatically migrated and enhanced with metadata on their way into the new system. A database backup of the existing system served as a fallback solution to ensure that no information could be accidentally deleted.
- The metadata:
The metadata forms the most important basis for the subsequent search and management functions. As Ms Sester underlined: “The metadata is really the most important aspect of the whole project. The metadata determines the success or failure of the entire online portal. If metadata makes no sense or is missing, users quickly become frustrated. Take time to consider your metadata concept – it really will pay off.” Six months were therefore spent developing the metadata. The result was a PI-Class definition that can be managed in SCHEMA ST4. And the work really did pay off; users are reporting that they are finding it much easier to navigate around the new system and lay their hands on the information they need.
- The users:
We consider users to also be an important aspect affecting the introduction of CDS. Here too, it was useful to consider user administration from the outset. How should existing users be transferred? What should the registration and administration process look like? Which data protection regulations need to be taken into account? Which roles and rights are required? In this case, Caterpillar decided that all users would need to re-register. The roles and rights concepts then had to be transferred into the new system via Excel.
- The functions and new features:
Any transition requires change. Are the functions of the previous system included in the new system? If not, how important are the previous functions? Conversely, not every function that the new system offers actually needs to be used. It’s important here to be flexible and not to be fixated on preconceived ideas. Small steps often move a project further forward than giant leaps that can’t be realised in practice. At Caterpillar, for example, the existing system featured a rudimentary project management function. The functional analysis indicated, however, that this was not essential for the content delivery system and it was therefore not integrated.
- The processes:
Processes are normally taken care of – or so we think. During the course of a migration, many processes do not come to the surface until it comes to actually ‘doing’ things. But Ms Sester reassures us that this is completely normal and does not impede the introduction of the new system. The main thing is to identify the processes and record them in writing.
- The announcement:
Even the very best system cannot deliver any benefits if the target group knows nothing about it. A strategy is therefore required that enables users to get to know the new system and learn how they can make the most of it. To make it easier to get to grips with the new system, Caterpillar has created video tutorials that explain how the SCHEMA Content Delivery Server is operated.
- The IT:
Technical writers often have very little influence over the IT landscape. But this can be decisive when it comes to the feasibility of introducing CDS. If, for example, the security concept of the specialist IT departments forbids the operation of a server, the entire project is in jeopardy. It is therefore important to identify all persons responsible for IT from the outset and work in close collaboration with everyone involved.
Although the introduction of a new system might not appear simple at first, with the right procedure everything will run smoothly. Caterpillar Energy Solutions is glad to have taken this step. The most important success factors are easy to achieve if they are at the heart of the entire project.