If you read our blog regularly, you know that we are passionate about using open standards to improve the way the world communicates. Our goal is to offer practical ways to make information timely and relevant, and tips on how to share knowledge across the barriers of geography and language.
That’s who we are. But who are you, dear readers? We are always curious about what kind of people and organizations care about the issues that we do, so we took a look at the list of 1,750 people who have come to our site in the past year and downloaded a white paper or registered for a webinar.
We found that our audience can be divided into four main segments:
Manufacturing is the largest segment, but that includes a diverse mix of companies offering a wide range of products – everything from dog food to rocket ships. At Jorsek, we find it useful to further divide the manufacturing industry into seven segments: high-tech, semiconductors, medical devices, computer manufacturing, automotive and heavy machinery, aerospace/defense, and other, or general manufacturing.
Each one of these segments has its unique characteristics, but they have all shown a great interest in adopting new ways to document their products. Why is that? Here are four imperatives that are driving this trend.
1. Manufacturers need to introduce new products quickly to respond to fast-moving market demands.
The manufacturers in the segments above produce products that are more like rocket ships than dog food. Their industries are relatively new, highly competitive, and reward continuous innovation. Product lines change every year, sometimes dramatically. If a company has to wait for a User Guide to be finished before launching or updating a product, they are at a disadvantaged. Also, sometimes manufacturers need to produce many versions of the same product to more closely align with consumer needs. In that scenario, reusing content between product versions is the key to maintaining an efficient documentation process.
2. Manufacturers need to market (and source) their products globally.
Manufacturers were among the first to experience the sea-change brought on by increased global competition. The strongest survived by making better products, building factories where costs were lower, and finding new markets. Today, as iconic multinationals outsource their engineering departments to Asia, the flow of information goes both ways. It’s critical to have an efficient system in place for localizing product information quickly and accurately.
3. Manufacturers need to provide customers with consistent messaging across departments and geographies.
Providing a brand-defining experience across the entire customer journey increases satisfaction as it builds trust and loyalty. Because a manufacturer’s customer-facing content likely has many authors, including product development, marketing, sales, training and support, it can be a challenge to keep the information up-to-date and consistent. That’s why many companies are implementing a content management system as a “single-source of truth”. We wrote about this in our white paper: Great Customer Experiences: Building a Knowledge Infrastructure for the 21st Century.
4. Manufacturers need to funnel support requests to the lowest-cost help channel.
Many manufactured products are complex and challenging to operate; however, few people have the patience to look through a printed manual any more. That’s why many companies are trying to avoid costly calls to their support center by providing quick access to help in the language and device that customers prefer. Integrating product documentation with a CRM and support systems is an efficient way to get service and support content on the web, but even the highest quality content is of no use if customers can’t find it when they need it. Structuring your content and adding metadata can vastly improve the search experience and put information at your customer’s fingertips.
What is the current state of documentation in the manufacturing industries?
We recently surveyed information development professionals from a wide range of industries to determine how organizations are currently creating, sharing, reviewing and publishing their product documentation. We can compare the overall results with those from the manufacturing industry.
It’s not surprising that there was a greater need for service manuals and bulletins in manufacturing, and less need for requirements documents. Respondents in the software industry reported a growing involvement of tech writers in the development process, while the gulf between techdocs and engineering is generally much wider in manufacturing companies.
It is interesting that these numbers show that digital delivery channels have not been widely adopted, especially in the manufacturing segment. Why is that?
Barriers to change
Manufacturers generally produce a large volume of information, and many people inside the organization have a role to play in the process. For this reason, very often both the culture and the organization needs to change to successfully implement a better system for creating and deploying customer-facing content. People have to adjust to new roles, and departments have to cooperate and work outside their “silos”.
Another barrier to change is that most companies lack a good infrastructure for enterprise-wide content management. For many, a single, web-based system that enables the centralized control of a dispersed content creation process is needed. Companies that have been around for a while will have to decide whether and how to migrate their existing content into the new system.
Structured Content for Manufacturing
Joe Gelb of Suite Solutions and I discussed the benefits and challenges of adopting 21st Century communication practices in manufacturing in this webinar, using real-life examples and best practices for making the transition smoothly and quickly reaching maximum ROI.
Here are some of the topics we touched on:
- Managing information in a multi-departmental organization
- Planning for reuse and localization in global documentation
- Maintaining dynamic content for multiple access points
- Personalizing content for unique users and scenarios
- Delivering relevant and useful content