Entering the new year has us thinking ahead to what will impact our business and our customers’ businesses. 2016 saw wider understanding and acceptance of centralized, structured content strategies and less focus on the perceived complexity of DITA. The former is driven by strategic concerns whereas the latter was mostly concerned with tactical considerations like implementation and acceptance by authors and content managers. My first prediction is that this movement up the decision ladder towards a more strategic focus is a very good thing and will drive adoption across many more enterprises.
But there are many more things on the information architecture horizon that are both strategic and tactical in their implications for both content creators and C-level business managers. In this piece we look at some memes (ideas) that may become important to the documentation/content management world in 2017.
Internet of Things requires documentation to be on or connected to the device
Internet of Things or IOT is a subject so trendy that it risks becoming a joke, but for documentation teams it is anything but. If your business makes intelligent products, the way you deliver documentation for those products will require completely different thinking. Documentation must be accessible on the device or via an app connected to the device. It will not reside exclusively in a manual or on a web platform. Why? Because the documentation should have the ability to interact with the device. For example, my Amazon Echo Dot “learns” skills from the mobile app that connects with it. The skill set available for the device is constantly growing and changing as developers add new ones and update existing ones. Rather than updating the device, these new skills are centralized in the app and only added to the device (by the user) when they become relevant and valuable.
It gets even more interesting when you have a situation where the Echo controls another device like a Nest thermostat that doesn’t have a voice interface. The point here is that information developers have to think through their delivery options and generate information in formats that can be delivered via those new options. Multi-channel publishing just got a lot more complex.
You’ll be delivering documentation through voice-enabled devices and it will change your processes
Let’s take that a little further. Imagine your voice activated device has a skill that includes operational or assembly instructions for another device or object. If you are creating an ordered task list like a recipe or assembly instructions for a piece of furniture, that will be delivered by voice, you have a new set of requirements for creating and delivering that task list. For example, your recipe says ‘Sift 40 grams of white flour into a large bowl’. You can’t simply move onto the next step. You have to build a pacing cue into your process. Otherwise the person making the recipe will get behind. So maybe it is built to pause and wait for a spoken cue from the user like “Next Step Please”, before proceeding.
This gets a little twisty. It starts to sound like software rather than pure content, but it contains content. Your content architecture may have to accommodate new structures like this as your products get more intelligent.
These are tactical implementation scenarios. Let’s look at a corresponding set of strategic ideas that can impact whole business sectors.
Deregulation will make international standards even more important
It appears likely that the incoming U.S. administration will begin deregulating huge business sectors like finance and energy. Regulation drives many documentation requirements, including a wide variety of governance and transparency requirements. On the surface this may appear to lessen the information workload for these regulated industries. But it’s not that simple.
First, deregulating in the U.S. won’t make a difference if the EU and other large markets don’t deregulate. These businesses are global and, as such, subject to regulations across different markets. Even if chaos ensues in the States, as some predict, those same companies can’t appear chaotic in the rest of the world. So, deregulation in the US is probably not as impactful as it appears. How might this affect the information community?
Regulations that cross borders are typically based on international standards created by agnostic, often volunteer, groups of experts working via consensus. In a deregulating environment, standards become even more necessary. They ensure interoperability across borders and industries. Developing and implementing standards becomes an even more critical function for information management groups.
Conditionalization will become the norm
This is a little more speculative, but if true, it’s going to require a lot of organizations to rethink their entire documentation creation and delivery processes. Conditionalizing means tailoring what you deliver to a user, based on what you know about that user. The result of conditionalization is a personalized experience that is more relevant to that user’s immediate needs. If it is well done, it creates a better user experience. So, why is this likely to become more standard?
Right now many consumer sites that require a login will keep you logged in if you allow it. This simplifies the experience of shopping a site like Amazon, as the site “remembers” previous searches and purchases and uses that memory to serve up relevant related choices. Not only is this good for business, it is generally useful for the user.
In a business to business (B2B) market, personalization has implications for customer loyalty and satisfaction. Metadata associated with a login or product registration can enable a document delivery channel to make choices before serving the information to the user. The system can know access permissions, specific product versions, previous training or expertise levels based on interactive training sessions, and even the physical location of the user. It can then use this information to deliver personalized content. Once users start to experience this level of conditionalization, they will expect it, meaning those companies that don’t offer the experience will be at a disadvantage.
Implementing conditionalization can only be done with a structured content management environment. Automating personalization is made possible when you have a system that can read metadata about a user and serve up information that corresponds to that metadata by matching specific information with user profiles.
Translation will become a curation process rather than a manual, word-by-word process
The recent NYTimes Magazine article on Google’s adoption of an artificial intelligence neural network in its Translate product, outlined a startling development for the translation and localization industry. When Google changed from machine learning to a neural network, they saw an immediate major improvement in the quality of their automated translation capabilities, an improvement that may mean translators become curators rather than translators.
When a automated translation is 90% accurate, as opposed to 40 or 50%, paying translation vendors by the word will no longer make business sense. However, it still requires humans to fix that 10% to make the translation useful and relevant. This means curating machine content and fixing things, rather than wholesale, word-by-word translation.
While this development may be bad news for the translation world, it is good news for companies who operate in global markets. Costs will go down, time to market will speed up, the cost of entry into new markets will be lowered, and those markets will be more profitable.
Structure is the driving force behind adapting to these new memes
Whether it is creating and conforming to international standards or ensuring that devices know something about the user, structured content creation and management tools are central to implementing these changes. The underlying centralized information architecture they impose opens a whole realm of potential for documentation teams to have a much wider impact on every aspect of communication, both within and outside an organization. These are exciting times when you embrace them.
Note: We are having fun speculating about this stuff, in part because we know it is happening now. Leave a comment and tell us what you see on the information horizon for 2017.