What is the significance of technical communication

Integrated technical communication: the target group in focus

Target groups are often neglected in technical documentation. At the Schema User Conference 2014, Thomas Richwien demonstrated to us how great the benefits are if you deal intensively with your target groups.
Thomas Richwien studied mechanical engineering in Dortmund and Bochum. He then worked for several years in mechanical engineering and software companies. In 2004 he switched to Agilent Technologies, where he played a leading role in the introduction of the ST4 content management system. As Manager User Information, he is now responsible for the preparation and provision of product-related information for the globally distributed target groups of customers, business partners and in his own organization.

Agilent on the way to the future
Agilent emerged from Hewlett-Packard in 1999 and is one of the leading providers of measurement and testing technology. At the Waldbronn site, Agilent B. Liquid chromatographs and apparatus for electrophoresis; around 700 people are employed there. In the fall of last year, Agilent announced that the company would spin off the measurement and test technology business unit for electronics in November 2014 in order to focus with the remaining business units on measurement and test technology for the life sciences, chemical analysis technology and diagnostics.
What does such a reorganization mean for product communication? What are the challenges, what opportunities need to be seized?

Documentation at Agilent
Technical communication has become increasingly important at Agilent in recent years. It makes an important contribution to more and more business processes, it communicates more products and generally creates more publications than a few years ago. Unfortunately, the increased importance is not reflected in a higher workforce or larger budget.
A dilemma that can only be solved through steadily increasing efficiency. And that is exacerbated by new markets, new technologies and the modular structure of the products, i.e. by additional challenges.
At Agilent we have already taken fundamental steps to meet these challenges and increase our efficiency. The migration to ST4 as the central editing tool has laid an important foundation stone. It enables us to manage the content independently of the documents and products and to provide data in media-independent formats and also to simplify the document structures. With the central editing system, we automate documentation processes and streamline the localization process (no small matter when translating into over 30 languages). All in all, when we announced the organizational realignment, we had already achieved a significant process simplification and a reflective approach to content procurement, development and maintenance.

Our documentation goals
So where can there still be potential for optimization? We found what we were looking for in a rather unexpected place: with the target group. By aligning ourselves with our target groups and understanding what they are doing, we can use this knowledge to map it in our business process models. The goal is integrated technical communication. Integration takes effect on many levels:
- modular, integrated product components
- organizational integration
- integrated supply chains (outsourced and distributed worldwide)
- Integration of the user groups in an overarching communication concept
- Integrated communication channels (return flow of information to technical communication)
- Integration of internal tools, formats and processes.

To get there, we took three steps.

1. In a target / actual analysis, we viewed the document inventory and raised requirements. The central question for us was: "What contribution does user information make to value creation in the core business processes?" And we realized that we are no longer the classic documentation team that does nothing more than write down the product information from the development department.
2. In a second step, we related the user groups and information types to one another in a matrix. Using a gap analysis, we were able to set priorities for the content and formats to be delivered.

3. In a third step, we will implement the requirements determined in this way and now merge all content from online help, web and manuals and prepare them so that they can also be used on mobile devices, for example. They will be available for all user groups on a new reader platform. Multimedia content will (wherever possible) be given preference over text passages, thus reducing translation costs. In addition, this type of presentation of content corresponds much better to the changed communication behavior of many users due to the use of mobile devices and Web 2.0 applications.

Integrated documentation - a conclusion
It pays to tackle the challenges and take a strategic look at technical communication. The user information gains in importance due to a close connection to the needs of the target group and the internal business processes. Because now it can be strategically oriented towards the value chain, becoming leaner and at the same time more relevant. User information thus becomes an instrument for dialog with customers and helps improve business processes. And by the way, technical communication in the company is also gaining in image.

If you want to deal with this topic even more intensively: