Paving New Ground through Customer Collaboration
The trend in the technical communications profession is to move away from working in single-focused silos to developing more customer-savvy and collaboration-friendly environments. The transition involves seizing the right opportunity for change, establishing effective processes for collaboration, and striving for continual partnership with customers.
Engenio Technical Publications (Tech Pubs) provides the content associated with the storage products we sell to customers who, in turn, brand and resell as their own storage solutions. In this model, customers modify or supplement our content with their own content where needed and re-arrange the content to fit their information deliverables. Each customer has their own set of end users, which presents a challenge for Engenio Tech Pubs as we determine the best information for all customers and users.
Previous collaboration efforts with customers on a non-program basis provided Engenio Tech Pubs a year-long rapport and apprenticeship that helped us prepare for our greatest program opportunity in January 2005—one that primarily involved working directly with customers. This opportunity came at a time when the storage industry realized a potential in an untapped market for offering a lower-priced product line, and Engenio saw a need for close collaboration with customers to ensure success in this new market.
The purpose of the collaboration efforts was to have the individual functional groups work together with their customer counterparts to become more efficient in managing requirements specific to each functional area not typically tracked at the higher program level. Previously, contractual requirements included just a list of document titles with little analysis of actual information needs. Now, with the new collaboration approach, we track requirements more granularly; therefore, we can provide more tailored services, which, in the long term, help to cut development costs. For example, instead of developing entire documentation sets that customers might not need, we tailor our set of information to meet the specific requirements of each customer. We develop content and deliverables only if there is a customer requirement to do so, which, in effect, helps us become more intimate with the customer and reduce extraneous work for ourselves.
During the preliminary stages of our collaboration, we used our information products (IP) as reference material for the topics we could produce to fulfill our customer’s information requirements. Our intention was to move from IPs to topics anyway, but this strategy helped us to prioritize which topics were needed for this particular customer on this particular program. The methodical process of selecting paragraphs and sections from existing IPs and converting them to XML as individual topics is what we refer to as “topic scrubbing.” We scrub out content that was not necessary to fulfill the customer’s information requirements. We continued this topic scrubbing with many other subsequent customers.
For Engenio, the topic scrubbing and collaboration activities accomplished the following objectives:
- facilitate Engenio’s new information-development business model
- facilitate content re-use
- enhance collaboration
- enhance operational efficiency
Engenio Tech Pubs has taken these customer interlocks to a greater level by allowing direct communication and collaboration between writers from both parties during planning, development, and technical reviews. This collaboration is very different from our previous engagement where visibility into customers and their end-users was not made possible. Because writers are most intimate with the content they produce, it is a tremendous value-add to have the writers work directly with other writers to work out technical and mechanical details of the information. This direct contact eliminates the communications bottleneck. Important information does not have to travel between a writer and the project manager (and possibly the program manager, in some cases) and back to the writer (or the writer’s project manager) on the receiving end. Having a more open line of communication not only demonstrates a more efficient mode of operation, but also gives the writers more exposure and a sense of ownership, which can greatly increase their career development opportunities.
As programs evolve and content becomes more robust, we continue to enhance our partnership with customers by “passing along” our cost savings to them in the area of the following operational efficiencies:
- Identifying and developing only information users need
- Developing only information customers require
- Planning comprehensively but producing only on-demand
- Maintaining consistency in topic types offered
- Increasing quality and usability
- Shortening response time for reviews
- Allowing real-time content correction
About the Author
LSI Logic, Engenio Storage Group
Thanhnguyet Vo serves as a project manager for the Engenio Storage Group at LSI Logic, a data storage solutions provider in Boulder, Colorado. She earned a master’s degree in telecommunications from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and she has been a technical writer for 8 years and was a Business Analyst for 2 years. Thanhnguyet is leading publications programs to support releases for numerous storage solutions for various OEM customers and is involved in developing the strategy for maximizing revenue generating opportunities with topic-based information development at Engenio. She shared some revenue-generating strategies for technical communication organizations at the 2006 STC Conference in Las Vegas.