Content Management: Maximizing the Value of Your Product Documentation

Home/Publications/CIDM eNews/Information Management News 07.05/Content Management: Maximizing the Value of Your Product Documentation

Deb Boczulak
XyEnterprise

Why should authors be concerned about content management?

As an organization’s author, your primary expertise is in writing and editing. Your specific job may be concisely to describe a product and its features or accurately to document maintenance procedures (such as how to tune an automobile engine). But have you ever been uncertain about the very latest revisions needed for a product description? Have you ever wondered if you’d incorporated an important change into all 30 manuals where that particular text was used? Have you spent more time managing the layout of a document than producing the content?

The documentation you write is a valuable asset to your organization, an asset that can be leveraged to build sales and differentiate your products or services from others in the marketplace. We’ll look at a documentation challenge faced by virtually every organization—product documentation—then examine how a content management system can improve documentation quality and provide numerous benefits including
Customer satisfaction Most organizations have two sets of customers—internal and external. Internal customers are your colleagues who may use or support the products and services your company provides. External customers are those who use the products and services your company sells. Product documentation is widely used by both types of customers as a starting point for installing a product, figuring out what a feature does, or for troubleshooting when something goes wrong. The better the documentation, the more self-sufficient and satisfied the customer and the less time your company spends supporting that customer.
Product differentiator Good documentation can differentiate your products or organization from similar products or companies in the marketplace.
Increased sales Good documentation highlights the company’s commitment to its products and customers. Good documentation promotes product use, especially for complex products.
Increased revenues Well-organized, structured documentation can provide opportunities to use the content in different ways to produce other sources of revenue. For example, you might offer your customers custom catalogs, personalized to their particular requirements.
Product documentation includes guides and manuals that help consumers set up, install, and use goods and services. They can be single-page documents for basic products (e.g., fitness equipment) or multi-chapter books that describe every feature of a new car or software program. This documentation can be delivered as printed material customized for the product, generic PDFs on CD, or help files accessible from the web. Product documentation typically includes more than just text. Visual elements such as graphics, tables, and other types of information help the user better understand what the text is describing.

Competition is forcing companies to create and produce products more rapidly. This puts increasing pressure on document developers to keep up with the faster pace while continuing to create quality documentation. There is also a greater demand by consumers that the documentation be accurate, concise, and possibly customized for their particular product or service. Therefore, custom documentation is becoming a higher priority to help differentiate a product or company from its competitors. Document developers have to operate smarter to meet these new demands.

At XyEnterprise, we’ve developed an end-to-end solution for product documentation called the Product Documentation Solution or Prod Doc. The solution leverages numerous aspects of XyEnterprise’s content management system, Content@, and publishing solution, XML Professional Publisher (XPP), both of which were designed to address the problems organizations face in creating, managing, and publishing content.

As with any content management challenge, the key to streamlining product documentation creation, management, and publishing is
automating the import process for newly created content. This can be done by using tools that easily chunk content into reusable components and extract metadata to add substantial value to those newly created components.
reusing document components. One well known mantra in content management is “author once, use many. ”
offering the writers a variety of editorial products so they can use the right tool for the job, whether it includes structured or unstructured content
using workflows to structure the way content is handled (process) and to ensure that the proper sequence of steps has been followed
separating “content” from “style” so that the author can focus on content and someone else can focus on the style. This approach leads to documentation that has a consistent look and feel every time it is published, whether in print, PDF, or on the web.
Prod Doc is also designed around a very simple but important concept: delivering the Right Information in the Right Format to the Right Person at the Right Time. That may mean a printed version of the user guide delivered in a box with the product, an online installation guide delivered as part of a software download, or a maintenance procedure update delivered on CD as part of a routine quarterly update.

Sources for documentation may be as varied as the documentation output. Sources may include unstructured whole files, structured XML, handwritten notes, and so on. Once Prod Doc has “normalized” the content, it can be re-purposed on demand into other formats and document types. The Product Documentation Solution provides users with a simple user interface that allows them to enter keywords and produce documentation customized to their particular activity, such as shipping a product or preparing for an installation.

Content@ provides several tools that work with today’s leading structured and unstructured editors like Blast Radius’ XMetaL and Microsoft’s InfoPath. The variety of tools makes it easy for authors to edit content with a tool they’re comfortable with. Prod Doc also includes several publishing tools to create various output formats. There is an HTML Help tool, which converts content to HTML Help. Other content can be published through XPP for style management and PDF generation.

The Product Documentation Solution offers control of the content end to end. By incorporating many of Content@’s standard features and capitalizing on its content management flexibility, Prod Doc can take raw content; organize it into manageable, reusable content components; manage those chunks through an editorial and review process; and produce reliable, high-quality output that has real value to consumers at all levels.

To access case studies describing content management in use today or to learn more about the XyEnterprise Product Documentation Solution, please visit the XyEnterprise web site at www.xyenterprise.com or call 781-756-4400.

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