Bill Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

The United States and the World are in the midst of the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. No one of working age has ever witnessed such an event. The DOW as I write has just fallen through the 7,000 point level or one half of its highest level just 17 months ago. Investors have lost half of their wealth. Corporations have lost half of their value. Some, AIG for example, have lost as much as 99% of their value, or, they no longer exist. Real unemployment in the United States, depending where you live, is well over 20%.

But most of us reading this newsletter are still employed, and most of our organizations are still solvent. Most will make it through the recession damaged but intact, and most of us and our organizations will heal ourselves and be better for the experience just as our great grandparents and grandparents were after the Great Depression.

I’m not writing this to give you a dissertation about the causes of the recession. But I would like to discuss some of the strategies that you and your organization might employ to ensure yourself the best possible position when the recession ends.
Historically, economic activity is cyclic in nature. We are currently on the downward curve of an economic cycle, hopefully near the bottom of the curve. Technology does not follow this behavior but advances in a constantly upward path, not necessarily even, but always upward.

It is the job of your organization’s upper management to ensure that although your organization may be unprofitable during the down-cycle, it has enough resources to recover as the recession ends, hence temporary cutbacks in travel, layoffs, reduction in R&D, and other cost savings. Obviously some upper managers in the financial and manufacturing sectors have not done their jobs very well. That is why we are outraged by the big bonuses that some have received.

But what is your responsibility during the recession? As a technician in the technical publications business you must keep up with the latest advances in technology during bad times as well as good times. The same advice goes to other technical areas within your organization. It’s important that you keep your tools sharp during the year or more that the down-cycle lasts. When the recession ends, those organizations that have kept their R&D operations functioning, and those individuals who have kept up with the latest innovations in technology will be in the lead to capture the market with their products. The technical publications teams that have kept up with technology will be producing more efficient documentation with lower translation costs.

Comtech has decided to maintain its training program for its own staff during the recession and to continue its full schedule of workshops and conferences. We expect to suffer some losses on these ventures but we feel it is important to serve the technical publications community during bad times as well as during boom times.

Comtech’s sacrifices are not unique in our community. We have heard many stories about people who are sacrificing to attend or speak at our upcoming Content Management Strategies/DITA North America conference in April. Some are driving long distances rather than flying. Some are paying out of their personal funds. All are looking forward to the experience.

Those of us who work our way through this recession will look back a few years from now, strengthened by the experience, and remember it as just a bump in the road.