Current trends like digitalization, industry 4.0, mobile computing, social selling and big data will influence the products of tomorrow and, ultimately, impact the future development of our entire society.
Technical documentation is not immune to these changes, of course. On the contrary – information is increasingly becoming the lubricant of our digital world, and who is better placed to provide it than the technical documentation sector? It now has a unique opportunity to leave behind its traditional wallflower image and become a major player in corporate structures.
The documentation of tomorrow
To make this possible, technical documentation needs to completely reinvent itself. The information user of tomorrow will expect to be provided almost automatically with the right information on a silver platter in the context of his or her current usage situation by intelligent information systems. Of course, the information has to be interconnected in multidimensional ways to make this a reality. It means that users of a product configurator will want to quickly switch from the user specifications of a particular product option to the relevant usage information, check out the disposal instructions, or take a look at relevant accessories before they actually make a decision to buy. Where services are concerned, the required documentation detailing the future service procedures should be delivered at the same time as the service contract, and ideally in the correct order. And, of course, tips and tricks from colleagues would be very practical if they have already given advice on a particular task or question. If need be, users would certainly be prepared to add their own tips and comments, such as when there is a particularly good solution to a problem.
All of these are things that people experience in their everyday private lives thanks to Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other websites. It is only in the professional sphere that the predominant information system is, unfortunately, often just a few PDF files.
The document has served its time
To live up to future documentation requirements, however, we need to get away from our beloved documents. On the one hand, information users want direct access to the right information for their situation. On the other, the document-oriented editorial process is growing more and more arduous as the products that require documentation become more varied and more extensive. So the “maximum documentation” strategy that encompasses all the varieties and options of a whole product range tends to turn into unmanageable chaos. At a time when specific products are increasingly tending to mutate into a functional cloud where the user can build his or her own personalized version of the product, a document-oriented editorial process is completely unthinkable. Why? As specific products disappear, the foundations of the document-oriented editorial process disappear with them.
The information space
But what does the solution to future documentation requirements actually look like? Who will be responsible for structuring, grouping and ordering the information if the concept of the document disappears? From a conceptual point of view, the answer is very simple. We need an information space. But how are we supposed to envisage such an information space? What tasks does it fulfill and what are its functions?
The information space provides distinct locations for all of a business’s relevant information. The possible fields of application go far beyond those of traditional technical documentation. Rather, it is a place where information on the entire product life cycle can be enshrined – from development to marketing, sales, installation, operation, maintenance and finally disposal. This means that the information space should not be viewed as an independent software system, but rather as a concept that enables particular pieces of information to be given a location, or better yet, a classification.
Using the information space, future information requirements can be planned and editorial work can be managed, and it also enables the targeted use of information in a wide variety of information systems.
Admittedly, that sounds quite adventurous and will turn the traditional working routines of technical editing upside down. And it sounds like a lot of work to set up an information space like that in the first place and to maintain it in the long run. But to remain successful in future, it is essential that companies consolidate all of their business-relevant information and make it available for a wide variety of purposes. And these are the very qualifications that technical documentation already has, and the very tasks that it carries out every day.
I hope you enjoy developing your information space. And no one ever said that becoming a major player would be easy… 🙂