With the boom in the handheld device market and significant amount of digitization of content, the content consumption pattern for an average consumer has completely changed. Be it the printed newspaper on the stands or the printed manual that came with the hardware you ordered for, a modern day consumer finds it difficult to obtain relevant information from the hard copies. Not only that, rather than consuming content in PDF format using a laptop, we now access information through phone or other hand-held devices. Consumers’ search pattern is also changing. People are looking for information in forums and community sites. This has led to a whole new generation of technology evangelists.
While on one hand, we see consumers steadily moving towards digital content consumed in snippets, chunks of information, and motion capture videos, the app designers and developers are working overtime to create intuitive graphical user interfaces (GUI) so that the requirement for explanation using a technical manual becomes redundant. The use of videos is bringing more clarity in training materials. With the necessary voice over, these videos are able to reduce the size of the documents and are helping dissemination of information effectively even via microblogging sites. Twitter announced that the video tweets on its platform have doubled in a year.
If you put all these into perspective, the question on the relevance of technical manual is very pertinent.
There is no doubt that we still need the same amount of technical information, if not more. However, how we consume that information has undergone a sea change over the last three years. To address this change in content consumption pattern, Technical Publications industry is also making major adjustments. The scope of this change is massive.
Tech documentation – Today and Tomorrow
Before we leapfrog to the future, let us take a step back and see what has changed over the last three years. Not long ago, a PDF was the most sought after output format before a successful release. A robust template, a PDF with correct information, and a successful publication were all that the technical publications team would hope to achieve.
That has changed now.
Today, the documentation package comes with many expectations and not meeting these expectations is definitely not an option. With the PDF, the technical publications team generates context-sensitive web help, and ePUB output. This is not a ‘good to have’ any more, this is the ‘must-have’.
In the future, the use of QR code will increase in both software as well as hardware documentation. The QR code will be mated to context-sensitive augmented reality (AR) enabled images. The consumer will be able to access information without having to search for it. The QR code will display the apt document and the AR enabled image will provide the necessary information in a visually rich format.
Today, we already have a robust single sourcing technology. In the near future, we are going to see the content delivery mechanism change radically. We foresee extreme fragmentation of content delivered over social media and microblogging sites over the corporate official handles.
Today, we attempt to deliver context sensitive help. In the near future, knowing our customers will become paramount because based on the role and profile, targeted snippets of information will be published and delivered to our known consumers.
The way we search for information has transformed radically. Consumers often find relevant information quickly in social platforms such as community blogs, microblogging sites, and social network sites. In the near future, organizations would have to invest a lot of time and effort to create and manage social media handles to cater to queries from customers. This investment will bring in direct returns. Opening up multiple direct and interactive channels of communication with customers will lead to targeted dissemination of information. The resolution SLAs will reduce and the ease-of-use quotient will go up significantly. Ease-of-use will determine how long the customer will continue to pay for the goods and services, whether they will upgrade to the next level of services, and will they become promoters of the brand.
The future of technical manual will change from PDF to a more easily accessible, easy to navigate, and more interactive format that has the ability to provide context-sensitive targeted information through snippets, videos, AR-enabled graphics, or even in a virtual showroom kind of environment.
We will always need information. But we will do away with the time to look up for information. Instead, the information will reach us on time, in the apt format.