Lavacon 2010

Lavacon 2010 presentation and impressions from a first-time attendee

This morning we presented on “Discovering the Hidden Treasure in your Product Information” at Lavacon 2010. It’s still in progress as this post is being written. It’s been an interesting conference thus far.

This is the first time we’ve attended Lavacon, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. Lavacon is “The Conference on Digital Media and Content Strategies.” With a theme like “Content Strategy,” a term that is near and dear to us because it’s something we constantly talk about, we decided to add Lavacon to our conference attendance schedule this year. We presented and exhibited.

We talk a lot about Content Strategy because there is a lot of misconception about what this term means. In her keynote this morning, Rahel Bailie said one thing that kind of stuck out: “Web content strategist is meaningless. Web is a delivery channel.”

Her statement really summed up the kinds of conversations I had. I either heard “ArborText, YES!” (or some variant of “I know all about dynamic publishing and technical documentation”) or I heard “What?”

But then it was a kind of mixed event. Most of the presentations were on social media–how to use it, where to go, how to engage, what the ROI is, and how to define, capture, and measure that ROI–or they were on topics of interest to technical communicators–using Agile processes in documentation teams, understanding metadata. There were a lot of really good presentations. If you’re thinking about content strategy this is definitely a good place to get ideas and become inspired.

It was a really good event. There are a lot of people trying a lot of different things and coming at the idea of content strategy from a lot of different perspectives. People are really struggling to really understand exactly what “content” means from an organizational perspective and why content creation groups (TechPubs, Marketing) should be thought of as strategic business partners.

Essentially, that’s the crux of the presentation that we gave.

The slides have been posted to the abstract page and the transcript of the talk will be available to members on the membership site shortly. We’ll do the best we can, but, you know how it is: a lot of color commentary comes out when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about.

Not a member? Become one.

Poll: How does your organization produce content?

Is your organization thinking about the content it produces strategically?

Content is quickly becoming a strategic asset. As enterprises rush towards Web 3.0 and social networking, the amount of time required to produce and coordinate content across all those outlets is growing dramatically every day.  Experts say that it takes approximately 32 hours per month–per site. That’s nearly a week’s time per social networking target.

Are you one of the lucky ones who has an integrated platform to coordinate cross-functional teams so you can reuse content? Do you have a bunch of teams that coordinate with each other? Are you gaining visibility at the executive level or simply working overtime? Maybe you’re all on your own.

Maintaining an effective social media presence leverages customers, prospects, colleagues and contacts, and puts you in touch with fast-changing tides of industry trends, but it also steals productive hours from you and your workforce to maintain properly

Is your organization thinking about the content it produces strategically?

Green Your Product Information

Greening your product – what about your product information?

We see it all the time and I’m sure you do as well. Companies are on the move with initiatives to “green” their operations and their products. It’s not just the big fortune 500 companies either, the push for green is being driven—and even led—by the small to medium business (SMB) sector.

By now, almost every company has adopted a recycle program. Many implement telecommuting or ride sharing programs to reduce their carbon footprint. They are packaging products in containers that are made, at least in part, from post consumer recycled material. They are reexamining their raw materials to develop surfaces that provide less wind resistance, are more compact, are made from less hazardous materials.  They’re creating innovative designs that use less power or regenerate their own.  These eco-friendly practices are touching every part of the product development process. Just yesterday, I saw that Coca Cola is turning to bioplastics for their packaging of consumer goods and UPS is introducing carbon-neutral shipping.

But what about the product information development and delivery?

Your product information is your potential customer’s first glimpse of who you are. Product documentation can be a cost center or a revenue generator. It can improve your customer service and your speed to market which equals higher customer retention and increased sales.

And it’s an area where every company can make an immediate impact on green initiatives that often gets overlooked. Done right, it can even make your company more environmentally friendly.

Here are five steps to help you green your product information:

  1. Examine your product information’s “raw materials”. Create your product information in non-proprietary XML. Using XML will ensure that your product information is developed in a way to make it ready for leading edge technological delivery methods rather than the old print (“not green”) methods. Better still, the information will always be accessible and not locked away in old, unsupported, proprietary formats so there is no need to worry about keeping a legacy data system around.
  2. Move to 21st century  technology: Associativity.  Modern tools allow you to start the product information design earlier in the process of product design. You can rapidly respond to design changes and automate the incorporation of that information.  It gives you the edge in staying on top of changes that happen with the product from concept through to final release. We call this “associativity”. With associativity, when a design change happens, all of the corresponding product information is alerted for updates. You can eliminate the worry that everyone is “in the loop” when the inter-dependencies are tied together which, in turn, reduces waste. Use tools that allow for associatively associativity to all phases of development.
  3. Design outside of the print box. These days, there are so many advancements in electronic tools, you need to design product information that can be accessed and searched electronically. Hand held mobile electronic devices are taking the field by storm. These devices allow for even the most remote customer or field person to get the right information at the right time. Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM) or On-Line Help files are an excellent way for you to make certain your end users and customers get detailed up to date product information at their finger tips without ever having to hit the print button.
  4. Pictures are worth a thousand words. It’s true! Use of detailed technical illustrations can replace lengthy text and do a much better job of demonstrating a product for use or for service. It also bridges the language barrier and can drastically minimize the need for translating words and phrases. Better still, are illustrations that allow for hot spotting content.
  5. Use tools that work well out of the box and provide end to end solutions.I will never forget my first auto repair shop in high school. I had a great teacher who’s first words of wisdom he imparted to us was “use the right tool for the job!” Well, he more like shouted them at us as we eagerly attacked his car to “fix” it. How is this a “green” initiative? The wisdom of Mr. Ziegler’s advice is very true when you are looking at ways to build efficiencies and streamline for optimization. We see people trying to struggle with Frankensteining a solution together for information design and delivery, never taking into account the heavy drain on resources to get the different products to work together.

At Single-Sourcing Solutions, we help companies improve their design and delivery of product information. We stand behind the Arbortext suite of products because they are the only out of the box end to end solution that allows you to create information using XML and deliver the information to the end user in whatever format they require, seamlessly.

To date we have not had a customer come to us with the main business driver of “greening” the product information, but perhaps someday we will. For now, it’s an added bonus for the other main reasons people choose Arbortext.