From paper to bits - the imperative of digitalization
It is a sad fact that most technical content for professionals in today's world does not focus on a good user experience. Information exists, but it tends to be somehow out of reach. Often it lives only on paper prints, and the folder can be missing or not available when it is needed. Or there is a PDF database, but it takes time to ensure which file is the correct one to download in the situation at hand or whether it applies to a different product version. Even if the information is available, it is too complex and massive.
The content also frustrates users because it is static and, in a way, dumb. It does not connect with the real-life situation of the user at a given moment.
"For example, when a factory machine is out of order, every minute may cost thousands, sometimes even millions. If a maintenance expert has a 200-page PDF document with the machine's documentation, it takes too much time to find the right answers to solve the problem. A PDF file is not user-centric," says Kari Kovanen, Manager, Technical Documentation Tools, at Etteplan's Systems Solutions.
There is a growing demand to accelerate access to information and to make life easier. The era of remote work has raised the stakes even further.
"In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to break the convention of sending their field engineers to customer locations for installations and maintenance. They have had to rely on local staffing instead. In many cases, lack of proper manuals has become one key issue", tells Kovanen.
Instant relief on the horizon - digital online content
In a digital world, it is odd that most professional technical content still has not left the traditions of the era of print. However, it has become inevitable that time is ripe for taking information from paper to bits - and to deliver it in a digital format. Digitalization has been a strong global trend for years, and every company must digitalize more and more assets. This applies to technical information as well. It needs to exist in digital format and preferably be accessible online, not just as PDF files. In the 2020s, everyone is used to going online for problem-solving.
"The idea of providing technical content in a digital format online is old, and technically, it has been possible for long. However, until now, there has not been that much pressure to change the foundations of producing, delivering, and maintaining technical information," Kari Kovanen says.
Going digital enables much better information flows and experiences. Just imagine what a game-changer it would be if you are supposed to install or fix equipment for the first time ever, and you get step-by-step instructions on your phone or tablet, even wear AR glasses and see the target with a guide visualized with rotatable 3D models. Also, you could be certain that you follow the right instructions in the correct way. If something confuses or annoys the information, you could give instant feedback to the manufacturer. Obviously, technical information must be improved a lot to get that good; it is not enough to just bring it to a digital format. It must focus on the needs of the end-user. For example, the user interface of a device should be easy and intuitive, instead of being difficult to understand and having a steep learning curve.
When the principle of user-centricity is followed in content production, professionals are relieved from plenty of frustration. They are not overloaded by excessive information but provided easy-to-understand information for a certain task or problem to solve. Problem-solving accelerates.
But is this just dreaming? No, Etteplan has created a new service called Etteplan HowTo to address the multiple challenges described here. It is targeted to assist a full-blown digital transformation of technical information. Whenever someone needs to know how to do something, it offers all the answers for instant relief - in a user-centric and context-aware manner.