What is technical documentation?
Technical documentation, or product information as it is also called, is a term for all the information that is needed to use or take care of a product or a system.
With this information a user can learn how to handle a product fully, with all of its features, to get the most value from it. In addition, several professional roles need technical documentation to be able to take care of the product properly, e.g. a service technican repairing it.
Technical documentation is not only information about the product itself but also about systems and other products related to it. Some examples of such information are about which components the product consists of, which accessories and spare parts that are compatible with it and which tools are needed for maintenance.
What types of technical documentation are there?
Examples of technical documentation:
- User manuals to be able to use all product features
- Service information
- Maintenance information
- Spare parts catalogues to quickly comprehend which spare parts are needed, and to be able to order it with ease.
- Guided fault tracing
- Product descriptions
Why should you improve your technical documentation?
The purpose of technical documentation is for products and systems to be used as smoothly, often and for as long time as possible. The easier the information is to assimilate, the more it’s fulfilling its purpose.
To get the most out of your product, to quickly be able to repair it if it breaks – or to maintain the product to prevent it from happening in the first place – increases both customer satisfaction and productivity. This, in turn, boosts profitability. It also allows for new revenue streams, since a more reliable product makes it possible to sell its function and not just the goods itself.
What is crucial is the ease of assimilating the technical documentation.
It is also worth reassessing how information is created and maintained as cost can be cut and efficiency increased. With modern documentation tools, a thought-through information structure and shared processes, some business effects are dramatically cut translation costs and shorter lead times.
How digital technical documentation frees up time and money:
- Stop updating the whole manual whenever a product changes and having to await multiple changes before updating it. Just update the specific piece of information that the change concerns.
- Stop uploading new versions of pdf’s since updates are synced automatically.
- No more printing and paper costs for physical manuals.
- No recurring printing and paper costs as products change and no waste of resources caused by discarding obsolete manuals.
- Stop paying for unnecessary translation costs.
How can you improve your technical documentation?
There are two main conditions for technical documentation to be easy to comprehend:
- The information that is needed should be easy to extract
- The information that is needed should be easy to use
Traditionally, technical documentation consisted of printed manuals that more recently have been turned into pdf’s, available for download from a website. The problem with these formats, is the inconvenience to find specific information that is needed in a given situation. A printed handbook or a pdf contains all information but in reality, we never need all information but rather the specific information that will help us solve the challenge facing us right now. Besides, the situation when needing such information might require us to hold on to something for stability or to pay attention to traffic or machines in operation. That affects how we best should get the information: Instead of flipping through a handbook or scrolling on a computer, it might help if the technical documentation is in a smartphone app or integrated in the product interface.
In other words, technical documentation improves as we make it easier to get hold of the information that is needed right now.
Another aspect that affects the quality is how the technical documentation is conveyed. Reading a long text in small print and with complex terms is rarely the easiest way to learn about a new product feature or mend something that is broken. Besides language, tone of voice and word-choice all affecting how easy a text is, images, animations, an AR layer in a smartphone camera or a voice guide can vastly improve the absorption of information. Technical documentation can even be interactive, guiding us to the solution through yes and no questions.
In other words, technical documentation improves as we make it easier to use the information that is needed right now.
What solutions are there?
To improve technical information, it needs to be digital. Not until then will it be possible to separate pieces of information from each other, which will allow us to get the exact information we need instead of all information.
Turning your technical documentation digital is preferably done in small yet frequent steps. It makes it possible to continuously evaluate and anchor the project within the organization and establish an understanding for upcoming steps. Some examples of steps are:
- Digitalise the technical documentation for one or several products
- Make the technical documentation available in one or several channels, such as a web portal, a smartphone app or a product interface (HMI)
- Convey the technical documentation in multiple ways, e.g. in writing, speech, pictures, animation or through guided fault tracing.
- Integrate the technical documentation with other systems, e.g. spare part catalogues and e-commerce.
Digitalise your technical documentation
To get started with digitalising your product information, you often need approval from several stakeholders within the organization. Here are some arguments that our customers have used to initiate their digitalisation projects:
- The tech-doc organization will be better able to meet the increasing demand for information, which is driven by faster product development and more product launches and upgrades, all while product complexity increases through new technologies that few are familiar with or can handle without support.
- Technical documentation needs to become more user-friendly as the products become more advanced. Otherwise, customer satisfaction will decrease and service and repairs will take longer and heavily depend on a few employees with expertise in new systems and technologies.
- Going from physical manuals to digital information means big savings in printing costs. In addition, the product’s “total” weight decreases and one step can be removed in the packaging line.
- To meet new sustainability requirements, demanded by both customers and the organization, physical manuals are no-longer justifiable. Some physical information might be required by law in some industries, but most information can nevertheless be digitalised.
- Digital technical documentation enables us to realise aftermarket business opportunities where product reliability is crucial, e.g. selling a product’s function rather than the product itself: with relevant, correct and user-friendly information, products will be operated correctly and service technicians will solve potential downtime issues faster, which makes it easier to estimate the profitability in such offerings.
What does a modern tech-doc team look like?
Technical writers, illustrators and project leaders will be needed in the tech-doc organization also going forward. To create digital product information, using modern software tools, competencies in topic-based authoring and meta-data handling are also needed. Some new roles such as Information Strategists, Information Architects and Software Developers are also needed to digitalise the product information. This also opens up for 3d illustrators, Animators and other types of “information producers” to work with technical documentation, since digitalisation gives the advantage of conveying the same information in multiple ways.
How can Semcon help?
Semcon can help you through your entire digitalisation journey. We can add the new competencies you wish to strengthen your team to digitalise your technical documentation and set a plan going forward. With that in place it is easier to know what your first step should be.
Examples of first steps:
- Support service technicians in their daily work. A common way to start is by creating an app for selected information.
- Improve the customer experience by making information that can be filtered easy to access online.
- Reassess your processes for creating and maintaining information to make them cost and time efficient.
With a gradual transition you get concrete results to review throughout the process, which makes it easier to evaluate and decide how to progress. In addition, it lowers the threshold which often means that you can get started faster. We are happy to assist in creating a plan to move forward and prioritize the first steps, where focus is to create tangible value fast. We can also support and drive digitalisation projects together with you during a starting phase or cooperate for a longer time.