Supporting the product life cycle with smart user-centric documentation

For most product manufacturers, delivering adequate documentation is a constant challenge. The increasing complexity of products and the stricter regulations for product documentation often lead to extensive documentation sets with 500+ pages manuals on-line or in print. The question is: how effective is all this documentation? 

Users can be overwhelmed by long, jargon-loaded user manuals, and frustrated by a lack of clear answers. When customers don’t find a solution, blame inevitably falls on the product and the company. Bad documentation - incomplete, unclear, out of date - creates a negative engagement with products and brands.

Instruction manuals, users guides, and other types of documentation have always been the way manufacturers distributed the how-to information about their products to customers, as well as sales and support staff and other employees.  This kind of catch-all, one-size document forces every user to sift through irrelevant information, applying their own context to find solutions to their problems. Even when they are successful, users remember the experience as painful and tedious. 

There must be a better way. In 2008 we (Kees van Mansom and Thei Geurts) developed the concept of Documentation 3.0. In the same year we presented Documentation 3.0 at the  ISTC Conference in Eastwood (UK). ISTC stands for The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators. 

Documentation 3.0 uses semantic technology to support users in their specific context. It enhances use and enables re-use throughout the product life cycle. Moreover, it enables the agility organizations need to cope with change, without losing control. The slides of this presentation can be found here. The speaker notes with slides are here.

Some time after the presentation, we renamed the concept of Documentation 3.0 and changed its name into Smart documentation. Smart documentation leads users to success and satisfaction by providing them a quick event-driven guide and answers to remaining questions.

Using semantic technology, we can create the smart documentation that guides each customer through the actions, decisions, and choices they can take to maximize their user experience. Semantic technology encodes meaning and separates it from content and application codes.

Smart user-centric documentation supports the whole product life cycle and all actors (including employees, clients, partners and customers) in their specific roles and needs. Ultimately, the future of documentation is Smart documentation as a service.

Kees van Mansom demonstrated the concept of smart documentation on the STC Summit in Atlanta (USA) in 2013. STC stands for Society for Technical Communication. His presentation was published here

A white paper with the title "Improve Product and Brand engagement through smart documentation" was published in 2013 as well. The paper is authored by Kees van Mansom; with  Mills Davis, Thei Geurts, Dick van Mersbergen and Jan Verbeek as contributing authors. The white paper deals with the challenge of creating user-centric documentation. The paper was also published on the website of Be Informed.