I was away last week at a client site, working with them on how to move to Author-it. They bought Author-it because they see the benefits, but, like a lot of companies who are looking to improve their workflow, they didn’t really know where to start. What would be Best Practices for them? How to get there fast so as to not interrupt the current deadlines?
They also wanted to use this move to better architect their content so they got more value out of what they have.
And so we started
We started with looking at the content they had and how they currently use it. They sell large industrial machines that are sold either 1) “as built” with no customizations, or 2) somewhat to extremely customized. They don’t do online help, so we just looked at producing PDFs. Of course, if they need to someday move to help, that’s super easy for them.
They had been doing docs in InDesign and Ventura and had to copy, save, edit, and rebuild every time a customer wanted a manual 2 type. This process took 1 to 3 days, not counting any new content development or any review time.
What they wanted to know was how to go about this process in Author-it. We walked through how to build a book and then use variants to create the custom books. They got very excited that the 3 days of production would be reduced to less than a day.
Importing existing content
Then we started importing content from Ventura and InDesign to see what that was going to involve. It’s one thing to get new tools to improve your workflow, but if getting the content into the new tool is hard or impossible, that’s something else entirely.
The good news is that getting the content in from Ventura turned out to be super easy – we had the profile set up in under an hour. This is in large part because the docs staff had stuck to a short list of paragraph formats and didn’t play fast and loose. One of the advantages to a team that has been in place for many years is this sort of rigorous adherence to the templates.
The InDesign docs, however, are a different story. People in and outside the docs group created the InDesign docs. The adherence to the template was, well, less strict. We got the basic profile created pretty quickly, but there is going to be some pre-import work needed to put all the text in InDesign into one flow, instead of the adhoc flows it is in now, for example.
Changes to the workflow
Then we started looking at the workflow issues they needed to change to make this all work. The specific details for them are not important to us here, but the big picture is.
They needed to review how they:
- Import existing content – release states to know what’s been roughly imported, reviewed after import, ready to start publishing, and so on
- Develop content – what is truly new content and what should be reused, where to put content, how to know it’s ready for reviews
- Manage existing content – version, variants, release states, and so on
- Structure and locations of graphics folders- where to put overall graphics, product line graphics, one-off graphics, and so on
- Reuse content – what can be reused vs what is currently being reused, where to put reused content, how to name it, and so on
- Review content – how do they send out just the content that actually needs to be reviewed vs all the content in a manual, and more
- Manage localized content – they don’t do a lot but when they need to they need to right now
- Archive content and understand the history – what topics shipped in what manuals when? When was that topic changed and to what?
Even if you’re not thinking about moving to Author-it, these are all issues you must face when you move from one tool to another. You certainly can just start dumping your existing content into the new tool, but I think that many of the problems you had with the old tool are still going to be problems in the new one.
It takes planning and work to get the benefits of moving to a tool better suited to the problems you’re trying to solve.
I applaud this client for thinking this through and planning the change. It shows real maturity and that the CEO understands the value of their content.
I was really excited to work with this group and know they will be successful.
I’m including a photo I took the one warm-ish day I was there. My hotel was right on the Spokane River. One day was sunny and I took a long walk along the river to clear my head after a full day of intensive work. It was great. Being a So Cal girl, I don’t see many rivers. Ones with water, anyway.
(The client was not Kaiser Aluminum, I just liked the lovely river area with the Kaiser plant above the river.)
by Sharon Burton