Several Years AgoSeveral years ago, to be honest more years ago than I care to think about, my job was as a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy. My observation then was that it was a good job that my training had been very much hands on with the current equipment of the day because the handbooks provided for pretty well everything that came within my sphere of interest (pretty well everything electronic) were awful. After a couple of years I went on a course for a new and improved radar and those handbooks were even more dire than the ones in use at the time.
As far as I could see the Engineers were in the same boat, so to speak. They were all time served apprentices in Marine Engineering who had converted to Seagoing Marine Engineers gaining their 'Tickets' at sea. They did not need handbooks to tell them about their 30 ft High 6 cylinder, vertically opposed, turbocharged, Doxford Marine Diesel. They had been in the Doxford yard and built them. Their documentation was limited to copies of the manufacturing drawings.
And when I came ashore and moved into technical documentation I sort of thought that there had to be a better class of Handbook. Ones that were not riddled with errors, with the information presented in a way that it was very easy to find the bit that was the focus at that time. In other words documentation that was not so dense that it did not take ages to find out what you wanted to know
A bit laterA bit later I got involved in proposing a handbook system for a large Multi-site mining machine manufacturing company. They had several types of mining machinery which could be manufactured in any one of five or six sites around the world. Each machine was made up of several modules with a high degree of commonality and each site was responsible for one or more of these modules. So what to do about handbooks.
The company had a very fast inter-site network so the concept of using S1000D with the CSDB at one location was almost a no-brainer. The handbooks could be put together as required using the Publication Module which could then be 'Published' as and when required by any of the sites.
Well? No, they did not go down that route choosing instead to use Dita. By the time they realised that it might not have been a good choice for their particular project it was too late and they were committed.
I have always been a keen advocate of S1000D for a lot of projects, particularly now that the software required has become well established, and in most cases reasonably priced. I guess that one of the reasons why take up has not been so rapid is because when a novice picks up the Specification they loose the will to live. They do not realise that they don't need all of it to have a really good system up and running fairly quickly.
RecentlyVery recently I have been involved in the latest issue of the Shipdex specification. A full circle so to speak. A specification which is for use in the marine environment which is now at Issue 3. Very much a set of Business Rules which sit on top of S1000D the requirements are straighforward and relatively easy to understand. There are some formatting changes (to be expected of course) and some specific use of attributes (which don't get in the way of S1000D).
It is very refreshing to see the emergence of this specification. I don't know how common its use is but even if it is just starting its use should be encouraged.