Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Last Count - the survey

I first started the short survey in 2010 and it is very interesting to see how usage has changed over the years. So I thought that a quick look at it right now might be useful.

April 2016

The survey results as of April 2016 are very nicely shown in graphical form below (generated by the survey site). Apologies for the fact that they spread into the right hand column - one of the limitations of the Blog Layout.

Issues of S1000D

We will look at the progression of taking on board S1000D but it is very clear that there is now a larger take up of Issue 4. I suppose with a number of US Projects using S1000D we should expect that. I do know that some of the Issue 1 Change 6 data is still in current use and being (more or less regularly) updated.

CSDB Usage

When this question was first posed the majority of people were not using a CSDB at all. However now that is changing. Of course this was a very crude yes or know answer. Perhaps we will do something a little more granular for this in the near future.

Where Responses Came From

One of the features of the survey is that we can get an outline view of where people were when they responded to the questions and how many there were. This is interesting because it, in some small way, illustrates the spread of the Specification in documentation.
Quite a spread I think that you will agree. I find the entry from 'translate.googleusercontent.com' intriguing.

S1000D Usage

Of course what the survey does not take into account is 'How many different Issues of S1000D is each person using?'

As products get more mature one question is: are projects keeping the existing documentation in the original Issue or is it all being converted to a later Issue? This is an interesting question of course because some of the earlier Issue of S1000D are SGML only. Where SGML and XML is available for the same Issue converting to XML is very straightforward with off the shelf software (with a bit of knowhow of course). Where the company originating the information is the one making the decisions that is ok.

Where the company wanting to make changes is not the originalting one that is not ok without explicit instructions - even then it is doubtful. Who is going to sign QA document which says that the converted material reflects exactly the source material? A few years ago there was an issue locally where a company decided that they would convert some legacy Data Modules into a more recent Issue. Having been involved on the periphery of the origination of the first version I   pointed out that the company did not have the right to convert, the material did not belong to them particuarly. I am not sure how popular I was at that point but it did raise the issue with them of who had the right to change or update the material contained in the Data Modules.

I hope that the larger companies are a bit better behaaved than my example. That time they were gung ho in their attitude to data ownership.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Updating the End User

Updating our Users

Over the years it has become increasingly noticeable that our end users just don't get to know the capabilities of our software. In many cases they have been creating and editing S1000D Data Modules for years and don't know that there are features which would greatly speed up their production and possibly increase the accuracy and convenience of their task.

Of course we provide a comprehensive User Guide which includes instructions for not only what the software does but how to use some of the Data Module types.

If, as is the case for a large number of our users, they are familiar with our products, they just don't know what has been added. It is often the case that unless they are reporting an unrelated problem and we have a conversation with them to find out how they are finding our application that they hear about feature updates.

Let’s be honest about this, most authors are being pushed to up their output and do not have time to look at the user guide. I must admit that my wife is often nagging me to change my general view of “if all else fails read the handbook”. There is often the case, particularly for one of our productivity features, the person who installed the software has not ticked the box to make it available to the user.

Perhaps I need to mention that a lot of the new features that we introduce have been suggested by our end users. We are always grateful for feedback. Our score for Customer Support in our annual survey always scores very high so we do that bit right but of course we try to improve on our performance whenever we can.

How do we grab their attention

Of course we send out emails and letters to the ‘registered’ contact in a company saying what the new release contains. In most companies that gets passed on directly to the IT department for them to download the installer and update each client machine. It is generally obvious that the recipient of the communications does not pass that on to the actual users.

IT Departments generally do not look at the installation instructions which are, in our case, included in the zip file containing the Installer. Why should they, they know all about installing software don’t they? (Sorry about the slightly sarcastic comment here!).

Software updates are not quite the same as equipment updates are they? Hardware updates are discovered when the technician has to use the handbook to fix a piece of equipment. For software the user is unlikely to see signs of an extra feature unless they are observant and notice an extra Menu option.

Help extra to the User Guide

We realise that the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words is true. Our take on this is to make short videos available on line to demonstrate the, what were once, extra features. We keep on adding to this resource.

But how does the end user get to know about these videos? This is the same problem as finding out about the updated features isn't it?

Of course these videos may be unavailable for numbers of our users. They are sitting on a network which is very secure and has absolutely no access to the Internet. So:
  • Should we make these available as part of the Installer?
  • And if they are part of the installer should their installation be a choice?
  • In which case we are back to the earlier problem of what the IT Department actually installs aren’t we?

Other peoples experiences

Given that this problem must be pretty universal it would be good to know what others think.

It would be particularly good to know how end-users think that this problem can be solved.

Of course there is the old saying “you can lead a horse to water but you may not be able to get it to drink” but shall we put this problem on one side?

There does need to be a really good way to get through to the end user.

An experiment

We are about to undertake a small experiment to see if we can break the circle of not updating the end user. It looks good on paper. Only time will tell.

If it works I’ll let you know.