RE: Are you debating the elimination of printed docs?

Subject: RE: Are you debating the elimination of printed docs?
From: David Neeley <dneeley -at- usdata -dot- com>
To: "'Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca'" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 14:33:19 -0600


Thanks for your rapid and thoughtful response. You are right, I left out
some details in the interest of brevity. Here's at least some of the deal:

1. The application I was hired three weeks ago to document starts
around $50,000...and it's much smaller than the main product the company
produces. As for you "really, really (really! REALLY! ***reallly***)" hating
the practice of charging for manuals, consider this: Our software becomes an
environment in which the integrator who sells and installs it and the end
users themselves develop finished process programs. In any given
installation, there may be a handful of manufacturing client stations or
there may be hundreds or even thousands. Depending upon the desires of the
client firm, they may want just a few client manuals for their trainers and
supervisors, or they might want them all around. How does that jibe with
your suggestion to make one set per shipping app? We do, as I stated
earlier, put current copies of the .pdf files on the distribution CD, and
make available updates on our Website. Customers are free to print their own
manuals. We encourage it, in fact. There are those who regard this as a
last-minute option.

2. I am in a great rush to get out the technical manual which was
not done for the last major product release last November. The reference
volume (we're dividing the tech manual into a software SDK) will ship with
the update. Immediately thereafter, we'll swing into the procedural guide.
Of course it is vitally important to look at everything from the
customers' perspective. I have already put in a request to spend time in the
field at customers' sites promptly when this rush project is done.
As to user preferences regarding type of documentation--my
philosophy is to give them every style of documentation they wish to use,
consistent with our staffing and our deadlines. In future, I want to add
motion video files of some type to illustrate areas in which users may have
problems. I am also reviewing types of binding, since all manuals are saddle
stitched or perfect bound at the moment. In the interest of getting the docs
used, I would prefer a "wire-o" binding for many manuals which need to lie
flat on the desk while being referred to.
I've only been here since December 13. There will be much to learn
and do as we progress. I am convinced our products are truly world-class. I
intend to move the documentation to that quality, too.

3. The demand publishing I'm referring to scales down to single
copies. Because of the nature of the vanity press, this is a very good form.
If an author can produce a reasonably good .pdf file at printing resolution,
the back-office prep work is pretty well done. However, there will often be
cover design and other issues which the authors may not be equipped to
handle themselves.
In our case, we would supply ready-to-publish .pdf files (which we
produce already and put on the CD) to the demand publisher. That publisher
may well wind up being the local software documentation specialists, whom
the company has used for years. They would certainly start off with a big
advantage in evaluating vendors.

4. I would submit that documentation is generally not regarded by
management as a profit center. None deny that it is at least a "necessary
evil" but few would say that the docs are an "added value" to the
product--they're PART of the product.

5. I'm the last in the world to care for what Microsoft says, but
they are occasionally right. In our case, the product is so huge in scope
that the best documentation you can provide never seems enough. Taking the
physical printing requirements out of the loop, we gain at least two weeks
in every release cycle for finalizing the best documentation we can provide.
That is a not inconsiderable advantage to the integrators and to the end
users, as it adds time to make those changes which often go out the door
unmade simply because of lack of time and staff resources.

6. If the demand publisher were to do the entire fulfillment job,
that would be great. Our printer currently does that for us, anyway.

-----Original Message-----
From: Geoff Hart [mailto:geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca]
(Message deleted for space reasons. I have attempted to address individual
issues in my response above.)

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