HARDWARE: OEM Systems Manuals

Subject: HARDWARE: OEM Systems Manuals
From: Jason Willebeek-LeMair <jlemair -at- ITEXCHSRV2 -dot- PHX -dot- MCD -dot- MOT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 21 Dec 1998 12:57:38 -0700

Hardware documentor's DELURK. Finally, a non-software question.


We create high-end, telecommunications systems for OEM customers. I think
it is safe to say that we rarely, if ever, sell to the end user.

Traditionally, our systems manuals have been big, bulky monsters that cover
everything from installation to use to reference (board, backplane, specs,
etc). This blanket manual covers most of our various OEMs' specific needs,
and they usually include some sections that each does not need. For
example, one OEM may need backplane pinouts for developing proprietary
boards, while another does not.

Our manuals are ordered separately from the system (paper or CD) or
downloaded from the web (PDF and HTML). This is because our run-rate
customers do not want 1000 manuals for every thousand systems they order,
just a few (during their development cycle). So, don't even worry about
that whole "PDF vs. Paper, customers want manuals" debate.

Recently, based on several thoughts and some discussions with actual
customers ("we want information on XYZ, but usually won't look at a thick
manual"), I have toyed with the idea of creating several booklets rather
than one big manual. Each booklet (manualette?) would cover one aspect of
the system (configuration and installation, use, backplane reference, board
reference, chassis reference...well, maybe not those exact topics but you
get my drift). That way, each OEM customer can order/download the exact
information they need and bypass the rest.


How do you hardware folks handle the different needs of your various OEM
customers? Do you make a one-size fits all manual, a customer-specific
manual, or do you create a series of manuals covering specific topics?

More importantly, what do YOUR customers think?

Don't worry, I am going to ask more customers what they think before
foisting any changes on them, but I would like to see what is going on "out
there" while tossing this idea about in my mind.

I have no opinions, just temporary mental trends.

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