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Enter the era of smart digital manuals

Does your company still publish manuals only printed on paper or as PDF? Or more generally, are you sure your staff and customers have the technical information they need, and that it really helps them? These are crucial questions, if you are interested in boosting productivity, revenue, and customer satisfaction, and optimizing investments by entering the era of smart digital.

Certainly, smart spending and optimized productivity are words that C-level executives enjoy hearing. But they hardly ever hear about a very common issue that hurts productivity and means poor investments: time waste and a lousy user experience due to technical documentation.

“This is a big but hidden problem. Discussions with our customers have revealed us how engineers, technicians, and experts struggle to find the right information to perform their tasks. This happens every day around the world,” says Eric Tengstrand, Etteplan’s Global Director of Service Solutions.

“Too often, getting the right answers for urgent questions becomes a slow investigation process. People keep asking, where’s the manual, what is the right file to look for, who knows what to do next? It is frustrating to face this time and time again,” he continues.

What is wrong, what should be done, and what do we mean by smart digital?

Everybody goes online and expects user-centricity

In practice, manufacturers of machines and equipment are obliged to create, deliver, and manage technical documentation about their products.

“We can see that our customers invest quite a lot of money in content, but we also see the need to increase the value of these investments. Content has little value if nobody can access it or if it takes a lot of time to find it. There must be better ways to get the content out for the users,” Eric Tengstrand says.

He points out that the creation process has already been digital for a long time, but the traditional mode of delivery is paper or PDF, that is, to some extent analog. Quite a paradox!

“Once the content is structured and created digitally, it needs to printed or compiled into a PDF, which is then shipped to customers or delivered online as downloadable content. Afterward, during the product lifecycle, the product may get updates, or errors are found in the content. Delivering a new set of costly prints or PDF files for each update isn’t really an efficient way to operate.”

In the 2020s, the primary method to find information for any purpose is to do a quick online query. At work and home, everybody assumes that at least somewhat helpful answers can always be found on the internet. Consumers with technical problems enjoy watching YouTube videos that show how certain things are done the right way.

Even very technical businesses should pay attention. Providing online content in a user-friendly way has to become the norm in the sphere of professionals as well. In product design, user-centricity is a powerful trend that focuses on helping the end-user. The idea is to improve usability, make products easy and intuitive. These principles must be applied to technical information as well.

Digitizing is not enough

The era of print manuals is definitely over. Going from analog to digital in technical information brings many benefits at once. However, simply digitizing technical information is not good enough. An online database with PDF files is pretty dumb, and it fails badly in addressing the demands of user-centricity.

Some machine and vehicle manufacturers have embedded user manuals in the dashboard. Some software used to monitor industrial processes have manuals. They are a nice start, but yet a few steps away from the ideal, and they are offline. Then what is the right thing to do?

“What you need is smart technical information that is user and context-aware. It can be directly connected to sensors in the equipment, or a ticketing system, ERP, or any other relevant system. Then, content is fetched from an online source, and simply shows the operator or technician, how to fix a certain problem, for example,” says Eric Tengstrand.

Unlike an online database with PDF files, a smart manual or any technical documentation needs to be totally user-centric. It knows what the user needs at a given moment and guides the user towards a relevant answer in an efficient way, no matter where the user is located. It is always available. It recognizes the situation and the context automatically. It tells the user exactly how to do something.

“I can guarantee that this is no utopia. At Etteplan, we have developed a new hassle-free turnkey service for any technical information that really makes a difference. It brings instant relief. It boosts productivity, the user experience, the quality of maintenance and installation work, revenue, and customer, and employee satisfaction,” Eric Tengstrand concludes.