The future of product documentation: Are robots replacing technical writers?
Last year, we’ve heard a lot about human workers being replaced by robots. Smart vehicles replacing drivers. Algorithms replacing lawyers. Medical bots replacing health professionals. Machines replacing assembly-line workers. The general discussions painted a picture of doom. But is that really so?
The case of humans losing jobs to robots
A widely quoted 2013 Oxford study found that 47% of workers in the United States had jobs at high risk of potential automation. However, there are past evidences demonstrating how technology has created more than destroyed jobs.
For instance, as The Economist discussed, the banking sector ended up hiring more workers in the long run due to the invention of automated teller machines. Automation completed tasks faster, enabled human workers to do other tasks, and eventually increased the demand for human workers. But that’s the banking sector. How about product documentation?
A grim future for technical writers?
The value in product documentation and consequently technical writers has always been muddy. It has constantly faced the threat of commoditization and offshoring. Recently, there are discussions about software doing technical writing.
In fact, an interactive page, “Will Your Jobs Be Done By A Machine?” made by NPR, based on data from the same Oxford study, showed that technical writing has an 88% chance of being automated. Furthermore, there are now software such as Wordsmith which is an automated writing platform that uses large data sets to write natural-language stories.
The need to evolve: How automation augments product documentation and helps technical writers produce value
However, communication has nuances that are difficult for software to pick up. And that is the key value of technical writers—the ability to understand and differentiate audiences, and tailor information that they can easily digest and use. While automation does eliminate jobs and create new ones, there will always be people who look for relevant and credible answers and find them in product documentation.
As continuous job transformation and skill-biased technical change happens, there will always be people who wants to learn and understand how products work from simple and clear documentation (that technical writers have converted from complex information). This may explain why “availability of skills” and “speed of technical change” are among the CEOs’ top agenda both in 2017 and 2018, according to the latest PwC CEO Survey.
What’s next for product documentation and technical writers?
A recent easyDITA survey revealed that 60% of technical writers identified “time” as the number one barrier to measuring value in product documentation. Moreover, it also revealed that 37% didn’t feel the need to change their content delivery methods because there is no access to data, no defined metrics, and not enough expertise to analyze the data. For those who felt the need to change, 77% considered current methods to be outdated and no longer adequate.
Automation (or a more automated content delivery method) can actually help technical writers address these issues and increase product documentations’ value within and beyond the organization. With an updated and dynamic documentation portal, technical writers can save time, access data, and define metrics to focus on increasing value by:
- Leveraging rapid one-click publication of both new and updated content to easily maintain consistent and updated information;
- Tagging and indexing of content written in Flare, DITA, XML, Office, or any other formats;
- Collaborating among technical writers, subject matter experts (SME) and other authorized stakeholders by enabling them to add comments, tables, or images into documents, as well as leave comments and debate changes before changes are implemented;
- Using feedback and sharing tools and features to improve documentation process and allow easy follow ups with SME’s and customers’ feedback; and
- Gathering analytics of the documentation portal to understand customers and eventually increases usage and traffic.
Keeping pace with rapid technological change, product documentation needs to evolve. A dynamic documentation portal opens a world of possibilities for technical writers as it augments their work and enables them to have time to focus on more important tasks such creating innovative, tangible value to readers—the customers. After all, product documentation is about helping people find answers. It’s about communication between people—a very human skill that robots may take decades to be able to do so, or not.
Zoomin’s dynamic documentation ingests any type of structured or unstructured content and presents this in a topic/article format for ease of access and consumption by both technical writers and customers. Zoomin extends the reach of product documentation and helps make technical documentation be more accessible and personalized. Learn more at www.zoominsoftware.com.