The Key to Solving Product Documentation Development Silos: Integrate vs. Eliminate

Posted by
October 15, 2017

These days, it is generally held that the only nice thing about silos in the workplace, is that companies can feel smart and progressive for knocking them down. Yet, there is a lingering problem with this war against silos, and it’s not a small issue: some silos actually make sense, because they enable clarity, productivity and cross-functional team cohesion rather than undermine them. And one of the most vivid illustrations of this dynamic — and unfortunately, this dysfunction — is with product documentation development.

Where Silos are the Enemy

 Before exploring how silos can impede product documentation development, it’s worth taking a step back to point out that silos are still the enemy when it comes to customer-facing touchpoints. Indeed, just as retail shoppers increasingly expect and demand a gap-free omnichannel in-store or online buying experience, current and future customers expect seamlessly simplicity when they search for, find and access product documentation in all of its forms: workflows, use cases, spec sheets, how-to’s, FAQ’s, videos, and so on.

If this content is stored on various platforms and sources — and lack internal or external consistency — then customers cannot easily and quickly find the answers and information they need from a centralized location. This is not just a recipe for customer frustration and churn, but it significantly drives up support costs (not to mention drives up the blood pressure levels of besieged support agents).

As such, it’s not on the customer-facing end where silos need to be part of the work landscape: it’s on the back-end, where various teams play different roles in bringing great product documentation to life. Surprisingly, the key to dealing with these back-end silos isn’t to eliminate them. It’s to integrate them.

Integrating Silos: The Why

 As noted, different teams contribute a piece to the product documentation puzzle, such as TechPubs, sales, marketing and support. Naturally, some pieces are bigger than others. For example, support teams often keep a running inventory of easy-to-access answers to common questions. The issue here isn’t that one team matters more, or that one type of content has a greater impact on customer experience. Rather, it’s to acknowledge — and appreciate — that eliminating product documentation development silos by forcing different teams to use the same tools and processes for all content production can be counter-productive. Yes, it sounds good in theory. But its’s simply not practical, efficient or even necessary. Basically, when it comes to product documentation development, “silo” isn’t a dirty word.

How to Integrate: The How

 The key to integrating silos is by building three types of bridges: between silos, between content, and between customers.

The first bridge is between silos themselves, so that teams can stay connected and understand how they’re positioned in the overall product documentation development ecosystem — which is especially important, since this positioning changes are content needs shift. No, this doesn’t mean that teams should flood each other with status updates. But yes, it does mean they need to grasp that they’re part of the same process (though in different ways), and that, essentially and ultimately, product documentation is an asset that drives customer experience.

The second bridge is between individual teams and the intelligent content they create using their preferred and familiar software package (“intelligent” because it’s structured, XML, topic-based and taxonomy-driven). In addition to driving internal and external consistency — which is critical when content gets pushed to distribution —  intelligent content is much easier to find, reuse and update.

The third bridge is between content and customers. Once teams create content — whether it’s smaller “chunks” of information (e.g. a minor tweak to a support FAQ), or bigger pieces like user guides — they need a technology-led solution to distribute across all customer-facing touchpoints, such as the corporate knowledge portal, customer community, search, social, and so on.

To Silo or Not to Silo…

 Unless we’re talking about farm infrastructure, silos have an (admittedly well-deserved) image problem in the corporate world. This makes them an easy, and often accurate target to blame for everything from low net promoter scores to high employee turnover. But in some scenarios, silos aren’t part of the problem: they’re necessary for the solution. And when it comes to cost-effective and customer-centric product documentation development, the real issue isn’t to silo or not to silo. Rather, it’s to integrate rather than eliminate.

LEARN MORE: Zoomin enables companies to effectively and efficiently develope, distribute and optimize customer-facing product documentation across all touchpoints — while respecting the fact that various teams need to work in different ways. Furthermore, teams can use the content creation software that they’re comfortable and familiar with, or take advantage of Zoomin’s built-in streamlined and automated intelligent content authoring solution. Schedule your guided demo of Zoomin to learn more.

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