When thousands of scientists around the world rely on your products and services and you operate within a highly-regulated industry, it’s essential that your technical documentation is accurate, reliable and compliant. But delivering high-quality, timely publications can be challenging. That’s why Waters Corporation looked to SDL Knowledge Center to align its processes, drive content reuse and promote standardisation of its documentation to deliver a better customer experience
Waters produces numerous installation guides, user manuals, system guides and online help resources totaling thousands of pages in a year. In the past, these materials were produced using a variety of authoring tools with multiple content management processes and workflows, which made it difficult for writers to identify and reuse existing content. Content duplication and version-control became key concerns.
Writers were also spending a lot of time repeatedly formatting content, such as adding or removing page breaks and changing font sizes and colors, to conform to standards. Where publication content overlapped, the use of different reviewers led to inconsistencies in how the same information was worded. Consistency is particularly critical to ensure regulatory compliance according to Joshua Steen, Principal Technical Writer and Tools Specialist at Waters Corporation.
“It’s vital that we present, for example, similar product instructions in a consistent manner to deliver a great customer experience and ensure that we meet compliance requirements,” said Steen, “But without a centralised, organised content repository, it was difficult to ensure that consistency.”
As Waters serves markets around the world, its technical communications group localises content in up to 16 languages. Relying on different vendors for translation, the company found the process to be lengthy, expensive and inefficient as much of the same content was being localised again and again. “All of these issues triggered an initiative to improve the process by finding ways to reuse content more efficiently,” Steen explains.
The first step was for Waters to move to an XML-based authoring and publishing process known as DITA. This allows the team to store, organise and manage all structured content as individual units or topics in any language, so that it can be easily reused, shared, filtered and delivered to the appropriate channels. Waters evaluated out-of-the-box solutions for creating product documentation, choosing SDL for its ability to adapt to vendor partner tools, the ease-of-use for writers and the shorter learning curve for all users across the enterprise.
The company entered the implementation stage with many requirements, but little experience applying these requirements to a DITA-based authoring environment.
“SDL helped us understand the paradigm shift required to move to this new environment. We particularly appreciated that SDL was committed to helping us configure the system to meet our needs rather than forcing us to adopt a particular, pre-defined method of use,” says Steen. Steen commended the professional services team and the solution was ultimately implemented on time and under budget.
With SDL technologies in place, Waters enjoys a far more efficient and controlled production process. The workflow gates each stage, triggering actions and preventing duplication of work. Content formatting is now handled separately from writing, allowing the company’s writers to focus exclusively on authoring their publications.
The company’s 300 or so subject matter experts and the editors can now review subsets of publications as standalone topics, rather than having to tackle huge volumes from start to finish. As a result, writers can see feedback in real time and Steen estimates that up to 60 per cent of the source content can be reused in multiple publications, representing a huge cost and time saving. To add to this, localisation now occurs far more quickly as the team is not waiting for entire publications to be finalised before sending for translation. They are also drawing on huge quantities of previous translations such as standardised boilerplates and safety advisories. According to Steen, this is critical to the business as the company sim-ships publications in multiple languages.
“It’s certainly not ideal to experience a delay after our English source language documents are complete.” Steen continues, “And by facilitating content reuse, we can confidently distribute timely documentation to all our customers delivering a better service to them, and we can be sure it says exactly the same thing in all publications.” It also means revisions to existing publications go much faster as writers reuse content that has already been reviewed, approved and localised. “Instead of confirming that certain standard information is up to date – or rewriting content that already exists – our writers simply pull the latest released version.”
Plans are now in place to expand SDL system use across the business. “From the start, the intention was to extend SDL Knowledge Center to other departments across the business to support our content management ecosystem,” states Steen. “We are seeing noticeable improvements on our source language development. We are exactly where we wanted to be and it seems we are well-poised for the next phase of production.”