nSight, Inc., a technical and educational content development and communications services firm, just announced the results of a survey it conducted in June focusing on technical documentation departments within technology companies. Key findings reveal that, in the past year, about half of those surveyed experienced staff layoffs; nearly 44 percent had their budgets decreased; 63 percent replaced paper documents with electronic ones to save money, and nearly a quarter of respondents were forced to delay important projects and technology initiatives.
The nSight survey was sent to 700 randomly selected technical writers, technical editors, documentation managers, and engineers in small, medium-sized, and large U.S. technology-based organizations with revenues from $1 million to $1 billion plus. Many of the 112 who replied cited outsourcing as one way to manage technical documentation with reduced staffs. With outsourcing, many actually could lower their technical support costs while maintaining a good customer experience. However, when work was outsourced to offshore agencies, especially those with non-English-speaking writers, respondents expressed that document quality often suffered.
“We’re consciously moving away from printed documentation in order to meet our customers’ needs and our quality standards on a tight budget and an increasingly tight schedule,” said survey respondent Daniel Rose, principal technical writer at Progress Software, a global provider of application infrastructure software. “With fewer writers and an increase in requested delivery methods, including multimedia, we have less time to focus on our core competencies in a single product area or media specialty. However, some areas have increased in quality as a result. For example, we now post some updated documentation on the Web between releases that fixes doc bugs and documents some new service pack features,” Rose added.
“The survey findings are very significant,” said Thomas E. LeBlanc, president and CEO of nSight. “In addition to the recession’s direct impact on technical documentation departments, the survey results also illustrate how whole companies have been affected. For instance, when technical documentation staff is reduced, the responsibility often shifts to other departments in the company, increasing the workload on those staffs and distracting them from their primary areas of focus.”
“According to the survey, other consequences of making technical documentation the responsibility of other departments without the training or subject matter expertise include poorly written documents, document projects that don’t get completed on time, or documents that simply get eliminated due to lack of time or personnel to undertake them. There is also the ripple effect on a company’s customers, and they are the ones most affected by documentation quality issues. These companies may experience increased tech support costs, and their brand reputations can be adversely impacted,” LeBlanc concluded.
Other survey results include the following:
• Large companies with more than 1,000 employees reported a higher incidence of layoffs and budget reductions than did small and medium-size companies.
• 57 percent of all respondents reported that internal business pressures had affected the quality and delivery of technical documentation.
• Factors affecting the quality of documentation included compressed work cycles, the elimination of proofing, and shortened production times.
• Reduced budgets meant that many companies weren’t able to hire needed technical writers or subject matter experts.
• Long-term productivity was adversely affected due to a lack of budget to purchase new technology, such as authoring tools and content management systems.
• More than half of the respondents said they were expected to produce the same number of documents, even though they had fewer resources.
• More than 75 percent rated technical documents as “important” or “extremely important” to their companies.
Given the survey results, it is obvious why this is a challenging time for technical documentation departments to produce the amount and quality of documentation that they consider necessary for future success.
nSight, Inc. (nsightworks.com) is a professional services firm that helps organizations gain clarity, precision, and distinction in their educational and technical information, published works, and interactive learning materials. Founded in 1982, nSight offers a flexible combination of consulting, project outsourcing, staffing, and training services to provide customized solutions for any content development, management, or publishing need. nSight’s full-time staff of 40, as well as its extensive network of content and communications professionals, serve clients in the information technology (IT), publishing, and education industries. Some of the world’s leading companies rely on nSight, including Microsoft, HP, Pearson, Fidelity Investments, and FedEx.
All trademarks and registered trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.