A Summary of the 2016 Tech Comm Benchmarking Survey
The survey is an informal, web-based study that provides some insights into different technical communication subjects. The findings have been substantiated by percentage metrics of achievements and shortcomings, and healthy criticism of weaknesses within the industry.
The content of the survey is organized under different categories distinguished by individual headings, fonts, and grids. This makes it more structured, but it is still hard to grasp after the first reading. In general, the survey gives a good understanding of the current state of the technical communication industry, and points out existing issues that need to be tackled to enhance the value of our profession.
Video (training materials and learning aids – 44%, product overviews – 43%, product marketing materials – 35%, and video documentation – 28%) has become an important type of product content on the web. Despite this progress, technical communication departments have not yet tackled such challenges as lack of experience, equipment, and localization issues.
Today, the web is the most common delivery channel. According to the survey, 91% of companies surveyed publish their content to the web. However, only 24% of respondents have mastered mobile-ready formats and mobile device apps as media for product content. Print deliverables remain the second dominant channel with 49% of companies surveyed producing their content in this format.
Technical communication services by industry
The survey findings show that technical communication professionals work in the following industries:
- 51% hardware and software
- 7% insurance and financial services
- 7% manufacturing
- 6% life sciences and healthcare
- 4% business consulting
- 4% enterprise telecommunication
- 3% education and training
- 3% defense and government
The remaining 15% of respondents work in other sectors.
Information management challenges
Over 50% of companies surveyed do not have cutting-edge content management processes in place that would ensure consistency across multiple channels. These companies have not invested intellectually and financially into improving their unified content strategies. They haven’t upgraded the software tools meant to enhance content management controls and to automate the production of deliverables for different channels.
At the same time, companies that make hardware and software, and those in highly regulated industries have a more serious approach to managing content than others. This is due to higher risks and competition. As a result, they use tools designed to provide granular content control, content management functionality, and important metrics meant to help management make informed decisions.
Structured XML content
Many technical communication teams create structured XML content. 81% of respondents develop structured XML content using the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). 12% of the companies that use DITA also use custom Document Type Definitions (DTDs). The users of these tools are mostly represented by the hardware and software industry (48%), enterprise telecommunication companies (9%), and the manufacturing sector (9%).
Many companies reuse 20-50% or more of their content across multiple deliverables. The drawbacks of content reuse include upfront investment, writing challenges, quality assurance, and change management.
According to the survey, 70% of respondents are confident that their content is error-free, and consistent in tone and voice; however, they rely mostly on style guides and human editors to prevent errors. 23% of those surveyed do not measure quality at all. However, companies are taking steps to improve content quality processes. 13% of respondents pointed out that their companies use content quality systems designed to correct content in the process of its creation.
Presence in the global markets requires that companies produce multilingual product deliverables. According to the survey, 56% of companies produce deliverables in two or more languages. These companies create and translate text-based technical communication deliverables, product interfaces, video documentation, and audio files. To target additional content challenges, 34% of companies surveyed use translation memory systems, while 16% of respondents say that they use machine translation systems designed to speed up translation, reduce costs, and improve content quality and consistency.
Products and software
Technical communicators use a variety of tools and software in their workplace, the choice of which depends on the type of work performed and the industry sector served.
The survey findings reveal the top ten most used software products including TechSmith Snagit – 25%, Adobe FrameMaker – 22%, Adobe Acrobat – 20%, MadCap Flare – 20%, Oxygen XML Editor – 13% and others.
The list of the most used component content management systems is as follows:
- SDL Live Content
- Vasont CMS
- Astoria CMS
- IXIASOFT DITA CMS
- Schema ST4
The technical communication industry is evolving and becoming increasingly complex, which is evidenced by the use of advanced tools, and adoption of modern information management systems and software technologies. The survey concludes that companies using technical communication services should consistently implement and refine these practices, standards, and technologies to ensure further development of the industry, while technical communication professionals should invest in continuing education that will add value to the profession.
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