Case Studies

This page shows a cross-section of projects that required inovative solutions, as well as solid technical writing skills. Feel free to ask us for more details.

International document collaboration

Eight organisations in five countries were collaborating on the design of a radio telescope. Each collaborator was responsible for one or more chapters in the design proposal document.

Although the project has an expected final budget of about USD$60M, most of the collaborators were universities and had no budget for dedicated documentation tools. Moreover, some collaborators wanted to continue using Micosoft Office products, whereas other wanted to use open source products.

The solution was based on a hybrid document structure. A master document was contructed in OpenOffice.org Writer. Chapters were created using wither either Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org, according to the preference of each organisation.

Using OpenOffice.org for the master document avoided reliability issues with Microsoft Word master document. Becasue OOo can open either native OpenOffice Writer files or Microsoft Word files, no conversion of files was necessary.

Each chapter was designed with its own local table of contents and was used by the respective collaborator as a stand-alone document. These local TOCs were retained in each document after assembly of the master document, which also had a master TOC.

Online help for bank e-payment system

The developer of a bank-to-bank payment hub needed web-based help that would comply with the accessibility rules of each participating bank. One bank required help that would function without scripting. Other banks had no such restriction and their users would benefit from features that can only be provided through scripting (e.g. synchronisation between TOC and topic, searching, context-sensitive links).

A technically simple but inefficient solution would have been to publish the help twice and use the server to detect which help files were required by a given user. However, this architecture had not been considered in the design and would have been incompatible when the product was localised.

A solution was developed in Author-it using extensively customised HTML templates and scripting. By default, the help opened as scriptless XHTML, but in script-enabled browsers it automatically reconfigured to script-enabled. The switch was seemless and invisible to users.

Document workflow automation

A data warehousing and reporting company was producing software and documents for a major bank. The bank in turn outsourced operation of the system to a major solutions provider. The company was subject to a complex document review and publishing cycle that would satisfy both the bank and the solutions provider. Initially the change history and reviewer list of each document was maintained by hand - a labourious and inefficient process. This was further complicated by versioning, file naming and document naming conventions that were imposed by the external stakeholders.

Document management has been complicated by inconsistent file naming and a unique folder structure for every new project. Aditionally, IT staff had made little use of templates and styles, so documents were not uniform in appearance.

A database-driven solution was devised, where documents were created by the database, using pre-defined templates. The reviewer list for each project was defined in the datbase an automatically written into each document. This list was used to automtically route documents for reviewing and approval. Change descriptions were entered into the database and applied to any relevant document, where they were automatically writen into the change history.

The solution provided functionality comparable to any commercial document mangement system at a fraction of the cost.

Self-updating respository of project as-built documents

A major infrastructure company designed and installed one of the world's largest closed-circuit televion networks. The work was conducted over a number of years at over 200 sites. The client required comprehensive as-installed documenttion that was specific to each site and to the overall system.

Rather than collating thousands of documents and expecting the client to be able to find required information, a database was designed to centralise the information. It harvested information from equipment lists at each site, imported stock levels from the ERP system and linked to thousands of CAD diagrams.

Equipment entries (such as camera models) automatically linked to relevant specifications and operating guides, ensuring that technicians at any site could reasily obtaine required information. Access control enabled engineers to specify althernative equipment for each item so that technicians could make valid substitions.

ERP system: merge standard help with local business rules

A major facilities management company was implementing the Pronto ERP sytem and simultanesouly moving to a Sarbanes-Oxley compliant process. Pronto is a package that is tailored to the needs of each site. Although it has detailed online help about the product, it does not haved any site-specific help. The company required all of its new and existing business rules to be available through Pronto. It also took tha opportunity to provide procedures to encourage best-practice throughout the business. This help needed to be context-sensitive so that users could easily refer to appropriate rules and procedures for each module of Pronto.

A technique was devised for creating custom help in Author-it and merging it with the built-in Pronto help. This gave users access to information about Pronto, as well as context-sensitive information about business rules and procedures. As part of the solution, a DLL was created to streamline linking between web pages and CHM-based help (i.e. without the use of grotesque INFOSTORE syntax).

State Government Department: information architecture

The treasury of a NSW State Government department had a repository with thousands of documents, with hundreds more supplied every quarter by particpating businesses and other government departments. Staff were finding it increasingly difficult to locate and manage files, especially when required to use files that were not in theor own area of expertise.

Part of the solution was to rationalise the top levels of structure, reducing the count from nearly 30 major categories to only 10. Where possible, a parallel structure was applied below each of the 10 categories so that users could navigate through each category, regardless of their "home" category.

Even after rationalision, the folder structure was up to five levels deep. Since this presented a sometime insurmountable barrier to finding unfamiliar content, a mangement database was designed. This provided a "common name" for any arbitry path (e.g. June 07 Reports) and displayed all files in the path. Each path had human-readable metadata, such as owner and line of business. This supported searching using any known details about a document or path. Files could be opened directly from the database.

Embedded help for web application

Etime Biz is a sophisticated web timesheet system for consultancies and contracting agencies. The online help was developed by Info Action, including an original design for "user mediated embedded help", where end-users can merge their own help with the standard help.

Small businesses can use Etime Biz for free - register here and view the help. It also includes tutorials created by Info Action.

 

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