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Is Your Business Winning or Losing? Employee Feedback Might Be the Key to the Answer

May 17, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Are You Winning or Losing?

Instead of looking at data or metrics for the answer, ask your team

If someone came up to you and asked, “Is your business winning or losing today?” how would you answer? More importantly, how would you come to that conclusion? Would it be looking at sales numbers? Safety ratings? Number of products made?

These numbers and metrics are obviously very important. But I challenge you to look at winning and losing a different way. Instead of crunching numbers, ask your employees who are taking care of the daily activities on the floor.

What insights they have might surprise you, and if you can identify trends and issues, it could lead to beneficial changes to your operations.

The value of hearing from people on the floor

team meeting on factory floorWe all have unique skill sets that allow us to excel at our jobs. For senior leadership teams, this is usually focusing on the bigger picture and long-term strategies for the company. But, this can lead to a disconnect from the day-to-day operations. To gain back that perspective, talk with your employees in different positions and departments. Ask them the question “Are we winning or losing today? Why?”

How ever they answer, ask a few follow up questions to find out the cause. If they’re feeling like they’re losing, why is that? Was a machine broken that day that slowed down production? Does your customer service team feel inundated with phone calls and it takes too long to respond?

The feedback can be useful to see if there are reoccurring problems or themes. If employees bring up issues, ask them if they have ideas for solutions. They’re the experts at their role, and their suggestions might be something that is easily implemented. Or, they might have proposals for operational changes to make everyone more successful.

Here’s a few examples of what questions to ask to elicit valuable feedback.

At the end of the conversation, Don’t forget to thank them. Most importantly, follow up. This will keep an open chain of communication and reminds people they are appreciated and valued.

Find the tools to solve your problem instead of seeking out a problem for your tools to solve

How many times have you been pitched a cool new tool that will “revolutionize your business”? And how many times have you bought it, told your team to use it and been frustrated when the results aren’t as promised?

This is due to finding a solution and then looking for a problem to solve. If you’re looking for ways to use a product, or you don’t have a reason to use it right away, it’s not valuable.

Instead, once you’ve identified areas that need improvement via your internal conversations,  start looking for a product to solve the problem. Keep your employees engaged by having them participate in choosing a solution. Not only will they have a better idea of what they need it to do, but it creates buy-in early on, and employees will be more likely to use it when it’s in place. Take the time to train employees on the new tool, so that they can be successful.

This method works.

We had a customer that followed a model like this. Viking Range produces high-end residential ranges and appliances and is one of the leading American brands in that vertical.

Senior leadership identified a need to increase their efficiencies in their publishing department. They system relied on an outside vendor to update their content via static PDFs and spreadsheets. Because everything had to be updated individually, if a part was changed and used in dozens of different pieces of equipment, it took even more staff time to make all of the updates. In total, it was taking TWO WEEKS to create a single parts book because of the processes that were set up. The technical publishers knew they needed a better way to execute revisions. Senior leadership listened, took into account the suggestions from employees, and researched and evaluated products that could fix this cumbersome process.

They chose Documoto, because the cloud-based relational database allowed technical publishers to update a part once and have it populate across any materials that part was found, solving one of the biggest frustrations.

Viking’s technical writers and illustrators started using the software right away, and the results were immediate. It only takes the publishing team 30 minutes to make changes and distribute. It has also given control over the whole process to the publishing team, instead of having to rely on outside vendors. This accurate and immediate information distribution has had a ripple effect and had a positive impact throughout the business. (You can read the full story here).

Viking’s story is just one example of how this approach can revolutionize your business using employee feedback and finding solutions to problems (instead of looking for problems for your solution). Once you’ve taken these steps, ask yourself the question again: “Is my business winning or losing?”

This time, the answer should be, “Winning. I’ve worked with employees to help solve our operational issues, leaving them happier and more productive,  and our numbers and data reflect that.”

man choosing win button

Digitize to Win: How Technology Can Give Manufacturers a Competitive Edge

April 18, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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The manufacturing industry is going through a revolution, and companies that don’t modernize their business practices are going to be left behind.

It’s been several decades since manufacturing companies began adopting software and tools to make internal processes more efficient: CAD for engineers, desktop publishing and graphics programs for writers and designers, and accounting software for bookkeepers, for example.

But the digital impact on our world and economy has changed how customers expect to do business. Now companies are feeling pressure to extend the benefits of technology and information sharing to their customer base, in the form of greater support and improved service.

With websites open and operating 24-hours-a-day, customers have come to assume a higher standard when it comes to accessing product information, from technical specifications to operating instructions to video tutorials.

That same expectation is also driving companies to invest in more robust eCommerce technology. No one wants to spend two hours on the phone trying to look up and order the right parts. Mechanics can’t wait a week to repair a machine that costs its owner thousands a day in downtime.

Technology allows employees to work smarter, not harder. And modernizing distribution channels to effectively sell parts and other products online can be a game changer for OEMs.

According to an article in Chief Executive, 80% of manufacturing executives know that digitizing their enterprises is a critical driver to stay competitive. However, only 37% have a strategy in place, and only 13% of organizations have digital manufacturing capabilities today.

As these numbers show, there is a huge opportunity for companies who embrace technology and get a comprehensive strategy in place as soon as possible. Those that do will be the industry leaders in the coming decade.

How much time do your employees spend looking for information in a day? Once they find it, how accurate is it?

Register for our webinar, Digitize to Win: 3 Strategies for Manufacturers to Gain a Competitive Edge. Digabit Founder and CEO, Alan Sage, will discuss how manufacturers can capture more revenues from existing customers, improve internal efficiencies and provide better customer service using cloud-based technologies.

Key insights in this free webinar include:

  • Leveraging digitization to optimize operations
  • Expanding revenue streams from new channels
  • Boosting customer engagement and satisfaction
  • Real-world examples of Documoto in action

Click here to save your seat.

Rethinking the Relationship Between Tech Pubs and Engineering

February 9, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , ,
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NOTE: This article was originally published in the Center for Information-Development Management’s (CIDM) Best Practices newsletter in February 2017. The author is Richard Ackerman, Digabit’s Senior Director of Solutions Engineering.

Information developers in manufacturing environments have a natural desire to use engineering output to create product manuals, parts book content, and other technical support materials. The goal in reusing engineering content is to save time and effort. However, the negative impacts on user experience can lead to the opposite result for functions related to customer support, spare part sales, and service.

There are many reasons why exporting engineering content for customer-facing documentation is ineffective. Most of these reasons stem from the fact that engineers develop their content for different purposes, and with different requirements, than the technical information developers who are tasked with creating customer-support documents.

Let’s unpack and investigate a few of the reasons why information developers and engineers may be better off with an amicable break up.

Engineering’s role, in a nut shell, is to define what the final product is

Engineering output is in the form of bills of materials (BOMs), CAD models and drawings, specifications, and other data. Typically, engineers create BOMs to the extent necessary that parts can be purchased (from a third-party supplier) or built. Engineering references a purchased item by a single part number, and thus all the details for service items within the purchased component are not typically captured by engineering. Even if they are, service items do not necessarily appear in the BOM and certainly don’t appear in the CAD drawing.

Engineering departments usually follow industry standards regarding CAD models and drawings. These standards, such as ASME Y14.5, are designed specifically to achieve uniformity in drawing specifications and interpretation, and they lead to desirable outcomes throughout the manufacturing process — improved quality, reduced costs, and quicker deliveries. These standards result in familiar views of an assembly, such as top view, side view, front view, and so on. Internal details are shown by cross-sectional views.

While this information is an acceptable solution for manufacturers, customers who need to repair and maintain their machines are not necessarily versed in reading engineering diagrams. Customers are better served with a more intuitive, easier to understand visual presentation.

Engineering naming conventions and information hierarchies are not “user friendly”

A bill of material structure, or hierarchy, that is useful for engineering purposes does not necessarily reflect the way an end user would “think” of their equipment. For instance, if users need a component on a control panel, they might like to view a representation of the entire control panel so they can quickly find what they need.

Typical CAD design engineering drawing

Figure 1 – Typical CAD Output from Engineering

However, if there are various functions that each have components that live in the control panel, the engineering definition of the control panel may be split up into many different assembly BOMs. While this works fine for the manufacturing process, it certainly is not logical or efficient for an equipment owner or service technician. It is common for savvy information-development teams to rearrange a machine’s hierarchy (for example, in a parts book Table of Contents) to ease search tasks and provide a better user experience.

Engineering descriptions may not make sense to external users. Parts are commonly described with a nomenclature system similar to the following: noun, qualifier 1, qualifier 2, and so on. Additionally, engineers tend to abbreviate part descriptions so the key descriptors fit into the space-limited fields available.

Thus, you may have something like this from engineering: MTR, AC, 3PH, 5HP. This code is appropriate for internal use, but unfriendly for less technically capable end users. Sophisticated information developers take the time to translate this code into ordinary language such as, “5HP 3-PHASE AC MOTOR.” Not only is the terminology more readable, “motor” is the most likely search term entered by a customer in an electronic environment. We have another example of engineering output that detracts from a positive user interaction.

Engineering CAD drawings are not optimized for part sales or service

Figure 2 – Exploded Assembly Created from CAD Source

One of the greatest demands on information developers is the translation of engineering output into parts-book ready content. Figure 1 above shows a gearbox assembly drawing with individual parts identified by item numbers. Figure 2 is an illustration of the gearbox that has been “translated” with a graphic design application for better usability. You can see how 2D views are moved to exploded 3D. There are also item numbers added to the exploded view to show service items not captured in the engineering output. Which of these assembly illustrations is more useful to a customer or mechanic?

Can we automate publishing or modify engineering processes?

Companies have tried different approaches to solve the problems posed by using engineering output for information development. These include using various methods to automate information development, as well as trying to alter the methods by which engineering produces content. Both of these approaches can be very challenging.

Engineering resources are expensive

There are significant opportunity costs incurred when assigning engineers to create clean exploded views with service items added. Labor costs for engineers are generally higher than for publishers and illustrators, and they may not be as efficient as workers who are exclusively dedicated to information development tasks. Most manufacturers allocate engineering resources to create new equipment designs or to fix product flaws. The vast majority of manufacturers consciously decide not to use high-value engineering labor to build user-friendly content.

Automated integrations aren’t intelligent enough

Imagine that an off-the-shelf or custom-built system allowed a manufacturer to export and convert CAD data, and hypothetically build a parts book automatically. Without some intelligent (human, for instance) intervention, it’s nearly impossible to address issues related to service items, BOMs, and the other factors described above. Artificial intelligence may someday provide a better answer, but there’s a great deal of development to be done first.

Accurate parts lookup efficient maintenance

The path toward a modern solution

For the reasons provided here, it’s time to move on from the dysfunction caused by incompatible content. Engineering and information development aren’t the perfect partners that they might like to be, but there is hope! Using easily available, appropriate technology allows information developers to work alongside engineering, while avoiding the limitations and drawbacks of being tied to unaltered native content. Here are some high-level steps:

  1. Once parts-book-ready content is created, it should be tied to the engineering output via metadata or “tags.” Thus, the improved illustration is identified by the assembly number, revision, product family, status, or any other relevant information.
  2. Software should be deployed that provides optimized content to end users in a searchable online library that is built on a relational database. Then, when parts are revised, information developers can navigate to the appropriate data at the part or assembly level and make the modifications as needed ONE TIME. As a result, all documents containing that shared source information are updated simultaneously.
  3. The relational database should be able to manage alternate descriptions to accommodate internal and external users.
  4. The software should understand the hierarchy of the machine and most importantly provide a clean user interface so that an information developer can effortlessly rearrange content to better accommodate the customer.

With the right tools and methodology, information developers can provide truly useful documentation

The key is not to fight with engineering but to accept the translation process necessary to achieve superior documentation. Some manufacturers may view this as extra work; the truth is actually to the contrary. How much time and money is wasted when the wrong parts are ordered due to confusing documentation? How many customers lose confidence in the manufacturer when this unfortunate (yet common) event occurs?

Using modern practices and technology in information development can increase efficiency by 10X or more. Consequently, the initial effort to set up and implement such a solution becomes an easy investment to justify. Even the most overtaxed and resource-constrained information-development teams can deliver polished, comprehensive documentation in a world class manner.

Publishing Tools and Documoto: A Match Made in Parts Book Heaven

January 31, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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If you use SOLIDWORKS Composer or similar publishing tools to transform CAD data into technical documentation, you already understand the importance of providing clear and detailed illustrations in materials for customers.

Which is why it’s surprising that so many manufacturers invest in tools like Composer, but then take the valuable images they produce and export them as standalone PDFs. If you’re creating technical illustrations and parts info from a data-rich environment and then importing it into a desktop tool like FrameMaker or InDesign, your company is throwing away a large part of their investment and making employee’s jobs harder down the line.

By creating standalone PDFs, the amount of labor required to create the parts catalogs and more importantly, to maintain them, is unsustainable– leaving publications staff with the constant feeling they are drowning in their work.  In addition, you lose valuable data, interactivity, and the efficiency of publishing in a cloud environment.

But, by adding Documoto to your publishing workflow, you can harness the power of a relational database specifically designed to create and manage parts book content for complex equipment.

Why add Documoto to your publishing workflow?

  • Easily translate images and bills of materials (BOMs) from Composer into XML, the first step in creating a structured data environment.
  • Re-use parts and assembly information in an unlimited number of documents.
  • Keep up with engineering changes by simply updating parts and assemblies in one location – Documoto automatically updates other books that refer to those components.
  • Automate content creation and updates with ERP integrations, APIs and web services.

Join us at SOLIDWORKS World 2017

Solidworks World 2017 logoIf you’d like to see Documoto in action and learn how it can be a benefit to you, come visit us in the Partner Pavilion
at SOLIDWORKS World 2017, taking place Feb. 5-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center!

And, you can get in to the Partner Pavilion for FREE using code SWW17EOEX. Register here: https://events.itnint.com/sww17/online/RegLogin.aspx.

More information about the conference is available here.

Join Digabit at SolidWorks World 2017 on February 5-8

January 31, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Come see us at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 from Feb. 5-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. We’ll be onsite in the Partner Pavilion providing live demonstrations of Documoto, and our team will be available to answer your questions.

SOLIDWORKS World is a 3-day conference where attendees can learn about the latest technologies and select from more than 200 breakout sessions on topics ranging from design automation and electrical design to simulation and product data management.

Stop by Digabit’s booth (#200) in the Partner Pavilion and learn how to:

  • Streamline publishing with SOLIDWORKS – Composer – PDM – Documoto
  • Convert BOMs and illustrations into structured data for search and re-use
  • Enable online sales using Documoto Cloud Storefront

See the exhibit floorplan

If you are attending and would like to meet to see how Documoto can optimize your business operations, please email Jeremy Park at Jeremy.park@digabit.com.

Expo Invitation Code:

Use code: SWW17EOEX to get a FREE pass to the SOLIDWORKS World Partner Pavilion. Register Here.

Partner Pavilion Hours:

Sunday, Feb. 5
4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m

Monday, Feb. 6
11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 7
11:30 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. 

Wednesday, Feb. 8
10 a.m.– 2:30 p.m.

More information:

http://www.solidworks.com/sww

Venue:

Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 S. Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Innovate to Improve OEM-Dealer Relations, Not Disrupt Them!

January 18, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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The OEM-Dealer Distribution Model

Over 20 years ago, the Harvard Business Review published a commentary by the CEO of Caterpillar, website Donald Fites. The article is titled, “Make Your Dealers Your Partners,” and it discusses foreign competition, the importance of after-sale service, and the huge role that Caterpillar’s dealers play in maintaining Cat’s market leader position. It’s illuminating to read this decades-old perspective and realize that, with all our technology and the incredible growth of global trade, not that much has changed in the fundamental distribution strategy for heavy equipment OEMs. While some may view these arrangements as antiquated or archaic, there are many good reasons why OEMs choose to maintain traditional dealer networks as their primary distribution channels.

Over the past several years, all the business pundits, management consulting firms, and enterprise software sellers have jumped on the same bandwagon when it comes to the future of B2B sales…

  • Younger buyers are digital natives, and they want to buy online
  • Multichannel (or omni-channel) sales are necessary to retain or gain market share
  • Global competition is commoditizing products of all types at a faster rate

Digabit understands this mentality. Many manufacturers are interested in direct-to-consumer sales, similar to a B2C retail eCommerce environment. It means customers can order any time and anywhere, using any payment method, with a choice of shipping alternatives and other buyer-friendly options.

OEM global dealer networkThis idealized business model appears to cut out the traditional roles of distributor and dealer. In the hypothetical model, customers know exactly what they want, and they want to satisfy their needs at the lowest cost, with the least effort.

But for manufacturers of complex, expensive equipment, this “ideal” is a mirage.

Whether a company makes trucks, industrial robotics, or a 200,000-lb. wheel loader, the real world of capital equipment sales and after-sale service and support is a lot messier than the ideal scenario presented in a consulting firm’s strategy recommendation. Some manufacturing verticals still receive huge value from the physical presence of a dealer network.

Benefits for OEMs that build strong dealer relationships

Dealership employees are the OEM’s human face, for everything from warranty management to promotional collaboration. It’s true that everyone gets frustrated with phone support, help desks and impersonal customer service. But we’re clearly not at the point where apps and artificial intelligence can replace those functions…and some people still prefer face-to-face communication.

In spite of the hype about drone delivery and other futuristic fulfillment methods, having a tangible product in inventory within a reasonable driving distance is important to some large equipment owners.

Nobody aside from the OEM knows as much about products and how they’re used as dealers who work with actual owners and operators every day. From providing service and maintenance, to cross- and upselling other OEM products, a great dealer’s product knowledge is still more relevant and accurate than online sources.OEM dealership maintenance service

Customer loyalty and retention are highly influenced by dealer performance. Rather than being archaic artifacts, dealers provide assurance for buyers who spend millions on equipment. Does anyone want to buy a $1,000 part for a $500,000 machine from an anonymous website? I don’t. That type of sale still requires a level of trust and accountability that you won’t get from slick websites or one-click processes.

In short, the OEM-dealer relationship is neither dead nor dying. The model needs some refinements that are readily achievable by modern technologies. For example, OEMs need better visibility into dealer activity and inventories. And dealers need better communication tools and higher quality product information from OEMs. Technology is poised to tighten and strengthen OEM ties to their distribution channels, rather than alienating—or outright eliminating—their most effective support system.

Should You Update Parts Catalog Content? Do the Math!

November 8, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , ,
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With over 20,000 registered users, Digabit’s Documoto platform has generated enough data for us to estimate the return on investment (ROI) for various scenarios at manufacturing companies.

Here is one common dilemma: While it’s a given to create electronic parts catalogs for new and current models, some of our customers have decades’ worth of older models that are still in operation and require ongoing service and maintenance. Older units tend to generate more parts orders, so it may prove worthwhile to convert older parts catalog content into an interactive online format to help capture more of those revenues.

In a traditional desktop publishing environment, where the end product is often a paper copy and/or PDF, the process of converting and migrating older files and data into an acceptable format is so time-intensive that most companies cannot justify the labor and expense to update past technical documentation.

However, Documoto’s publishing platform automates or eliminates many manual tasks, like copy-and-paste and other layout chores, once a company has loaded its product data into the database.

So, how do you determine whether it’s worth the time and trouble to move older product info into Documoto?

Let’s assume a manufacturer has eight extremely popular models of earth-moving machines for which they want to update support documentation. Using desktop tools, Digabit customers have reported taking three weeks or longer per model for the publications department to convert older data and publish high-quality PDFs. That equates to a 24-week backlog of work to update eight parts catalogs.

We’ll conservatively estimate that the average publications employee compensation equals $50,000 a year. That means the cost of creating updated parts catalogs is roughly $23,000 for labor alone. And six months’ worth of labor during which those employees aren’t accomplishing anything else of value.

Imagine that you had a publishing system in which you could create electronic, print and PDF catalogs in three days versus three weeks?

Now you’re looking at around $4,600 in labor to update your legacy catalogs. Similar savings can be achieved every time a revenue-generating parts catalog needs updating. And it doesn’t take many returned parts, hours of phone support, or lost part sales to add up to the cost of transforming legacy to digital.

What would a modern publishing system like that cost, you ask? Digabit’s Documoto Authoring Essentials starts at $1650 a month, or less than $20K per year. Just about the cost difference between the old and new ways of doing things.

What are we not factoring in? The huge opportunities afforded by freeing up five months of publishing labor. And the potential boost in aftermarket sales provided by having up-to-date parts information in Documoto’s Cloud Storefront (with additional subscription costs). Customers have proven their willingness to pay for the convenience of buying online, especially when they know they’re getting the right, high-quality OEM parts!

The 3 Deadly Sins of Online OEM Part Sales

October 20, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , ,
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How do manufacturers of heavy equipment and machinery typically sell parts for repairs and ongoing maintenance? Most would not be very successful running print ads like the one from the Pullford Co. at the top of this post. However, some companies still employ similar tactics to sell to online prospects.

Print ad circa 1910 from C. L. Best, precursor to today’s Caterpillar. Note the instruction to “Write for catalogues, terms, etc.” How times have changed…or not, in some cases.

Print ad circa 1910 from C. L. Best, precursor to today’s Caterpillar. Note the instruction to “Write for catalogues, terms, etc.” How times have changed…or not, in some cases.

In this era of transition from legacy processes to increasing digitization of everything, how are manufacturers doing at creating easy-to-use online experiences for buying OEM parts?

The results are mixed. At the upper end of the spectrum, many advanced manufacturers have dedicated dealer/customer portals with secured log ins and some eCommerce functionality.

However, there are still plenty of profitable, successful companies who offer poor customer experiences when it comes to parts lookup and ordering. Let’s look at examples of just three of the deadliest sins committed by manufacturers in the online sales arena.

Sin #1: Generic Web Form

mfr-web-form-parts-sales-aftermarket

The screenshot at left is from the site of a $6-billion manufacturer of heavy construction equipment. Users can select a type of machine and model number, then enter text into an input field simply labeled: “description of parts needed.” The instructions at the top of the form state, “Your request will be directed to your local dealer who is equipped to give you the accurate answers to your needs.”

Okay. I get that this company is beholden to their dealer channel. If I absolutely must order through a dealer, why even bother offering this form? After submitting the form, then what? Wait for the local dealer to email or call back. When will that be? Who knows?

Sin #2: Static PDF Catalog

The number of manufacturers who generate over $1 billion in annual revenues and still offer PDF downloads of parts catalogs is simply astounding. This is likely the most common sin regarding online user experience. We won’t highlight any particular example here, in the interest of not embarrassing the worst offenders. If you’re curious, take a look at the Fortune 1000 and visit some of the manufacturing companies’ websites. It won’t take long to discover your own examples.

The quality of online PDF parts catalogs varies greatly. Some show long lists of part numbers and names with no illustrations. Others display crude drawings with part names but no numbers. Is it really helpful to display a photo of an assembly and list the part numbers underneath with no exploded views? Not so much. Grab a cup of coffee and prepare for a long phone call….

Sin #3: Generic Web Page with No Clear Direction

Most larger companies are more sophisticated than this, but the screen shot shows a corporate web page of a manufacturer that generates between $20-50 million in sales. There is a street address and several contact numbers listed on the page, so I guess the user is supposed to pick up the phone or write a letter to inquire about buying parts or getting equipment serviced. The company’s not giving you any more clues than that.

What do I do? Call someone, I guess.

What do I do? Call someone, I guess. Just like 1918 (see top image).

How to Avoid 3 Tempting Pitfalls of Structured Data

October 12, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , ,
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NOTE: This article was originally published in the Center for Information-Development Management’s (CIDM) Best Practices newsletter in October 2016. The article was contributed by Richard Ackerman, Digabit’s Senior Director of Technical Sales.

The technical publishing world has increasingly gravitated toward structured data concepts and tools over the past decade. From XML to DITA to component content management systems (CCMSs), the evolution continues thanks to savings in labor, improved accuracy, and optimized workflows afforded by structured data methodologies.

While using structured data to publish technical documentation offers significant efficiencies, it is quite common to find publishers who impose unnecessary challenges upon themselves. This article addresses the top three traps publishers should recognize and avoid.

Stop Putting Intelligence in File Names!

What is the purpose of a file name?

From a software perspective, often the only limiting parameter for a file name is a unique string of accepted characters. However, it is extremely common in practice for individuals saving files to include information associated with the file, or “intelligence.”

While it is important to capture metadata, the file name is typically the worst place to include attributes of the content.
As a hypothetical exercise, let’s pretend the file name for a particular manufactured assembly includes the model number of the product where the assembly is used. If engineering decides to use the same assembly on a related model (with a different model number), will the publications department update the file name accordingly? Probably not.

While this is a simplistic example, using intelligence in a file name, whether to facilitate search or for some other well-meaning objective, inevitably results in conflict, confusion, or unnecessary work to maintain.

It is much easier to set up a system where the file name simply uses the next available number or some other arbitrary convention. This system allows all respective attributes to be applied as metadata.

There will never be confusion in the case of a one-to-many relationship if you are diligent in keeping intelligence separate from file names. And you will avoid the unnecessary work of maintaining file naming conventions that are based on some descriptive aspect of the content.

Best practices for structured data suggest that you should leverage software to manage the attributes of a file or data element. Consider the file name to be the equivalent to a “key” in a database. A file name in structured publishing should simply be a unique identifier. Don’t be lured by the appeal of making it mean something more.

Choose Your Storage Wisely!

Most companies have a huge assortment of software tools, databases, server locations, and so on, which offers multiple feasible locations to store important information. Depending on the type of information, there are clear advantages in storing the data in a specific location.

Let’s consider a scenario in which text-based data is stored within an engineering drawing. Maintaining this information in CAD is significantly more expensive than managing the same data in text-based databases. Revising data in CAD requires skilled, highly compensated resources (usually in short supply), and also involves more demanding workflows to implement changes.

Obviously, high-quality models and drawings require CAD; however, text-based information is better suited for storage in other applications.

One example occurs when OEMs place vendor information on a drawing. This practice is not suggested, even if a part or assembly is sole sourced. Instead, vendor data can be captured in an ERP system, and then programmatically applied to a related purchase order. If a new vendor is eventually contracted to supply the part in question, the time difference in maintenance is profound.

With regard to electronic parts catalogs, including text-based information in an illustration is similarly detrimental. Use software that has appropriate places to capture text-based data. It is always easier to update a text field than an illustration. This ideal is readily apparent if the text field has many instances of re-use.

Furthermore, combining data elements such as the illustration and text attributes limits the functionality of relational database behavior if changes need to be made on one element rather than both elements simultaneously. Combining elements like this negates one of the major benefits of implementing a database publishing system.

Don’t Combine Data Elements!

Manufacturers employ a number of common strategies to increase publishing efficiency. Some of these strategies endure, even though they were born in an unstructured world.

For instance, consider a parts list matrix within a parts book that shows what the corresponding part is for each model. In other words, one page is detailing all of the parts within the machine assembly for all models. While this was extremely effective when creating standalone PDF-type documents, it is incredibly constraining in a structured publishing environment.

With structured database publishing software, tying multiple data elements into a rigid form severely limits the ability for the relational database to manage the data. Each data element needs to be distinct.

This rule of thumb also applies to our earlier example of placing text-based information within an illustration. Another common error of this type is placing metadata (or information that can be captured in metadata) within a description field.

It is incredible how many unique strategies creative publishers have invented in order to save time. While these approaches may have been advantageous in the past, and may still offer short-term benefits, these “benefits” eventually add up to an opportunity cost that manufacturers cannot afford. Continuing legacy practices that are incompatible with new technologies is guaranteed to create havoc when a modern system is inevitably adopted.

It may be time to pause and sharpen your axe before swinging at the trees. Are the “keys” to your relational database unintelligent? Are you using the most efficient location to store corresponding data? Are all of your data elements discrete? If you answer, “No,” to any of these questions, you have great opportunities to maximize efficiency in your current—and future—publishing tools.

The Future of Service Depends on Digital

October 3, 2016 Tags: , , , , ,
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Digabit’s CEO recently shared with the company a market research report from Cisco, The Digital Manufacturer: Resolving the Service Dilemma. The central theme of the report is that manufacturers have traditionally been focused on products as their core business, but that to maintain or achieve growth these firms must transition to place more emphasis on service-based revenues.

Why is that? As product design and engineering have become more sophisticated, reverse engineering to replicate products has evolved as well. That means manufactured products are becoming less differentiated, and more commoditized. Why purchase a Caterpillar loader if you can buy another machine with similar specs, and many of the same sub-components, for 20% lower cost? In the past, brand reputation may have provided an answer to that question, but today’s B2B consumer is increasingly brand-agnostic.

Today, the answer to what machine to buy may depend more on the strength of a manufacturer’s after-sale service and support. Caterpillar offers a wide spectrum of service plans and products to keep customers’ assets in top operating condition. So, they can potentially pitch a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) over the 10-20 years of service life of a typical heavy machine. We have seen at least one heavy equipment manufacturer shift their emphasis from selling machines to “selling” uptime.

It’s all well and good to point to improved services as the path to greater profits, but in reality the expansion of service offerings generally leads to increased complexity and costs. According to Cisco, the solution to this dilemma is to digitally transform the organization, from R&D to supply chain to CRM.

Interestingly, when manufacturers were asked which digital technologies would have the most impact on production over the next three years, the top three picks were cloud technologies, IoT/M2M, and data analytics. The interesting part is that robotics and 3D printing did not make the cut, and that companies are most focused on optimizing data analysis and connectivity.

How does Digabit’s Documoto platform fit into the digitization of manufacturing and service delivery? Machines are constructed from parts and assemblies. These components start their lives as digital data in a CAD design application, but once they go into production much of the associated product metadata is stripped away. Documoto retains the relevant digital part information and stores it in a structured database format.

So, if a forward-looking manufacturer wanted to connect a specific set of parts to a new predictive maintenance application involving machine-to-machine communication, they could develop an integration with the data in Documoto to identify the part, check inventories, and even order the needed items after analysis. One of Digabit’s existing customers has already built a diagnostic tool with similar functionality.

Go check out Cisco’s report, and then think about how digitizing parts data might fit into your long-term digital strategy.

What’s a Component Content Management System?

September 8, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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According to Wikipedia, “A component content management system (CCMS) is a content management system that manages content at a granular level (component) rather than at the document level. Each component represents a single topic, concept or asset (for example an image, table, product description, or procedure).

“The CCMS must be able to track ‘…relationships among topics, graphics, maps, publications, and deliverables.’ More often than not, the CCMS also contains the publishing engine to create the final outputs for print, web and e-readers.”

The most significant word here is “component,” which distinguishes a CCMS from the more commonly known CMS, or content management system. The most popular CMS is the web content management platform WordPress, which is not considered a CCMS because it manages content at the post or page level.

If we substitute “part” for “topic” in the definition above, the definition of a CCMS essentially describes the functionality of Digabit’s Documoto platform. Documoto manages the information that goes into a parts catalog using parts, assemblies and pages as components that can be arranged and organized to create a highly specific document.

So, for a complex, customized machine that is completely unique, a publisher can quickly generate a parts book that is 100% accurate and identified by the serial number of that individual machine. Or a publisher could produce parts catalogs for 10 different models that share 50% of their parts, without cutting and pasting. That level of detail and accuracy is virtually impossible using traditional methods of content management and desktop publishing to author parts catalogs.

The major benefits of using a CCMS to manage parts information are:

  • Greatly reduces time and effort spent maintaining content due to data re-usability
  • Change management – revise a part or assembly once and all relevant docs are updated
  • Highly modular in nature, enabling connectivity with other data systems
  • Potential to automate data entry through integrations and bulk loading processes

When you examine the features and benefits of a CCMS, Documoto checks all the boxes. If you’re a manufacturer thinking about how to upgrade your parts information management and publishing processes, you should give Documoto a try!

Podcast: The eCommerce Opportunity

July 22, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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In March of 2016 Alan Sage was the featured guest on top marketing consultant Bruce McDuffee’s weekly podcast show, Manufacturing Marketing Matters.

As always, Bruce asks insightful questions and provides his own expert perspective. And Alan shares his predictions on the future of online and aftermarket sales for manufacturers who traditionally relied on dealer/distributor networks to generate orders and revenues from part sales and service.

Alan and Bruce discuss the increasing difficulty for manufacturers to maintain or increase revenues in light of global economic volatility, the proliferation of 3rd party suppliers, and greater competition from non-domestic manufacturers. The competition for aftermarket part sales has become even more challenging, with resellers on eBay, Ali Baba and other online channels vying for the same market share.

The solution is to create an effortless buying experience for online users, akin to the Amazon.com experience that private consumers have come to expect. That is, the ability to buy anywhere, any time, and have confidence that you’ll receive the right parts in a cash-register-ecommercetimely fashion.

Listen to the entire show and learn more about Alan’s actionable takeaways:

  • Manufacturers’ proprietary information (this includes parts catalogs) gives them a competitive advantage over non-OEM aftermarket providers, so figure out how to leverage this information.
  • Customers will pay more for convenience and reliability, so don’t make the mistake of trying to compete only on price when you can truly add value to a transaction.

Bruce McDuffee has proven to be an innovative voice in the world of marketing for manufacturers, applying concepts from B2C and other arenas to the unique challenges and needs of manufacturers. From content marketing to eCommerce to search engine optimization, Bruce stays on top of the latest.

If you’re a manufacturer wondering about the trend toward more transparent online B2B sales, or a marketer looking for advice on best practices for manufacturers, you’ll get something of value from this exchange of ideas.

Check out the podcast on manufacturing eCommerce today.

An Equipment Owner’s Perspective on Spare Parts

June 30, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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One of Digabit’s clients is Schramm, Inc., a 115-year-old manufacturer of drilling equipment supplying the global mining, energy and water industries. Schramm builds custom rigs tailored to buyers’ specifications, which means that maintenance and repair of these unique machines requires complex coordination of the right people, with the right parts, at the right time.

Complicating matters even more, many of Schramm’s products operate in remote locales, hundreds of miles from the nearest airport or major city. Job sites like this are expensive to manage, and when equipment is idled due to a breakdown or unscheduled maintenance it can cost the equipment owner tens of thousands a day in lost productivity and labor costs.

Consider the problems posed by this scenario for a job site’s mechanics and operations manager, as they attempted to keep equipment running up to 24 hours a day:

  • Technical support materials often consisted of a generic set of manuals that did not accurately reflect the actual machinery.
  • Support documents such as illustrated parts books were delivered in print with the machine, or in PDFs on a CD, which means they were practically impossible to update when the OEM re-designed and superseded a part.
  • Depending on geography, delivery of parts could take several days and cost hundreds to thousands of dollars for express service. The consequences of ordering the wrong part were magnified manyfold, considering the immense costs related to downtime.
  • Communications with support staff in the OEM’s aftermarket organization could be difficult, making identification of the correct replacement parts a significant problem when documentation was incorrect or missing.
  • In extreme cases, the ability to rapidly deliver spare parts becomes a life-or-death affair.

This was the environment for equipment users prior to Schramm’s adoption of a digitally enhanced workflow for parts book authoring and publication.

Then Schramm adopted Documoto, a modern, relational database solution that delivers product documentation in the cloud. Documoto has unlocked massive benefits for Schramm customers:Schramm Equipment-Owner-Perspective-Spare-Parts

  • Equipment users have the ability to look up detailed diagrams of parts and assemblies, in parts books that are custom-built alongside the machinery.
  • When parts or other product data are revised by the manufacturer, customers’ electronic parts books are automatically updated within a day.
  • Because part and assembly drawings are now identical to the physical components, order accuracy increased while order processing efforts dropped.

It’s surprising to learn that many billion-dollar companies still manage aftermarket support the old way. Forward-thinking firms like Schramm—and Digabit’s other clients—have discovered a 21st-century parts catalog solution, and the benefits of 24×7 customer access to highly accurate product documentation.

Technical Publishing 101: Part Supersession & ECOs, Oh My!

June 3, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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The life of a technical publisher at a manufacturing company presents some difficult challenges. Your job is to produce useful and engaging content for employees and customers. Content that puts the company’s products in the best light, and reflects the importance of customer support to your organization.

And when you finally go to print, or publish your latest project online, you feel a great sense of satisfaction…until you look at the final product and realize that, before even one user views the results of your hard work, there are numerous errors and inaccuracies hidden inside the text.

This is what happens to authors and editors of parts catalogs every single day. Illustrations that don’t match the as-built product. Machines that have a custom configuration of parts and assemblies, but are shipped with a “base model” parts manual. Part numbers constantly being updated, and so on.

Unhappy-Tech-PubCreating an accurate parts catalog for complex equipment is harder than most people realize. Image files, bills of materials, and other source documents arrive from multiple designers and engineers. Engineering change orders (ECOs) are issued during prototyping, testing and production, leading to superseded part numbers and modified descriptions. To add even more confusion, version control may not be universally consistent across departments and document management systems.

It’s up to the publishing staff to pull it all together and ship the documentation, as close to perfect as possible. But it’s never perfect under these conditions—nobody can keep up with all the changes, and desktop publishing platforms require a high level of effort to edit a single part number or illustration.

Often, no one outside the publications department seems to care about these difficulties.

But customers care. Machine operators and technicians care, desperate to fix the machines that their livelihoods depend upon. The dealers who want to prove themselves indispensable to their biggest accounts. And the owners of the machines certainly care, since they view downtime as a vampire-like monster siphoning away profits.

How do you bring order to this madness? Is the idea of a 100% accurate parts catalog a fantasy?

It’s not a fantasy, and it’s achievable with proven, widely available technology. Imagine being able to quickly import part illustrations, BOMs and other product data, right into your authoring tool. With automated linking and hot-pointing of drawings and part descriptions that save hours of formatting labor.

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And, imagine not having to copy and reformat text within your desktop publishing system. Or revise the part number for a part shared between 20 models in 20 separate parts book documents. What if you could edit one text field in your authoring tool and know that you instantly corrected the documentation for hundreds of machines—and thousands of customers—all around the world?

If you could do that, people would start noticing. From the VP of customer service to the guy sitting behind the parts counter, they’re going to notice easier part sales and happier equipment owners. And you’ll deliver that brand new, insanely accurate parts catalog with a huge smile on your face.

This is the power of authoring and publishing with a relational database. It’s the future of technical publishing, and it’s here now. If you’d like to see how easy it is to start building world-class support documents with Documoto, check out our Quick Start Publishing package that offers fast, affordable implementation!

Customer Success Stories with Documoto [Infographic]

March 31, 2015 Tags: , , ,
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Migrating from one software system to another can be daunting, especially when you aren’t sure the switch will drive the results you’re looking for. We recently checked in with seven of our customers to see what efficiency gains with creating and maintaining parts catalogs, growing adoption rates, and parts order increases they’ve achieved since making the switch from their old legacy systems to Documoto. Check out the infographic below for the results and customer success stories of manufacturers Arctic Cat, Atlas Copco, Hustler Turf (Excel Industries), LA Metro, Schramm, Takeuchi and Maruyama.

Infographic of how seven manufacturers have seen huge benefits with Documoto

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 Arctic Cat case study - how they slashed their parts book publishing time