November 2016

Image: © Le Moal Olivier/

Information Energy Track at the tcworld conference 2016: "Documentation is an obsolete term"

The rise of smart products, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things are greatly changing the scope of technical documentation. These systems render static user information obsolete. Instead they require dynamic, modular and constantly updated information that can be compiled and displayed in a customized and contextualized manner. "Information 4.0" was a hot topic at this year’s tcworld conference.

The Information Energy Track organized by Wim Hooghwinkel focused on how Industry 4.0 will change the creation and dissemination of technical information. A carefully selected group of internationally renowned speakers including Joe Gollner, Rahel Anne Baillie, Marie Girard, Fabrice Lacroix, Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald presented the topic of Information 4.0 from multiple points of view. You can find slides from their presentations here.

Throughout the day, attendees were encouraged to add their experience to a series of posters, around the questions "Where are you now?" and "Where do you want to be?" At the end of the day, an interactive round table prepared a synthesis of the day's interchanges.

The core ideas of the presentations:

Joe Gollner: "Everything needs to be mobilized so that we can help people answer their questions quickly."

Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald: " 'Documentation' is an obsolete term. If we technical communicators don’t humanize and socialize information 4.0 it will be done by Microsoft, Google, Time-Warner, Fox News, Facebook, and the like."

Rahel Anne Bailie: "Technical writing skills are going to be so needed in the future."

Marie Girard: "Tomorrow is for the people who connect. In the knowledge economy, content is the new currency."

Fabrice Lacroix: "People don't buy products but better versions of themselves."

Most of the attendees saw their own organizations as being at the stage of Information 2.0 or 3.0, and seemed pessimistic about progress, citing only a few positive aspects of their work, such as "one delivery, many publishers," or "collaborative users." Obstacles, however, were more numerous: Many found that technical documentation was not a focus for R&D, they received no tools or technological support, their companies were too process-heavy and above all, there appears to be a lack of vision and knowledge regarding Information 4.0 (but this participant added, "that's why I'm here.")

At the round table participants formed two work groups. One group discussed the obstacles while the other tried to answer the question: "What drives Information 4.0?" Both groups engaged in lively discussions. Here's a summary of what they came up with:


  • Funding
  • Lack of vision (particularly in higher management)
  • Lack of awareness
  • It still seems too abstract
  • The organizational structure doesn't give TC departments a voice

What drives Information 4.0?

  • Taxonomy
  • Changing the mindset of current actors is imperative
  • Making better use of the technology that is already out there
  • There has to be a step for adopting a minimalist definition of 4.0 that we all can work with
  • Context has to be defined as a matrix.
  • Interaction needs to be designed in an abstract manner as transactions
  • We need to look at parallel industries, like games
  • We need to follow the money trail - leverage

The topic of Information 4.0 will surely spark many more discussions in the future. If you want to follow this ongoing debate, visit the next Information Energy Conference from May 17-18, 2017 in Utrecht, Netherlands.


Image: Joe Gollner presenting at the Information Energy Track.
Source: Wim Hooghwinkel