August 2018
Text by Jacqueline Prause

UA Reloaded 18: Technical communicators explore the impact of digital transformation and changing user habits

Break through to the other side of user assistance (UA): The theme of UA Reloaded 18 highlighted its offer for technical communicators to engage and explore how digital transformation and emerging technologies are changing user assistance – in terms of the product created, user habits, and the skill profiles of the content creators.

With the characteristic combination of natural curiosity for all things technical and the structured approach to organizing knowledge that technical communicators are known for, the conference participants delved into topics like natural language processing, immersive user assistance with Virtual and Augmented Reality, video for social media platforms, and real-time analytics to track how users interact with technical documentation.

Held June 13-14 on the SAP campus in St. Leon-Rot, Germany, UA Reloaded 18 attracted approximately 120 participants representing a diverse cross-section of European industry, from small and midsized businesses to large enterprises, and from medical device manufacturers and software firms to heavy industry. Organized as a tekom conference supported by SAP, the event featured experts from the user assistance community, think tanks, interactive design, and SAP.

Day one of the event consisted of engaging presentations with an audience Q&A and a lively interactive panel discussion, while day two focused on deep-dive workshops into new technologies and user psychology. The UA Reloaded 18 event app provided an interactive virtual experience to complement the real-world activity. On the Future Forum exhibition floor, vendors showcased products and services designed to assist technical communicators in delivering effective user assistance materials at scale and appropriately targeted to their audience.

New skills required for automation and new media

"User assistance is changing," said Sven Leukert, vice president of User Assistance at SAP, in the opening remarks. "We need to deal with ever-faster production and delivery cycles – in some cases, going to daily shipments. Our consumers are getting information in different ways than 15 or 20 years ago, so we need to also work in new media, like Virtual and Augmented Reality. Add to that recent advancements in automation, all the way to generating content and fully automated translation without any human involvement."

The digital transformation of user assistance is well underway, supported by new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and AR/VR. Robert Weiβgraeber, chief technology officer of AX Semantics, presented the latest innovations in user assistance using natural language generation, automated translation, and even "robot journalism" to rapidly produce technical documentation at scale. Chatbots were another topic that drew considerable interest, as participants tried to gauge the realistic possibilities for implementing the new technology in their own companies.

Speakers examined evolving user habits, with discussion around the dramatic shift from traditional text-based help to user preferences for video and collaborative social networks. Michael Gamboeck, senior manager, Strategic Relations Europe at Adobe, focused his presentation on the digitalization of content through a combination of social, mobile, and video. He also shared ten tips on how to be successful with video – starting with effective storytelling.

The panel discussion on day one focused on the evolving job requirements and skill profiles for technical communicators. The unspoken question in the room seemed to be: How can we make sure technical communicators are not replaced by robots? Audience members were quick to engage in a lively exchange about finding the appropriate combination of skill requirements for technical communicators, while embracing automation to keep pace with the demands of user assistance production and delivery.

"What does that mean for us in the user assistance community?" Leukert asked rhetorically in reference to the crop of new technologies flooding the market. "We need to be ready, to work on new skills, and to change our job profiles to some extent. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a job; it just means we need to deal with information differently; we need to work more in curating content and making content available in the right way. That’s why we made that a major theme for the conference."

Equipping technical writers to bring new ideas to business

Creating user assistance as an integral part of a superior customer experience that drives value for the company was a key theme of the event. Despite the fascination with new technologies and innovations, the discussion remained largely focused on the fundamentals of user assistance: effective storytelling, good customer experience, and insightful metrics. "Technical documentation delivery done right is a sensor. It is a direct connection to your user’s brain," noted Fabrice Lacroix, founder and CEO of Antidot, during his presentation on the value of real-time analytics.

"There are technical communicators who do a very decent job in their companies, but they are really busy and they have many things to do every day. They come to this conference to get new insights and impressions, and to motivate themselves," said Dr. Michael Fritz, CEO of tekom. "This is the most important thing for this event: to support these people, because often they are a small group or even alone in their company, so that they can further develop what they are doing for their companies. It depends very much on the individual technical writer to bring in new ideas. This is what hopefully is happening with this conference."

Image 1: Participants test innovative technologies in The Future Forum.

 

Image 2: Panel discussion on the future role of UA professionals

 

Image 3: Interactive workshop on the second day of the event