The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly isolated millions of people and made daily human contact difficult. In the professional world, the inability to access and share critical information and content has impacted the smooth running of companies, suddenly deprived of their traditional human and intraoffice exchanges. Digital channels have become a critical element in assuring the business continuity of organizations worldwide, and the ability to deliver technical knowledge across these channels has proved itself central to business continuity and helped drive digital transformation.
One man that has seen this transformation up close is founder and CEO of Fluid Topics Fabrice Lacroix. In this exclusive interview the technology pioneer shares his thoughts and observations on the accelerated adoption of modern content delivery platforms, and their powerful impact on corporate operational efficiency.
Fabrice, this has been a challenging year for businesses in almost every domain. Travel restrictions, lockdowns, and economic stresses. Maintaining business continuity has been fundamental priorities for decision makers. How have technical documentation and content delivery technologies contributed to keeping businesses working?
To keep working, organizations need their tools, machines, and systems to keep working, too. For this to be assured, the processes and essential information need to be written down and shared – that’s technical documentation. The pandemic and the lockdowns that came with it meant an overnight shift to remote work for hundreds of millions of people, and that created an urgent need for secure access to all of that technical content. Employees, clients, and users alike were all disrupted and demanded access to their technical documentation no matter where it was produced or stored.
And this is where content delivery platforms, or CDPs, come in?
This is exactly what CDPs are designed for.
CDPs collect content from sources across the company and deliver Content Services securely to those who need it when and where they need it. CDPs power the deployment of smart knowledge hubs and are centralized, reliable and always up-to-date sources of information. For most companies this sort of information is still stored in silos. With this fragmented knowledge, it’s already difficult to access the most relevant and comprehensive information under normal circumstances. But being in lockdown and away from the company IT systems has amplified this complexity, making some critical information unavailable.
The early adopters that had already moved to modern publishing systems and CDPs were prepared for the disruption that arrived with COVID-19. They were able to immediately benefit from their capacity to securely deliver their technical documentation to anyone that needed it. What’s more, they were able to extend access to that documentation to the benefit of partners, collaborators, and users, too, regardless of their location.
Gartner defines a Content Services Platform as “a set of services and microservices, embodied as an integrated product suite and applications that share common APIs and repositories”.
Read more on Gartner’s website.
So, the use of CDPs accelerated?
At Fluid Topics we’re proud to be the leading CDP for technical documentation and serve tech companies worldwide. We saw an acceleration and expansion in the use of the platform by our clients, with the number of sessions increasing exponentially over the course of 2020. That’s the good thing about providing a scalable solution, by the way.
Is there something in particular driving this acceleration?
First there was a strong business need to provide and extend access to technical documentation to new users who were previously just “asking the expert” directly. Some of these were inside the company – think customer support, for example – and others were outside of the company, including partners and customers, via self-service portals. Think of that as a ‘push’ factor.
Second was the capacity of our platform to quickly and securely extend this access to those new users. Clients could define new profiles and set their access rights with ease – this is more of a ‘pull’ factor on our side.
Combined, this means CDPs are powering the channels users prefer to find the information they need. The documentation portals and inline help CDPs support are always available, always responding, and that’s a real point of difference in a period where systems are under incredible stress.
That sounds like self-service documentation. That’s not exactly new, is it?
It’s been a preference for the last years, but the COVID-19 disruptions have seen it evolve into a need. Before, self-service was always an option for internal teams and external users alike. Now, though, it’s increasingly a ‘must have’. The disrupted work schedules and difficulties in delivering in-person support, for example, make self-service a no-brainer, but it can’t be just any self-service.
Serving up a manual as a PDF or sending users down a rabbit warren of HTML pages is no way to deliver value. Instead, information needs to be surfaced where the user needs it and in a format that helps them. This might mean a documentation portal for some users, in-product help for others, and delivery to mobile devices for field technicians.
What is the key to ensuring that self-service documentation works smoothly?
More than anything, self-service needs to be easy. Enormous volumes of content and information is only going to swamp the user, so it needs to arrive with adequate search capabilities to make that content easy to parse.
Search is something that Fluid Topics has focused on for years. Some basic search engine might force users to know the document they are looking for in order to find it. In a self-service situation, that sort of search won’t cut it. There is a huge difference between looking for information without knowing if and where it exists, and searching for a specific document.
A documentation portal is basically useless if it only comes with an average search for documents function, it needs to offer a search experience that meets the high expectations users have based on their daily Googling online. Fluid Topics, on the other hand, has AI-powered, fully-featured search that is designed to deliver answers.
One of the most common technology use cases in the lockdowns have been remote work or work-from-home. But have you seen some COVID-related shifts in use cases that might be less obvious than remote work? Any surprises, anything unexpected?
There is one that stands out: despite all the lockdowns and travel restrictions, one of the use cases that we saw become more important was mobility.
In hindsight maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. With machinery and some workplaces still open, there was still a need for field technicians to go onsite and complete maintenance tasks. With public health measures restricting movement, though, there were fewer technicians in the field tasked with making shorter and more efficient maintenance calls.
This push for faster interventions and more efficiency in the field was already a trend in mobile content delivery. At Fluid Topics it’s been a strong focus for a couple of years as it was already a KPI for field operations amongst our clients. The difference is that a long maintenance call is now more than just a bottom-line cost, it’s also potentially risky health-wise.
I think this trend is a positive one and it’ll outlive the current disruptions. Mobility and remote working have always had a transformative impact on where, how, and when people consume content, including technical documentation. It’s now possible to gain contextual, actionable information – that’s knowledge – and experience offsite faster and with more flexibility than ever before.
There are some early signs that the world economy is beginning to make a comeback. As businesses start to reopen and hiring picks up again, there’s going to be a need for building up knowledge again. That’s something that Fluid Topics helps with, too, right?
I agree training and onboarding massively will be a major matter of interest in 2021, and Content Delivery Platforms like Fluid Topics provide practical solutions to it. We’ll get back to it very soon.
The CDPs that were picked up by early adopters before the COVID-19 lockdowns are now considered essential for digital transformation.
Though modern CDPs have been available for half a decade, many have only embraced them very recently as new priorities emerged and the time to act became ‘now’. The year 2020 has offered compelling evidence as to the benefits of adopting a modern content delivery platform for everything from building documentation portals and helping users gain confidence in helping themselves to supporting field technicians and help desk staff. In 2021, these early advances will be laying the foundation for an even greater leap forward in operational efficiency across the board.
Want to learn more?
These ten points, and much more information on Dynamic Delivery, are detailed in a white paper Dynamic Delivery: What it is and Why it Matters.