Moving Technical Writing to the Cloud

By Debarshi Gupta Biswas

Published: June 17, 2013

“Moving technical writing to the cloud has major appeal for compelling reasons, including lower up-front costs, the immediate availability of software tools, easier collaboration among coauthors, seamless content reviews, and varied storage options.”

Cloud-based computing is arguably one of the most popular developments in the realm of computing in recent years. It has ushered in a radical shift from the pre-cloud era, when IT’s installation, configuration, and management of applications in an enterprise required a significant amount of time and money.

Times have changed. By harnessing the indomitable power of the Web, applications running on remote servers are now available via the Web browser, thereby eliminating the need to install them on local computers. In today’s cloud-driven world, users usually purchase a monthly subscription rather than what may seem like an exorbitant licensing fee, eliminating the need to wait for the installation or configuration of applications.

Moving technical writing to the cloud has major appeal for compelling reasons, including lower up-front costs, the immediate availability of software tools, easier collaboration among coauthors, seamless content reviews, and varied storage options. So, as we transition to a cloud-driven world of collaboration, let’s look at the potential advantages of cloud-based technical writing, which are especially compelling for enterprises that are operating across distributed locations.

Benefits of Cloud-Based Authoring

“The ability of technical writers to collaborate virtually, around the clock, in the same authoring environment, helps enterprises to hire the best talent … and deliver quality output with significant cost savings.”

In an era when enterprises have global footprints and their workforces are distributed across disparate locations, the power of cloud computing can enable distributed teams to work together effectively. The ability of technical writers to collaborate virtually, around the clock, in the same authoring environment, helps enterprises to hire the best talent—transcending geographical boundaries—and deliver quality output with significant cost savings. Some compelling reasons why an enterprise might want to embrace authoring in the cloud include the following:

  • significant cost savings—Instead of having to purchase authoring applications for high licensing fees that may exceed your organization’s approved budget for software applications, you can subscribe to cloud-based applications—typically for a reasonable, monthly fee.

A subscription model reduces the up-front costs that are associated with procuring authoring tools. It also ensures that an enterprise always has the latest version of the authoring software rather than needing to perform upgrades periodically, with their associated costs. Using applications in the cloud also eliminates the need to pay an implementation specialist to come on site to install and maintain a software package. For small- and medium-scale enterprises, which are often constrained in adopting new software solutions because of cost concerns, cloud computing is a potential boon. Technical writers can focus on content development instead of getting caught up with licensing, installation, and configuration.

For enterprises, choosing between a hosted authoring solution in the cloud and a software solution that requires a download from the manufacturer’s Web site, then an installation process, the decision is often no contest. There is an awareness that companies that leverage the cloud-computing model effectively in the technical-writing market may emerge as winners.

  • varied storage options—Switching over to a cloud-based authoring environment offers the flexibility of saving versions of documents either on a technical writer’s local hard drive or in the cloud. Multiple options for document storage and retrieval ensure the availability of backup copies and access to other content assets. Enabling shared access to files in the cloud provides a viable and attractive solution for teams that have a profound need to collaborate. Content assets are kept up to date and ready for use by anyone who needs them. The broad usage of Google Docs has revolutionized online editing.
  • teamwork and collaboration—Using a cloud-based authoring environment fosters the seamless integration of new technical writers into a team, without the wait time that software installation and configuration typically requires. A cloud-based solution facilitates collaborative authoring.

In a typical staff-augmentation scenario, where a customer’s in-house staff work hand-in-hand with a service provider’s staff, it is easy for that service provider’s people to sign into the enterprise’s authoring environment and contribute to the content development and update process.

Of course, an alternative to this approach in a typical client-server scenario would be to use a check-in and check-out model across a number of authoring solutions. For example, a technical writer could check out a topic from a Help project, work on it, then check it back in. However, a limiting factor that still exists for experts who advocate cloud-based authoring is the licensing fee for the Help authoring solution.

A Typical Cloud-Based Architecture for Technical Writing

“If an enterprise implemented cloud computing for its technical writing function, it might be a good idea to host the authoring system—a help authoring system, for example—on a centralized server.”

In a conventional relationship between a customer and a service-provider, the customer enterprise simply adds remote service providers to its own private cloud—perhaps via a virtual private network (VPN), depending on its IT security policy. However, this requires licensing, as well as wait time for the setup to complete at both ends.

A feasible alternative approach would be to have a customer install a private cloud server and a customized version of a Help authoring application or other authoring software. The customer could give service providers that are based in other geographies a Web site address, a user name, and a password, allowing them to log in to access the authoring application from their computers. This appears to be an affordable option.

Cloud computing uses various implementation models, depending on an organization’s needs. If an enterprise implemented cloud computing for its technical writing function, it might be a good idea to host the authoring system—a help authoring system, for example—on a centralized server. The cloud service provider would maintain this server, so the customer enterprise would not have the overhead of managing the application residing on the server or updating those services. The users in the customer organization would include the technical writers and editors, who would use the services via the Web. It would be possible to grant access even to partners such as a translation service.

In summary, an organization can manage all of the various aspects of authoring over the Web and enjoy the benefits of centralized data management.

Organizations are rewiring cloud computing to suit evolving business models. That being said, there are plenty of options for cloud storage that are available now, including offerings from EMC, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, to name a few. Since software as a service (SaaS) authoring tools are in vogue, enterprises have many choices.

Conclusion

“Cloud computing presents today’s enterprises with an opportunity to harness the advantages of virtual document storage and seamless collaboration over the Web….”

Despite the various benefits of authoring in the cloud that I’ve described, there might be some obvious pitfalls to using cloud computing. For example, performance could well be a challenge given the need for simultaneous access to the authoring software across multiple locations. However, if a cloud computing service can ensure decent performance, privacy, and reliable data security, cloud computing has obvious merits. In summary, cloud computing presents today’s enterprises with an opportunity to harness the advantages of virtual document storage and seamless collaboration over the Web, while offering significant potential cost savings on infrastructure and its associated support.

References

Ghosh, Pallavi. “Cloud Computing.” Technical Writing World, September 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2013.

Keller, Rolf. “Cloud Computing in Technical Communication.” tcworld, September 2011. Retrieved April 17, 2013.

Pratt, Ellis. “Technical Writing in the Cloud.” Cherryleaf Technical Authors Blog, November 2011. Retrieved April 17, 2013.

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