Document engineering: the ADAM Suite facilitates the process

WHAT IS DOCUMENT ENGINEERING?

Evolution: From Traditional Document Management to Innovative Document Engineering

Documents used to consist in a manual which came with the equipment being delivered. However, this format is undergoing changes. Document engineering now embraces a mainly electronic approach. This means that engineering information can be accessed online and easily adapts to a variety of distribution channels. Document engineering relies on these advances to guarantee a more interactive experience for the end customer. The user benefits from a more streamlined way of accessing the information through dynamic filters and queries. At this point, there is no denying that, in the near future, documents will integrate such new technologies as machine learning or virtual reality. Thus, companies must anticipate this evolution and rethink their approach to customer service. Most business processes pertaining to the production of documents will have to be updated so as to spotlight a more quality-driven breed of engineering, to facilitate its use and to consider the addition of new content formats, such as 3D or video.  

Document Engineering, A Structured Setting

The process of creating documents is governed by a set of rules called “specifications”. These specifications are determined upstream by an internal department or by an international organisation. In the aeronautical sector, for instance, certain standards are widely represented, as is the case for ATA, S1000D, or DITA. Standing behind these standards, document engineering provides, at the very least, a structure companies can use for document control. It also establishes rules for writing and exchanging, as well as a suitable layout. For text content, it is still recommended to favour the XML format. The structure provided is in the form of a Doctype (DTD) or XMl Schema (XSD)-type file. For other formats – such as video or images – document engineering specifications determine the rules to follow. Besides the structure, document engineering and the specifications it implies also act as a document controller which dictates how the documentary resources should be written. For instance, the S1000D standard provides a standard exchange format for these rules called BREF (Business Rules Exchange). These writing rules help to rationalise certain processes such as the number of steps involved in the disassembly of an industrial product (for example). Another standard called ASD-STE100 (Simplified Technical English) governs the use of the English lexicon in the writing of technical procedures. Thus, this standard forbids the use of the verb “place” in favour of the verb “put” to ensure the content is homogenous and logical. Document engineering also makes it possible to develop standards that dictate how to design documents of a graphical nature so that they are perfectly compatible with visualisation tools. For instance, this is what the WebCGM standard – co-developed by the groups W3C and OASIS – was developed for. This rule limits the use of charts to the CGM format. As the latter is free to edit and modify, limiting the use of such content is indispensable. Despite this extensive array of standards, manufacturers often add their own rules to reinforce control over their document engineering. Ultimately, when a manufacturer delivers equipment to a client, they remain free to choose the standard they wish to observe depending on what is most suitable to their business activities. On the other hand, an outfitter – who has to serve several manufacturers – needs to design documents according to the standards favoured by its clients. Thanks to document engineering, every manufacturer can define the rules that suit them best prior to creating their software documentation or digital technical manual.  

The Document Production Process

The Catalyst Various events could initiate the process. It could be the creation of documents for a new piece of equipment or the integration of a modification emanating from a third-party organisation (design office, assembly line, government…) into pre-existing documents. Source Data Collection and Impact Assessment The first step in the document engineering process consists in gathering every document pertaining to the modification (case study, plan, 3D data, engineering data, logistical analysis, assembly instructions, photos…) and analysing which elements will be impacted by the change. This step makes it possible to plan for the writing process, to define delivery deadlines for the documents and to assign tasks to the people in charge of writing the content. For instance, 4D Concept dedicates a content management system called ADAM Manager to document engineering. This solution allows users to create a list of empty documents and to assign it to the appropriate content writer. Writing To facilitate the writing process, the task should ideally be carried out in a restricted environment. To that end, using the right tool makes it possible to integrate technical or business verification. If the writer is working without the proper environment and framework, they must use a writing guide as reference. This unavoidably increases the risk of errors. This means that it is always preferable to rely on a high-quality writing tool. The latter must be straightforward to use and should guide the writer’s work, all without impeding them or modifying the content in their stead. Should they feel the need to do so, the writer could also prepare engineering drawings. An illustrator will then be able to use these drawings as a reference to come up with visuals using a technical drawing management software (2D or 3D), in keeping with the standards selected for the initial project. The final version of the document can thus be completed optimally. When producing content and technical standards, any modification made to the existing document needs to be traceable. The document engineering process therefore makes it possible to go back over the content, to identify previous modifications as well as the authors who made them. Similarly, if the writer writes content which applies to several pieces of equipment, they must be able to assign the content to the items in question right from their editing tool. The goal is always to avoid information redundancy and to reduce the risk of inconsistency when the documents are delivered to the users. Preview Before the final version of a technical document can be validated, an audit – also known as “preview” – needs to be carried out to make sure the result does indeed correspond to the content written previously. The document is put through the same steps of verification as the final issue would. Thanks to the ADAM suite, this preview stage of the document engineering process can be taken care of quickly and easily and the writer can initiate it at any time during the writing process right from the ADAM Author tool. Validation Once the preview step has taken place, documents undergo a multi-step validation process to ensure that each document follows the applicable procedure:
  • A proofreading step is essential to identify any potential mistakes in the first version of the document.
  • An automated validation step ensues, which can be carried out using the ADAM Data Checker tool. This mitigates the risks of quality inconsistencies by introducing computer controls.
  • Finally, for certain procedures, a validation process under real conditions, using the actual equipment, needs to be carried out.
Publishing Once the document is validated, it can then be published before it is delivered to the end client. During this step, the content being delivered to the client must offer perfect traceability. For instance, at this stage of the document engineering process, all the documents sent should be listed and the modifications made to each new version of a document should be indexed. Once it has been delivered, a document can no longer be modified. In the event that a modification should be required, a new version needs to be delivered every time something is modified, which triggers another cycle of document creation as defined by current specifications. The documents can be delivered in paper documentation (PDF) or electronic (visualiser) format. The client may also ask for raw files (graphics and text), should they wish to integrate them into a new processing chain.  

Document engineering: an ever-increasing need for reliable tools

A desire to produce more interactive documents, complete with more functionalities and services, encourages producers of technical documents to move towards more structured, more modular, as well as more complex information. Because of this, managing a document engineering process is practically impossible without:
  • a guided writing workshop;
  • a content management system (CMS) that supports publishing workflow monitoring;
  • a document control tool;
  • a publishing tool with filtering functionality
4D Concept applies this objective and mindset to software development. The ADAM suite was therefore created to facilitate content management and document engineering to support the document production process at every step of its creation and validation.

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