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This blog was first published in SDL.com last year, however we in SDL Access thought it was so illuminating it was worth publishing again in SDL Community. For those of you who may not be familiar with an IETM, it is identified within the S1000D specification as the method to be used to manage the viewing of technical manuals & publications. SDL’s LiveContent S1000D is an interactive viewer that provides maintenance technicians with personally relevant, accurate information to quickly and efficiently access the content they need on a global level (it’s sold as part of the Contenta Publishing Suite).
Product Owner & Senior Software Developer
Product Suite Responsible for:
SDL LiveContent S1000D
Background & Experience:
Over 30 years in the software industry. Has been involved in defence related software since 1988
Time in role:
Hobbies & Interests:
Enjoys cooking, reading mostly non-fiction, biking, kayaking and canoeing
So what exactly does a “product owner” do?
I’m primarily responsible for two things: evaluating what features get included within a release of the software, and the product development process.
Being responsible for what features go into a product is a big task; does it require any direct customer contact?
What goes into a product is based on a combination of many factors, including customer needs, trends in the industry, and the SDL development schedule – as defined by our product management team.
How do you find the time to follow industry trends?
It can be a challenge sometimes, but I rely upon my customer contacts, people within the S1000D community, and our marketing/sales department to help identify what’s next.
Does your role require any specialized training?
I believe having a strong background in software development is critical, and knowing Agile software development, in particular, is critical, as that is our methodology at SDL. Very simply stated, Agile is an iterative method, which tightly incorporates interpersonal dynamics, to bring projects to completion. It relies on collaboration and cross-functional teams to complete multiple small milestones, called stories.
It is also important to have a deep understanding of the technical documentation process so that we develop products that address the important issues tech doc creators face. I’ve worked for many years in the aerospace and defense industry, and have developed a rich appreciation of how the industry works.
What goes into a typical day for a product owner at SDL?
Typically, we’re often going back to customers to get feedback on features that we’ve added in the latest release, working with product management to see what new features should be added and what resources are need to make it happen. In addition, I’m working with the development team to build the functionally our products need to meet customer expectations.
What’s the baseline of features needed to create an IETM?
Well, there’s really a spectrum of features needed. At the low end, you could be working with just an electronic version of a paper-based solution. At the high end, you have electronic viewers with multimedia that are highly interactive and leveraging technology to provide easy access to critical information. We’re always trying to build the shortest path between the end user and the information they need to do their job.
Do you ever have ah-hah moments while talking to customers about how to do things better?
Yes, quite often in fact. It’s always enlightening to see how our customers use the product, and how they solve their problems, and what types of problems they have in their day-to-day work. These customers are trying to keep critical assets operational, so it’s incredibly important work.
It also helps to see some of the internally developed solutions that are deployed. One big drawback to a home-grown solution is that they are usually built to a very specific feature list, but after it’s deployed, they often realise too late that they need the additional features that come standard on a mature IETM like LiveContent.
SDL LiveContent S1000D relies on your product vision to determine where it’s going. How do you see it evolving over time?
The key is to find new ways to access information even easier. Even now, we’re mostly talking about text and 2D, and occasionally, 3D graphics. I see the future as being much more engaging; users will be able to drill down on specific topics using an intuitive interface to get detailed information. So, instead of have to wade through pages of text, the user will be able to intuitively walk through an interactive graphic to find what he needs for a particular procedure or piece of equipment that he or she is working on.
Do you see 3D graphics as being important?
3D is the goal. It would make it a lot easier for maintainers to work, but the problem with 3D is that it takes a lot of work to produce the content. I would even say that the amount of work needed to create 3D material is the primary limiting factor in its use today. Although there are organisations ready and able to build more interactive material today, the amount of time required to produce the content makes it less cost effective.
Do we work with other companies to build up our viewing technology?
LiveContent is a viewing solution, and we work with producers of many viewing solutions and organisations producing compatible graphics like 3D. For example, we worked in cooperation with SAP to incorporate their 3D modelling tool right into LiveContent.
Do you see the IETM industry as a growth industry?
Absolutely. I see S1000D as the future of complex technical documentation, as it is a robust specification for the aerospace and defence industry – or any complex system – because it’s well structured. Being well structured, it allows implementers to use a broader set of tools. If you’re using a proprietary structure or loosely bound specification for developing content for your documentation, moving from one product to another is much more difficult because any customisation that you’ve done with the specification or content may not be supported. And if you want to add capabilities or features, or any extensions you may have added, could create conflicts.
However, with S1000D, the standard is so well defined that if you’ve correctly authored your content to specification, you should be able to use any available tools to gain the functionality you need to create the most effective technical information.
Any advice on how to ensure customers are authoring correctly?
TRAINING. And SDL does that!
S1000D today is a specification that supports commercial and defence needs. Where do you see specifications like the iSpec aviation standard and S1000D in future?
From my perspective, it’s clear that these standards bodies see S1000D as the future of technical documentation. The benefits derived from using S1000D are things that simply can’t be achieved with older versions of iSpec, and because S1000D is really geared towards large, complex system, it makes perfect sense to apply it to both commercial and defence systems.
What career advice do you have for anyone new to this profession?
If you’re the type of person who enjoys a challenge, and you enjoy working with great people, this is a great place to be. A lot of people coming onto the job market are looking for challenging opportunities, and to work on the next really big thing. But if you want to be part of something truly important, it doesn’t have to be the next big technology. The technology we use to develop our solutions, and the technology applied by our customers to develop their solutions is pretty interesting stuff. We work with some of the most complex systems in the world; our products are used together with some really exciting things.
I’ve met some amazing people in this industry who are really passionate about producing the best technical documentation possible – because they understand how critical it is to support the maintainers keeping assets operational and safe.