Feeds

BLOG - RTFM - and why not?

It's a cold Xmas chez Norfolk...

Build a business case: developing custom apps

My central heating chose to pack up on Xmas Eve, as it does, and this nice man from British Gas came round to fix it. [As an aside, even in Midwinter, you don't actually need central heating, especially these days when winters aren't so cold - we're not actually freezing. Which is worth remembering, since central heating is probably a major contributor to global warming - woolly jumpers are OK, which gives us a nice warm feeling; even if all the wood we're now burning is more problematic.]

We’re burning wood because, of course, he couldn't fix it on the spot - one of several control boards had failed. Which is becoming the story of our times, computer chips fail before the mechanics becomes unrepairable. No more vintage cars, say, because the vintage engine-control circuit boards (or chips) will be unavailable. Or, perhaps, a lucrative job for retired nerds recreating old circuit boards by hand? Is a vintage Mondeo going to be worth it?

But the real point of this post is that as I watched my Man from BG working through his fault-finding flowcharts on his portable PC, I suddenly took pity on him and found him the original manuals with the charts on paper. These were gratefully accepted - it's still easier to jump around a printed manual than flip between screens on a PC.

And that's something for systems developers to remember - you're designing a whole system, not just a computer system - and you’re designing for its whole lifecycle, not just for the day after delivery. So, you need to design support and repair processes as part of the system, not just as a later add-on - and sometimes this'll mean designing manual procedures to complement the automated processes (the human mind is still cost-effective for dealing with unexpected contingencies); and even, perhaps, paper manuals...

But you do need some empathy with the people using your system. Years ago, when paper instruction manuals were the norm, I met a system for managing equipment on the floor of a steel mill, which had clever iconised instructions on-screen with not much English anywhere (rather like you'll see when you open a Korean DVD recorder or whatever today). This was in Australia, paper wouldn't have survived long on the shop floor, most of the immigrant work force didn't have English as a first language and certainly couldn't agree on a consistent name for a "floggle-toggle" - although they could all recognise its picture.

So, should The Man from BG be given a set of computerised pictorial flow diagrams or a printed manual or something else entirely? There's no right answer, of course, it depends on the cultural background of BG employees and what they need the documentation for (and whether they're trying to read a PC balanced on the bog while using it). However, I'm sure that translating a printed manual directly into PDF page-images on a PC screen is usually the wrong (well, sub-optimal) answer...

So, do you have a professional technical writer on the team and a specialist in the psychology of man-machine interactions? And, if not, should you have? ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Microsoft boots 1,500 dodgy apps from the Windows Store
DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! Naughty, misleading developers!
'Stop dissing Google or quit': OK, I quit, says Code Club co-founder
And now a message from our sponsors: 'STFU or else'
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.