Feeds

BLOG - RTFM - and why not?

It's a cold Xmas chez Norfolk...

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

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? ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...
Wobbly Gmail, Contacts, Calendar on the other hand ...
Preview redux: Microsoft ships new Windows 10 build with 7,000 changes
Latest bleeding-edge bits borrow Action Center from Windows Phone
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Google opens Inbox – email for people too stupid to use email
Print this article out and give it to someone techy if you get stuck
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Redmond top man Satya Nadella: 'Microsoft LOVES Linux'
Open-source 'love' fairly runneth over at cloud event
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.