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Winning Knowledge Spaces

by TJ Cardenas and Charles Miller

On February 25, 2016, the evening’s spotlight was on Nitza Hauser, whose presentation, Winning Knowledge Spaces = 1 wiki + “Every Page is Page One,” provided key insights into her experiences with moving to a wiki content creation and delivery system. Medidata Solutions hosted the STC Metro NY chapter presentation at its New York City headquarters on Hudson Street.

STC NY Metro chapter members taking time out for a group photo. (Back left to right) Paula Korhonen, Lance Larsen, Ronald Schwarz, Himmler Joachim, Scott McAvoy, and Nitza Hauser. (Front) Maud Keisman, Julie Waxgiser, and Steven Castellano.

Hauser shared the opportunities, challenges, and lessons learned from her team during Medidata’s move from Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite to Atlassian’s Confluence wiki authoring and Internet delivery framework. She also surveyed the use of the Every Page is Page One (EPPO) technical writing methodology, and discussed its advantages for use in creating wiki articles. Finally, she discussed how minimalism helps create successful wiki sites and reduces localization costs.

Powering smarter treatments and healthier people

Nitza leads Medidata’s Technical Communication Services (TCS) department, a team of knowledge engineers and authors. The authors are embedded in Medidata software development teams; TCS’ engineers support the Confluence wiki.

“Empowering users to better achieve breakthroughs in life sciences relies upon Medidata’s ability to impart platform knowledge to our users, and deliver the right content, in the right format, at the right time”, Nitza noted.

Moving to a wiki: what are the challenges, drivers, and imperatives?

Citing technical and logistical challenges such as scalability, streamlined production efforts, and efficient content delivery for an integrated product platform, Hauser observed that the primary challenge of technical information on the Web is “adapting to the audience”, quoting STC member and EPPO author Mark Baker’s advice:

“On the web, readers arrive at content via a Google search, via a recommendation in a social network, via a link from another page. There is no continuity from where they were before.”

Responding to audience questions, she elaborated: “People do not read linearly when searching for answers to practical problems, they read opportunistically and in a task-driven manner. This means that readers can enter anywhere in our knowledge space.”

Attendees seemed to agree. STC NY chapter member and senior technical writer Ronald Schwarz liked the idea of entering a knowledge portal through a context-sensitive article. “As a user, I can easily access more information in the knowledge space.”

Reaching consensus: why does wiki offer the solution?

During her presentation, Hauser criticized content that is managed in silos, which she called a “quilt of patches.” Nitza elaborated on the business case to move towards “one platform offering the capability to author, review, and deliver content with ease.” Hauser detailed the process that she and her knowledge standards and technical implementation teams used to identify Confluence as the framework for meeting these needs. She shared a spreadsheet that the teams used to identify platform requirements correlated with the products they researched.

All stakeholders reached consensus on the key requirements:

  • Content management system with version control and seamless R&D integration
  • Wiki-based authoring, with support for single-sourcing content into other formats
  • Support for context-sensitive help, reusing content, and metadata tagging
  • Language support (UI) and localization
  • Social media-friendly capabilities (Like, Comment, Share, Watch)

Confluence exceeded TCS and management expectations for an authoring system. Hauser also said that Confluence offered a hosted solution that aligns with Medidata’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model.

Several members of the audience agreed with Hauser and shared Maud Keisman’s observation, “The content of the knowledge spaces mirrors the platform, facilitating navigation from one knowledge space to another.”

What principles guided implementation?

Highlighting EPPO, Hauser provided examples of establishing context, conforming to type, staying on one level, and rich linking.

“The challenge is providing a full knowledge portal where content is organized along Every Page is Page One (EPPO) principles. EPPO implies the need to promote new thought processes and changing the mindset from thinking ‘Table of Contents’ and ‘linear’ to thinking ‘random’ with a focus on user workflows, tasks, and troubleshooting.”

Organizing content that responds to readers’ unique task-driven behavior requires a “paradigm shift”, Hauser noted.

A task-driven article organized around a Confluence workflow progress bar illustrates the principle of staying on one level. The workflow progress bar provides visual cues on where the user is in the sequence of steps needed to achieve a goal. If a workflow involves multiple tasks, the article clearly calls out the next steps.

Of EPPO, presentation attendee Steven Castellano commented later, “I appreciated seeing how [EPPO principles] were actually implemented [and] improved user experience. For me, Nitza’s examples clarified attributes of the Confluence wiki platform, and showed its suitability for presenting and managing instructive content.”

Castellano’s view was shared by Brinda Palanisamy who said, “[With EPPO] we know where we are going. We’re on the right track.”

Hauser also shared her experience with wikis and minimalism. In addition to increased clarity, minimalism provides concise wording and information organization that dramatically reduces translation costs. Hauser quoted Mark Twain to emphasize the importance of minimalistic writing and content organization: “I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.” The quote sparked appreciative laughter from the attendees.

Besides EPPO and Minimalism, Hauser explained how Medidata’s training and eLearning considerations shaped the implementation of Confluence knowledge articles. Daniel Mudgett, Medidata VP Knowledge Management expressed agreement,

“There existed opportunities to align the way we walk through topics in the knowledge spaces with the way we train, to maximize the utility of the content for multiple purposes [including] knowledge articles and training course workflows”.

With the Confluence wiki content delivery system, EPPO, training, and minimalism in place, Medidata experiences a broad reach and increased competitive advantage. Hauser added that with these building blocks, Medidata reduces content development and global delivery costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What are the benefits and advantages?

Summing up the benefits and advantages of wiki and the associated methodologies she discussed, Hauser shared feedback from Medidata management, Medidata Client Services, and customers:

“Yesterday I sat in on an 'Academic' session at Symposium. Unsolicited, the presenter from […] commented how wonderful Confluence/Knowledge Spaces are [and] how it's made his life easier because he can simply refer people/questions to the link rather than having to research answers and respond to them all personally.” (from our VP Technology Operations, attending the Symposium)

“Our lead for [Medidata software] adoption claims she is not technical. However, she was impressed with the ease with which she was able to navigate the pre-release notes. […] She likes the content… nice work! The client can find, navigate and understand the documentation.” (feedback from Medidata Client Services)

“Excellent page to know more detailed information on [product]. Given very clearly for each and every steps explained. I don't think separate manuals are needed.” (comment from an anonymous user on the homepage of one of our knowledge spaces)

In person and online, the presentation was well attended. All in all, the audience seemed to find Hauser’s presentation informative and compelling. Paula Korhonen “liked Nitza's openness to discuss Every Page is Page One and Confluence.” As attendee Scott McAvoy commented, “It was one of, and probably the most informative presentations on migrating to a different platform (a Wiki) for knowledge based information dissemination that I have seen. ... Any firm that is contemplating a way to move from the traditional manual or online help basis for conveying knowledge to its employees will benefit from viewing this presentation to understand a new way to present this information and solicit the participation of the end users.”

A big thank you to Nitza, the STC NYC Metro chapter, Medidata, and the attendees for supporting the objectives and mission of the professional technical communications community.

TJ Cardenas
TJ Cardenas is a new member of the New York Metro chapter. He has extensive experience in consulting, software product documentation and AGILE methodology. His entry to the 2015 STC Regional Competition, Design Optimizer Knowledge Space authored using Confluence received an Award of Merit. Currently, TJ is a Senior Technical Communicator and works for Medidata Solutions in New York, NY. An avid road warrior, Cardenas enjoys historic architecture, travelling and exploring New England with his family.

Charles Miller
Charles Miller is Lead Technical Communicator at Medidata Solutions. A member of the STC New Mexico Kachina chapter, he’s won several awards in STC competitions for the iMedidata and Medidata Rave Object Loader knowledge spaces, authored using Confluence. He’s written technical documentation for over 30 years. He’s also taught technical and business writing and worked numerous years as a consultant creating technical information in software development environments. When he’s not working, Miller tends to his family and garden, works out at the gym, tours the Bosque on his bike, or tweets XML poetry.
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