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Greening your product? What about your product information?

We see it all the time and I’m sure you do as well. Companies are on the move with initiatives to “green” their operations and their products. It’s not just the big fortune 500 companies either, the push for green is being driven—and even led—by the small to medium business (SMB) sector.

By now, almost every company has adopted a recycle program. Many implement telecommuting or ride sharing programs to reduce their carbon footprint. They are packaging products in containers that are made, at least in part, from post consumer recycled material. They are reexamining their raw materials to develop surfaces that provide less wind resistance, are more compact, are made from less hazardous materials.  They're creating innovative designs that use less power or regenerate their own.  These eco-friendly practices are touching every part of the product development process.

Just yesterday, I saw that Coca Cola is turning to bioplastics for their packaging of consumer goods and UPS is introducing carbon-neutral shipping.

What about product information development and delivery?

Your product information is your potential customer's first glimpse of who you are. Product documentation can be a cost center or a revenue generator. It can improve your customer service and your speed to market which equals higher customer retention and increased sales. And it's an area where every company can make an immediate impact on green initiatives that often gets overlooked. Done right, it can even make your company more environmentally friendly.

Here are five steps to help you green your product information:

Examine your product information's "raw materials"

Create your product information in non-proprietary XML. Using XML will ensure that your product information is developed in a way to make it ready for leading edge technological delivery methods rather than the old print (“not green”) methods. Better still, the information will always be accessible and not locked away in old, unsupported, proprietary formats so there is no need to worry about keeping a legacy data system around.

Move to 21st century technology: Associativity

Modern tools allow you to start the product information design earlier in the process of product design. You can rapidly respond to design changes and automate the incorporation of that information.  It gives you the edge in staying on top of changes that happen with the product from concept through to final release. We call this "associativity". With associativity, when a design change happens, all of the corresponding product information is alerted for updates. You can eliminate the worry that everyone is “in the loop” when the inter-dependencies are tied together which, in turn, reduces waste. Use tools that allow for associatively associativity to all phases of development.

Design outside of the print box

These days, there are so many advancements in electronic tools, you need to design product information that can be accessed and searched electronically. Hand held mobile electronic devices are taking the field by storm. These devices allow for even the most remote customer or field person to get the right information at the right time. Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM) or On-Line Help files are an excellent way for you to make certain your end users and customers get detailed up to date product information at their finger tips without ever having to hit the print button.

Pictures are worth a thousand words

It’s true! Use of detailed technical illustrations can replace lengthy text and do a much better job of demonstrating a product for use or for service. It also bridges the language barrier and can drastically minimize the need for translating words and phrases. Better still, are illustrations that allow for hot spotting content.

Use tools that work well out-of-the-box and provide end-to-end solutions

I will never forget my first auto repair shop in high school. I had a great teacher who’s first words of wisdom he imparted to us was “use the right tool for the job!” Well, he more like shouted them at us as we eagerly attacked his car to “fix” it. How is this a “green” initiative? The wisdom of Mr. Ziegler’s advice is very true when you are looking at ways to build efficiencies and streamline for optimization. We see people trying to struggle with Frankensteining a solution together for information design and delivery, never taking into account the heavy drain on resources to get the different products to work together.

XML publishing is the key

At Single-Sourcing Solutions, we help companies improve their design and delivery of product information. We stand behind the Arbortext suite of products because they are the only out of the box end to end solution that allows you to create information using XML and deliver the information to the end user in whatever format they require, seamlessly.

To date we have not had a customer come to us with the main business driver of “greening” the product information, but perhaps someday we will. For now, it’s an added bonus for the other main reasons people choose Arbortext.

Key Concepts:

make your business case, multichannel (omnichannel) publishing, single-sourcing

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