From attending the recent PTC User Conference, it appears we are in the midst of a paradigm shift and it will be every bit as significant as the move from desktop publishing to structured content management: From book publishing to dynamic content delivery. Think about where we have come in the last decade: we use electronic tools to create, publish and maintain our publications, but we still interact with these publications in exactly the same way as their printed counterparts: page-by-page, through an index or glossary or a rudimentary keyword search.
Also, the creative process is the same: anticipate what the customer is going to need and put it in a book. This pattern of "predictive publishing" breaks down in the face of highly customizable products, since it is impractical to cover every option or configuration that might occur in a single manual. Also, this publishing model breaks down for products that present a complicated set of features to the user; it is difficult and time-consuming to sift through a large amount of documentation to find help with the task at hand.
PTC's answer to this problem is the next phase in electronic publishing: Service Information Systems. Take for example the problem of navigation. For years, we have hassled with paper maps or Thomas Guides, trying to flip pages and drive to our destination. This rather haphazard and indeed hazardous process has now been supplanted by GPS-driven navigation systems. The two key properties of such systems is that they are contextual and interactive. That is, they are specialized to the task to be performed and they provide an interface that is appropriate to the context.
So, how do you leverage the new generation of tools that are forth-coming from PTC?
First, it almost goes without saying that you will need to be doing structured content management. Second, if you have not done so already, adopt a Content Management System. Service Information Systems will be driven from their content databases, so this step is vital. Finally, be sure that your rendering tools can produce content viewable in ProductView, as this will be the first supported platform for viewing dynamic content. Stay tuned!