Returning to the makers of FrameMaker after years in the field

This is my first blog as Product Evangelist for Tech Comm Suite. I have some pretty heavy footprints to follow, since I’m replacing Tom Aldous, who was promoted to lead our sales team. I probably couldn’t ask for a better leader or boss. You see, Tom and I have something in common; we both spent years working directly with customers helping them find a better authoring and content management solution before either of us came on board at Adobe.

Some of you may find my name familiar; I’ve been fairly visible on the FrameMaker scene for many years. Ironically, I was the Product Marketing Manager for FrameMaker before Adobe acquired the product. (I left Frame Technology about 18 months before the Adobe acquisition.) Working closely with the product inventors and pioneer engineers of FrameMaker was a priceless experience.

As I documented in “25 Years of FrameMaker” for STC’s INTERCOM magazine last year, FrameMaker was (and still is) often decades ahead of its time when it came to eliminating tedious publishing tasks and offering nearly “fool-proof” solutions. The biggest challenge we had in selling FrameMaker back in the ‘90s was that many people dismissed the product as a fantasy because it was simply “too good to be true.” There has continued to be periodic bursts of misinformation about the product ever since, often for the same reason. Selling FrameMaker to those early skeptical audiences was a bit like giving a test drive with automatic transmission to people in 1940, when everyone was still looking for the clutch to shift gears! Before you rush to Wikipedia, yes, automatic transmission did exist in 1940, but it was only in use by a handful of customers before America entered the War.

FrameMaker and Translation: a wealth of customer experience

After a brief hiatus with another software vendor, I landed in the language translation industry where I spent over a dozen years getting down and dirty in multilingual DTP production with possibly over half a million pages of content. Working for translation agencies, I couldn’t choose the products or the file formats I worked with. But I quickly learned that FrameMaker was (and still is) the most popular document format for complex, high-page count projects that needed to be translated into multiple languages. FM docs and books were remarkably nimble, even without “structure”, or as “regular” FrameMaker binary documents. (Watch for a future blog on “regular” vs. “structured” FrameMaker.)

Working with documents in FrameMaker, Word, InDesign, Quark and other formats, I experienced just about any “best practice” or “worst practice” that a customer could come up. Due to heavy workloads, staff reductions and a variety of other factors that prevented product training, there are many tech pubs folks out there who have flailed around in all document formats, creating some of the gnarly-est document structure you can imagine.

With the advent of user Help communities, rich media and instant access to information via social media, I also saw demands on product documentation change radically over the past 7 years.

Helping customers find the best authoring tool for their needs

By necessity (and for the good of many customers) my co-workers and I often found ourselves helping translation customers migrate into FrameMaker (XML or unstructured) in order to “eliminate the opportunity to make a mistake,” particularly in regards to document structure. This was dramatically demonstrated at my last company, Globalization Partners International, where we crafted a dramatic multilingual “one template” DITA solution for a major medical device manufacturer.

Once Adobe “married” FrameMaker and RoboHelp through Tech Comm Suite, product usage for both products amongst our customers increased even more. As the lines between documentation, Help and eLearning began to blur, I witnessed a dramatic increase in customer demand for translated RoboHelp projects. And, it was déjà vu all over again; some people thought the ability to update RoboHelp from linked source documents was simply “good to be true.” Yes, you really can link FrameMaker, DITA and Word source documents into one cohesive RoboHelp project.

My vision for the future of Tech Comm

Although this blog site is starting with a nod to my checkered DTP past and some product history, our focus will be on relevant current and future trends in Tech Comm that we all must adapt to. As romantic as some past product development memories may be, we can only look ahead and keep abreast of the content landscape that is literally shifting under our feet if we are to endure. We’ve all seen the overwhelming statistics about the increase in user-generated content, social networking/commenting and huge consumer hunger for “show me” video clips. Paper and PDF aren’t going away, but we all have to deal with hybrid and multiple deliverables to ever increasing devices beyond paper and a laptop screen.

Adobe is certainly the place to be in this regard. It is tough to think of another company or product line that touches on almost every aspect of digital communications. I predict that in the near future, some people may be startled to find some “tech doc” content seeming as “sexy” as much of the colorful and flashy output we’ve come to expect from the creative side of Adobe’s product line.

Creativity is the key to our collective future in tech comm. As “content engineers” creating mission critical content (sometimes lives depend on it), we must embrace and use every new tool that makes information more findable, more accessible and leads to higher reader/viewer retention. In short, we need to create and manage content that can be delivered anytime, anywhere, any way.

The only thing missing is you

My job as Product Evangelist for the dynamic Tech Comm Suite includes helping keep you informed of important new trends and developments as well as product solutions. Following Tom Aldous’s example, I’ll be delivering frequent eSeminars, Captivate videos, feature guides, etc. More importantly, I am also here to listen and learn from you. Whatever I gain from you will be shared with our development team. All comments are welcomed!

I know that working as a highly visible member of Tom Aldous’ team will be quite an adventure. Did I mention that I was his first and only FrameMaker teacher? Obviously, the training has served him well. I have a feeling that he’d be where he is today if I hadn’t come along “back in the day.”

It’s been a long journey. But it’s great to finally be back “home.”

== Maxwell Hoffmann ==