A client recently asked us to take over the maintenance of a batch file specification she had been updating. She reached out to us because it was taking so much of her time to keep the document up to date.
As part of our proposal to do the work, we suggested that it would be better to convert the existing Word file into an HTML-based solution, such that there would be an HTML page for each XML element that was in the file. In that way, we argued, the developers using the material would have instant access to all of the information they needed when they needed it.
So far so good. Our next communication from her was that she had received very favorable responses from her developers but that her management requested that she “provide more information to support probable cost savings plus show need versus nice to have” of what we had proposed.
That got me thinking about the ROI of technical documentation. The best I could say was that support costs should be reduced because as part of our proposal, we were going to verify all the information that was currently in the documentation. We had discovered a number of errors and inconsistencies that we proposed to investigate and fix. Notice I said “should.” I couldn’t put a dollar amount on this probable cost savings because I had no idea what the company was currently spending on support. I am not even sure the company knows how much it costs for the product manager to walk a customer through a process because the customer cannot process a file due to incorrect and unusable documentation.
We also suggested that with the new format we were proposing, the developers should have an easier time updating their code with the changes because the information will be available where and when they need it. If her customers submit accurate files for processing, is there a cost savings?
In short, as with all the documentation we do, we believe there is a value in having easy to use and accurate materials so our clients can spend less time answering questions due to inaccuracies and plain bad documentation and more time doing their jobs.