Over the last 50 years, outsourcing has become one of the most popular business models in history. While it always involves some risk, no-one would question the long-term benefits if it’s done well; lower costs, the ability to focus on your core business, the end of capacity issues and easier access to intellectual resources that may be too expensive or too hard to come by in your own backyard. That’s why today’s companies outsource nearly anything, from cleaning services to manufacturing, and according to a recent Deloitte report the trend seems to be growing.
At 3di, we know that outsourcing technical writing is a viable model too because that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 17 years. We’ve identified two key questions that we think help with exploring whether outsourcing technical writing could be a good option for you.
What business benefits do you want your technical documentation to deliver?
For example, maybe your priorities are related to:
- ensuring you have the capacity to flex around a core in-house team
- supporting a short-term product release
- improving your technical documentation so it better represents the product
- making technical product information management in the business more efficient
- improving the customer experience when they are using your products
- enabling self-service during product discovery, on-boarding, upgrades, and day-to-day use
- ensuring you are compliant and meet regulations
- make growing internationally easier by having technical documentation that is easier to translate
If you outsourced technical writing, what might be the specific outputs, processes and connection points with the business?
Depending on your industry, technical documentation can often be created and managed as a discrete set of activities, with specific connection points into your other business processes. That makes it relatively easy to outsource and still ensure it’s contributing successfully to meet your priority benefits. You and your colleagues have almost certainly already outsourced other activities, and will have seen what circumstances characterise an outsourcing model that works well. Bear in mind that ‘outsource’ doesn’t necessarily mean completely ‘offshore’ or completely ‘remote’ from your other operations. At 3di we have found a wide range of resources and interaction models can work very well.
So, why would I outsource technical writing rather than do it all myself?
1) Better value
Our customers rarely approach us saying they want to reduce their technical writing costs – their most common driver is the frustration that they are not getting good value for what they currently spend on an in-house technical writing team, or for the energy and time spent by multiple resources around the business. Whether it’s achieving more from the same budget, or focusing a smaller budget on priority needs, it will be much easier to sustain that value for money with an outsource documentation partner who knows what they are doing.
Of course, by outsourcing, it does mean that it becomes your outsource partner’s job to cover and worry about all the direct costs you have if you keep an in-house team, such as:
- Recruiting costs
- Payroll costs
- Office space and additional equipment costs
- Regular training costs
- Specialist software tools costs
- Employee turnover costs
- Adjusting for flexible working requirements
- HR and line-management costs
These costs still exist of course, but it’s significantly simpler for you, and the outsourcing partner should be targeting savings by being more efficient about handling these for their specialist world – for example, our team of excellent English technical writers is based in Poland as well as the UK, so for projects that can make use of both teams, the staff cost savings can be reflected in our customer charges. Here’s our case study about working with Vodafone over the last 5 years – adjusting the service as priorities change and always keeping value for money at the heart of the relationship.
2) More focus
Playing to our strengths would seem an instinctively sensible thing to do. However, as humans we tend to accumulate additional tasks that stretch our capabilities. The Deloitte research in 2016 found that a need to focus on the core business was a key reason for 57% of their survey respondents to outsource. If you are a Product Manager who’s spent evenings and weekends writing product manuals to make a release, or your manuals have so far been mainly written by engineers, or you and your colleagues are struggling to imagine a world beyond providing lots of PDFs for your customers, you’ve probably reached the point when it’s better to get a specialist to help. The upside is two-fold: you’ll certainly get better quality, but you’ll also start delivering better on your core business too, as you won’t have the distraction of documentation. Our case study about working with Promethean will give you some ideas about the knock-on benefits of outsourcing technical documentation.
With today’s agile development processes, there aren’t the same peaks and troughs that there used to be, but there may well be projects or deadlines that need extra resources temporarily. An outsourced service provider should be able to provide you with that flexibility, without the typically extra premium of hiring a short-term contractor.
The other way to think about flexibility is in the expertise you have access to. Based on your business benefit priorities, you are almost certainly going to need more than one brain to achieve what you need – even if the total time spent is equivalent to one full-time person.
When we are providing outsourced technical authoring services, we combine several people; around a core technical author specialist who’s focused on getting to know the product and customer. Each team member provides their own specialism, and each contributes part-time to several customer projects. This approach ensures each 3di team member focuses on their strengths, keeps up with industry best-practice and deploys their expertise in focused ways for each customer when they need it. Here’s an example case study about the outsourced service to Bridgehead Software.
Ask the right questions to find meaningful answers
The key to whether outsourcing your technical writing is likely to work for you really comes down to the answers to those two questions we described earlier in the article:
- What business benefits do you want your technical documentation to deliver?
- If you outsourced technical writing, what might be the specific outputs, processes and connection points with the business?
With these as a basis for discussion, you and your colleagues can start assessing outsourcing options alongside the alternatives. Let us know if you would like to get 3di involved in that discussion.