4 Tips to Ensure Your Technical Documentation Is Always Up-to-Date



According to a recent survey from Tech-Clarity, 30% of service leaders said their technical documentation contains inaccuracies, many of which consist of outdated parts information.

Your company’s product design team may submit dozens of engineering change orders (ECOs) throughout the asset’s lifecycle. If engineering never informs you or other technical writers of the ECOs, then you can’t reflect those product changes in your service manuals, product catalogs, and other publications.

This poor service information management may cause technicians to order obsolete parts or execute outdated instructions. Both of these actions could warrant additional service visits and, as a result, prolong customer downtime. There are four steps you can take to avoid these issues and consistently deliver up-to-date technical documentation:

1. Develop digital service manuals

Field Technologies Online discovered that 41% of field service technicians use smartphones in their day-to-day functions. More than one-third use laptops, notebooks or hybrid devices, and 22% use tablets.

Given the prevalence of mobile devices among field service teams, it makes sense to develop digital service manuals. Doing so not only provides technicians with an easy method of accessing service information but also enables you to quickly update technical documentation when engineering introduces changes. You won’t have to reprint manuals every time an ECO occurs.

2. Reach out to the engineering team (really, do it) 

Willis Towers Watson found that companies with highly effective change management and communication are “three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers.” So if you can establish a line of communication with the engineering department, there’s a good chance your field service team’s performance will surpass your competitors’.

Of course, opening that channel is half the battle. Here are a couple of tips on connecting with engineering:

  • Leverage upper management: Get your VP to speak with the VP or Director of Product Development (or Engineering, depending on your organization’s setup).
  • Chat up an engineer: Set up a meeting with a lead product designer to discuss details about your company’s products. This enables you to establish rapport and, eventually, get them enthused about enabling service. 

3. Maintain a single parts database

There are two advantages of maintaining a single parts and components database.

First, consider your service manual’s structure. You may want to organize it according to specific procedures – installations, part replacements, and so forth. This hierarchy may contain about a dozen references to the same part. In a digital catalog, you can link those references to a single part file, eliminating the need to write duplicate content.

Second, once you have those links to the single parts database, all you have to do in the wake of an ECO is update the original file. That adjustment will proliferate across all of your technical documentation.

4. Integrate engineering and design data with your parts database

Connecting your parts database to an engineering bill of materials does require service information management software. You can either purchase an off-the-shelf system or hire a team of developers to create one for you, but the former option is typically the least expensive.  

It is worth the investment: If a designer makes changes to a part number in the original bill of materials, your technical documentation will be automatically updated to reflect that adjustment. This functionality occurs on the back end, requiring no manual intervention from technical documentation managers.

There are other back-end capabilities you'll need to ensure your service manuals contain the most up-to-date technical information. This checklist details several of these capabilities, explaining how they enable you to deliver relevant, accurate content:

Extend PLM to Service Checklist Infographic