Since moving to MadCap Flare, PLEXSYS has cut the time to produce documentation by 20% while adding new product lines and providing more comprehensive online Help and print documentation for the many customized versions of its solutions.
For years, PLEXSYS created all its documentation in popular word processing tools and then converted it into PDF files. However, it was difficult to maintain different versions of the same document for various customers. After several months, it became clear that the current solution would not support everything that their team wanted it to do. As they began seeking solutions they had four main goals in mind:
- Replace previously used software with modern HTML5-based Help and print documentation.
- Facilitate content reuse for the many customized versions of its solutions that PLEXSYS produces for its different aerospace and defense customers.
- Reduce demands on the support team by providing intuitive, easy-to-use documentation for customers.
- Maintain documentation for multiple release versions of products, since not all customers migrate to newer versions at different times.
Creating a Modernized Documentation Help Site
“I realized that other products couldn’t do what we needed them to do without a lot of other third-party plugins, and one day when I was frustrated, I decided to look at MadCap Flare,” explained Jenni Christensen, training and technical documentation manager at PLEXSYS.
Over the years, organizations have turned to MadCap Flare because it allows them to apply DITA concepts in an elegant and easy-to-use way. For the PLEXSYS team, which had become well-versed on DITA best practices, MadCap Flare provided a natural fit.
“I downloaded the 30-day trial of Flare, and I very strategically tested the exact features that we needed. Not only did Flare do what I wanted, but it also did it effectively.”
Training and Technical Documentation Manager | PLEXSYS
After various members of the management team compared the results of the MadCap Flare test project against content being developed with other software solutions, PLEXSYS decided to migrate to Flare.
Content Reuse and Consistency with MadCap Flare
Today, the product line that served as the catalyst for modernizing PLEXSYS’ content delivery features eight applications, which are all supported by both HTML5 Help and PDF documentation produced using MadCap Flare. In addition, Flare has allowed them to provide documentation for its other five product lines, including 29 applications.
While customers are the primary audience for most of their documentation, the product support team uses it as well. Plus, they have since been able to produce two internal documents to support the bids and proposals team, which provide guidelines on how to do pricing and provide the verification document required when bidding on specific government contracts.
Beyond single-source publishing, conditional text and variables in MadCap Flare also play an essential role in streamlining the delivery of documentation by enabling content reuse.
“For example, we have 24 versions of one application because we do a lot of work for specific companies or entities that can’t be shared with other people,” Jenni explains. “With conditional text in Flare, we can provide more comprehensive documentation than was ever possible before and manage all of those variations. It is one of the biggest advantages we have seen from Flare.”
Technical writers are not the only ones who have benefitted. Because customers get more specific information upfront, the PLEXSYS product support team no longer must spend as much time providing particular set-up and configuration guidance.
Maintaining Documentation for Various Releases
To ensure consistency across all its solutions, PLEXSYS maintains a global project that has all its branding assets and licensing information, which is the same across all products. Using the import feature in MadCap Flare, the team then imports this global or “parent” project into multiple “child” projects.
“We’ve set it up with Flare such that our child projects are linked to the parent project,” Jenni notes. “Now, if we update something in the global project, when we go to publish a target in the child project, it automatically pulls those updates and publishes the new information.”
Beyond multiple product versions, PLEXSYS also manages different releases of those products. To maintain documentation for these various releases, the company relies on GitHub for version control integrated with MadCap Flare.
“Sometimes the way our contracts are set up, we might have moved on to a newer software version, but a customer is still on an older version, and we have to provide documentation for that version,” Jenni explains. “GitHub combined with Flare is beneficial for this kind of timeline because we can create a branch stub in GitHub for that older version and publish it from there if needed. It has been a very fluid, effective, and smooth process.”
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