Editor’s note: you’ll need a good pair of running shoes and a valid passport to keep up with Stefan Gentz, Adobe Systems’ Global Tech Comm Evangelist. TechWhirl managed to catch up with him recently to discuss his role, his adventures, and his take on where technical communications is headed.
Tell us about how you came to the role of Global Evangelist for Technical Communication. What in your background makes you uniquely suited to such a challenging role?
That’s a difficult question to answer. To begin with, I have a long-term experience and in-depth knowledge of the software and the technologies around it. I also understand how a wide range of companies and users around the world are working with it. I came to this role having worked with TCS tools for nearly 20 years as a consultant and trainer with hundreds of companies. Just as importantly, I am passionate about what I do. I love to communicate and connect with people, and that for me means being open-minded and an attentive listener, and having fun in public speaking.
What are your most important duties as Global Evangelist?
As the Global Evangelist for Technical Communication, my mission is to inspire enterprises and technical writers around the world and show how to create compelling technical communication content with the Adobe TCS tools. I connect and communicate with other software companies, partners in consulting, training and solutions, and universities and key clients. I curate Adobe’s “TechComm Central” blog, organize, host and deliver webinars, create educational material and rock conferences and stages around the world.
How do you envision working with buyers and decision-makers versus working with users of the products in the Technical Communication Suite?
Managers have a strong strategic view on the solution and want to know if the software can help to achieve their strategic targets and goals. They want to have a solution from a strong and reliable, transparent partner. They want to see a long-term commitment from the partner, outstanding support and licensing models that fit their needs. And they want scalable end-to-end solutions. So we work with these decision-makers to design and deliver a solution that fits into their IT landscape and internal processes. In designing these solutions, we can offer a strong partner ecosystem and offers excellent support from other IT Systems like Content and Translation Management Systems.
End users of the Suite want robust, reliable, easy to use software that helps them to get the job done in the most efficient way. And they want to have the flexibility and power to turn their ideas and requirements into results with features that come out of the box. Clearly we have the tools that let them do that.
So, there are different but complementary requirements from both groups, and the Adobe Technical Communication Suite can satisfy the needs of both groups.
The focus of Adobe Technical Communication Suite (TCS) has long been on FrameMaker and RoboHelp. Do you see a more visible role for the other products in the suite?
The TCS has always been a great bundle of strong products. Adobe Acrobat Professional, Adobe Captivate and Adobe Presenter are outstanding, best-in-class products with a high visibility in the market, and they complement FrameMaker and RoboHelp perfectly. We offer tons of webinars about Captivate and there is a great Adobe Captivate Blog. We also have a great blog for Acrobat, which has a full set of marketing activities scheduled. All these tools integrate nicely which each other. For example, you can create PDFs for Review in FrameMaker, send them to a reviewer with Acrobat and then reimport the comments and changes he made back into FrameMaker as track changes. This kind of integration makes review processes much more efficient.
What product enhancements do you see coming that can better make the case to move to the Technical Communication Suite?
We are constantly working on improving our products. We get a lot of feedback from the user community and carefully listen to the “voice of the customer” as we plan enhancements. We provide four significant updates between major versions, each of which includes new improvements and enhancements.
We have a great new product in the pipeline coming soon, which I can’t discuss quite yet. What I can tell you is this: the next major versions of FrameMaker and RoboHelp will be awesome for sure and emphasize the innovative power of Adobe, our passion and dedication to the products and Adobe’s leadership in software solutions for technical communication. Stay tuned and be surprised …
Collaboration, especially real-time collaboration has become increasingly important to many organizations. How can (or will) the Technical Communication Suite address that requirement?
Indeed, real-time collaboration is a big topic for many of our customers. These organizations increasingly see the need to work together and integrate a diverse range of content contributors into their process landscapes. And very often teams today are virtual and virtually distributed over the whole world. We already have some solutions for that in the suite and will continue to provide outstanding solutions for collaboration.
We often hear that products such as FrameMaker and RoboHelp have a steep learning curve. Do you agree with that assessment, and what activities do you have planned to help users become proficient more quickly?
I have heard this statement so many times in the last 15 or 20 years … And it’s simply not true—it never was. Both tools are really easy to use and simply to deploy and implement even for large teams.
Of course, both FrameMaker and RoboHelp are extremely powerful and offer nearly endless possibilities. A friend of mine recently said, “With FrameMaker your only limit is your imagination. You can achieve nearly every goal you set. And if it’s not possible out-of-the-box, you can use ExtendScript, FrameScript, XSLT or the API to create your own solutions on top of it.”
So, yes, if you really want dive very deep and do some outstanding magic, it can take some time to become a magician. But from my experience as a trainer with several thousand trainees in the last 20 years, I can say for sure: FrameMaker is not a difficult tool with a steep learning curve. A good trainer can empower a whole tech writing team within one or two business days to be fully productive.
Tell us about what you see as the key issues or trends that impact technical communicators, and others in the content creation fields?
I see several topics and trends:
- The migration to XML, especially DITA and all the topics around it.
- Mobile publishing.
- Content management systems (CMS)
- The growing realization that technical communication is also marketing communication.
I believe the big trends over the next few years will be “Industry 4.0” and “Intelligent Information.” It continues to be increasingly important for technical communicators to consider where and how their content will be consumed and how they need to create the content to be delivered to multiple channels like PDF, websites, mobile apps, head up displays, smart watches, virtual and augmented reality devices, and so on. Technical content in the future will no longer only be consumed as primarily written words. Text to speech engines will deliver the content to users as spoken words and access to technical and support content will become more an interactive experience between human and machine. Creating, managing and delivering technical content requires to re-think how we produce content today as technical communicators. That’s a big challenge and very exciting.
You’ve been on board for about half a year now. What would you consider the highlights?
Wow, there were so many! A big highlight for me personally was revamping the “Adobe TechComm Central”, our blog. The webinars with Tom Aldous and Bernard Aschwanden and are highlights for sure, as are the currently running webinar series with Jang Graat, and the webinar series with Toni Ressaire and CJ Walker. And then we had an update round for FrameMaker and RoboHelp and the Launch of RoboHelp Server 10.
All the many conferences like ITA and MEGAComm in Israel, tcworld India and tcworld China, the Across Conference and tekom conference in Germany, the STC Summit in the US and the Nordic TechKomm in Copenhagen were also big highlights that really emphasize how global my role is.
But the real highlight for me has been working with so many new, interesting people within and outside of Adobe!
Which conferences and trade shows are on your schedule for the next few months?
I will be at the “NORDIC TechComm” in Copenhagen, Denmark (May 24-25) and “Information Energy” in Utrecht (June 8-9). And I will be at the Schema User Conference (June 14-15), a summit from our CMS Partner Schema, the TCUK in the UK (September 13-15), tekom / tcworld in Stuttgart (November 8-10) and a couple more. It’s extremely important for me to connect with our clients and partners from all over the world face-to-face, talk and listen to them, get their feedback. I tend to say, that’s the biggest pleasure in my job.