What is actually smart about information?

Lars Kothes describes why we are no longer called "Technical Communication".

What is actually smart about information?

Smart Phone, Smart Home, Smart Repair, Smart ... – apparently everything seems to be smart somehow today. And now we go even further and claim to have "Smart Information". Are we actually just following a passing fad, or is there more to it?

If you look in the Dictionary, you can find "smart" synonyms such as "clever", "shrewd", "sharp", and even "ingenious". When we speak of "Smart Information", it's about intelligent and insightful information. But what makes the information so intelligent or even insightful?

For me, there are three aspects; all of which aim to meet the informational needs of users in the best possible way.

The first aspect is the information, itself. The basic requirement for a piece of information to be smart is, for me, first of all that it is correct. A piece of false information is certainly not smart. Furthermore, smart information should be prepared in a way so that it is understandable and that I can absorb it quickly and without any hindrances. This aspect of smart designates and is marked by the traditional virtues of Technical Editing.

The second aspect has to do with the performance of the information. Here it’s no longer about offering information in monolithic documents, but rather in small user-friendly and situation-specific chunks. Now you may be thinking: "We've been working modularly in technical documentation for a long time; that's nothing new" — but this is not quite the same thing. Within the technical editorial staff, we design modules in such a way that we can generate the information as efficiently as possible. However, the modules are not necessarily user-friendly informational units (Topics). These result only when the Topics have been created, based on the informational needs of the user and are designed so that they satisfy exactly one informational need. But these Topics are not yet smart in the sense of being either "clever" or "insightful". They only become so when we make them intelligent: through metadata that allows them to be linked to other information; the product components or even the real product. This is how we form the basis for proactively providing our users with the information they need to accomplish their tasks. That way, they can work more efficiently and do things they would otherwise never have anticipated.

The third aspect finally places the user in the centre, because all we do, in an effort to inform the user is only truly useful when she or he feels well informed. It is therefore important to research the individual informational needs of the various user groups and then to prepare and distribute the information in such a way that it will achieve its maximum benefit.

Our claim of "Smart Information Solutions" should reflect exactly this: With our customers, we want to develop ways of making information so intelligent that users — whether they’re customers, service technicians, or colleagues in-house — can do their jobs more easily. To achieve this, we use state-of-the-art technologies for informational design and information cross-linking, while continuing to uphold the traditional virtues of Technical Editing.

Lars Kothes
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