I’m going to continue with drawing parallels between Satnavs, the way that technology itself evolves, and how even incremental change can make a difference in your day-to-day life.
Let’s consider the way that Satnavs evolved and compare that to document authoring solutions.
After the Motoring Atlas in the car came the first generation of consumer Satnav devices. The coverage and accuracy of them were OK but didn't stack up against the level of detail you could get with a map. They weren't really great on the graphical interface and certainly no match for the tactile experience you’d get from looking up a destination in a Motoring Atlas.
Importantly, however, Satnavs could be updated in the areas they did cover. They could have more recent information, and in short, they could be more up to date. But, to want to use one of these devices, you’d have to be a serious gadgetry freak.
The second generation of Satnav devices had better coverage and a much, much better user interface and that made using them a superior experience. At that point, they started to have a broader appeal. Automobile manufacturers began fitting them in premium models. The Motoring Atlas was now under serious threat. Updates to the maps were better, more frequent and increasingly accurate.
The third generation of Satnav devices are really software based, as an application on your smartphone. Updates of maps happen seamlessly - more and more functionality is added, major buildings, 3D views, traffic alerts, re-routing to get around traffic jams, etc. It’s not just A-to-B navigation anymore; it's linked to search engines, so that you can get directions to the nearest vintage music store should you want to buy a cassette or some vinyl. The technology is also applied to fitness apps to map your cycle ride or your run. Satnav technology has become ubiquitous, and for many people, indispensable.
Where next for Satnav? Some of the future you can already see in applications like Google Now, where the link between your diary/calendar and the mapping technology warns you it’s time to leave and pre-loads the navigation to the appointment in your diary. Self-driving cars are already integrated with Satnav technology. And with an API that can integrate into almost anything, who knows? Maybe your self-driving car will drive you to the hospital if your fitness app detects that your pulse is irregular.
Now, let’s take a look at the way that document authoring solutions have evolved.
If we consider that we’re talking about digital workflows here, the first generation of systems were of a client-server architecture with “terminals,” bound to the office and the desk. Restricted by Operating System, training to use the solutions often took weeks, if not months. The hardware was bespoke, and the input/output to/from the system were limited to a few data formats.
With the second generation systems, things got a bit better. We started to see the use of more standardised client-server technology, meaning that we were not locked into bespoke hardware, and the interface became more desktop operating system-oriented. The terminal became a software application that ran on the client machine. The solutions were still office-bound, but the flexibility of the systems were a significant step forward from the first generation systems.
The third generation systems leverage more recently available technologies. Collaboration becomes a big thing, having a single source for the data means that multi-channel publishing becomes possible. The user interface is now the browser, so hardware and operating system dependency become a thing of the past. The user interface is intuitive and possibly context-sensitive, radically reducing the need for long training sessions. The systems are cloud-based, so you are no longer bound to your office chair. You can work anywhere, anytime. The third generation solutions that we’re outlining here can streamline and simplify your document publishing process, so that many things take place automatically.
Like the Satnav, the direction of the fourth generation of document authoring solutions is still unclear, but some parts of the roadmap are coming into focus. Solutions have granular, customisable workflows, including predictive and pro-active automation.
We’re already seeing some of the tasks that are required by the authoring process are now becoming “headerless,” i.e., you don’t even need to use the user interface at all anymore.
With this headerless approach, the system will alert you when you need to do something and even provide you with the tools you need to complete the task. Often standard, off-the-shelf products that sit on every desktop machines that allow you to interact directly with the system, record your interaction, and you don’t even have to touch the interface. This means the barest minimum of training possible.