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> Our training department is saying, "Oh, we'll develop HTML-based CBT for our
> programs with this freelancer we've used before." Something about this sets
> off my publication-management intuition as not being the most efficient or
> easily managed course of action. It seems to me that it would be better in
> the long run to invest in a tool and create the CBT deliverables in-house,
> as far as keeping the knowledge in the company goes. I'd love to know other
> people's opinions on this.
You're asking a much larger question than just one of technical documentation
For a purely documentation stand-point it may seem to make more sense to
internalize such projects. From a business sense, it may not.
First, there is the question of core-competency. It is not always in the best
interest of a company to internalize work. A company that is good at
engineering software is likely to be organized and operated in a manner that
makes it an efficient software production firm. But as many writers like to
point out, you can't develop documentation like software. Thus the
core-competency of the firm does not align with the needs of
This is why many corporations, like Microsoft or Cisco, partner with resellers,
training companies, and consulting firms. The company does not want to get
into the business of developing training. It is too costly and does not pertain
to the company's core-competency. Thus, they outsource that function to a
company who does nothing but training or customer service. In the long run it
is more cost effective to contract another party to do the work than it is to
pay internal people to do it.
This is why there is such strong demand for oursourced technical publications.
There is also a return on investment issue. Suppose a company spends $500,000
to hire trainers and buy expensive software. It takes those people a year to
get up to speed and start producing quality work. Then those people leave and
go to work for the competition. Suddenly, the company's $500,000 investment is
worth nothing (it is actually now helping the competition). They have to hire
more people and train them. Sure, it may be fun for you to learn new tools, but
how many posts do you see on this list each week of people planning to bail
because their boss didn't love them enough. The "this job isn't good enough for
me" mentality has many less-than-obvious repercussions.
It is sometimes bad ROI to invest in internal resources that won't pay off in
tangible ways. Better training may pay off for customers, but not if they have
to sink a lot of resources into building an internal training department that
will walk away at a moments notice.
Lastly, there is the issue of perspective. It is often very helpful to have
outsiders, who have no stake in a company, to document the products. Outsiders
will have fresh perspectives and ideas. All too often, internal people get
very comfortable using the same trite expressions and tone. It can be useful to
outsource work to get new language into the environment.
I realize a lot of writers see the use of outsourced technical publications as
a threat to their job. I won't lie to you - it is. But understand the reason is
not necessarily because you write bad documents. There are some strong business
reasons why companies outsource work like training and documentation.
Traditionally, bad turns in the economy are good for outsourcing and bad for
So, my suggestion, Emily, is get to know the outsourced freelancer and learn
what he/she does. This person may be able to teach you how to do training and
then you can offer your services to your company in a cost effective way.
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