"If there is a story, then it is a document. If there is no story, then it's data."

In December 2020 Forrester published a report that strongly confirmed our thoughts, and the developments we see in our market(s): The Future Of Documents: A Look Beyond The Paradigm Of Paper And Into Opportunities For Innovation – Forrester 2020. Based upon this report, we’ve interviewed thought leaders about the future of documents. In this article, Victoria Ichizli-Bartels (VIB), Founder and Consultant at Optimist Writer, shares her opinion.

The Forrester report points out that, although the tools for creating documents have become friendlier, the way workers and organizations think about documents really hasn’t changed since the introduction of personal computers.

What does a real disruption of this way of thinking about documents look like to you?
VIB: “It does not look like a disruption of the way of thinking to me, but rather as a combination of the best of the two worlds. Once at the S1000D User Forum a couple of years back, I attended a panel where end-users were asked about their preferred format for technical manuals, among other questions. Many claimed paper format to be most comfortable even if they grew up with digital tools all around them. Some also mentioned the benefits of these for various types of use. For example, digital technology was highly praised for quick instructions and performing a task, but the paper format was named for learning a product and understanding how it works. But also, these answers varied for various groups of persons. I think both worlds in many of their sub-variants and constellations will continue to be used in the future. Maybe the existence of these two worlds alongside cause the feeling that the situation hasn’t changed.”

According to Forrester, document authoring is ready for its moment of disruption, though information worker habits have yet to change because:

  • Friction between cloud-native documents and file storage tools remains.
  • The mental model of paper dominates the language of content management.
  • Static file types clog up processes and require content fracking.
  • Employee preferences are entrenched.

What do you see as the biggest hurdles to changing the way workers and businesses work with documents?
VIB: “The biggest hurdle is the wish to see these as hurdles and to try to pressure the way workers and businesses work into something “artificial” and forced. The change should occur naturally without pressure or manipulation. And it does as it does. We simply resist it and call it disruption. Plus, I don’t see the mental model of paper as problematic. It is more the story model than the paper model. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end, and it always will be so. Whether it is measured in pages or bytes, it doesn’t matter. But the structure will remain the same.
If you consider a maintenance procedure, it has the same structure. It starts with setting specific conditions before the procedure can occur, such as unplug the product, disassemble the unit from the product, etc. That would be the beginning of that particular micro-story, also known as a scene. It is followed by the procedure itself — the middle. And finally, the close-up conditions are fulfilled — the unit mounted on the product and the product is plugged back in. That would be the end of the scene or the micro-story. Such thinking should never be gotten rid of, and can’t either. It is natural to human beings and is the most efficient for learning and mastering.”

Can you name any practical examples where the disruption is already taking place?
VIB: “No, because I don’t see the current development as a disruption.”

Authors don’t need to be motivated to change their behavior. They simply need to be supported in their work.

Structured data will surround content. Documents that include structured data must become the norm when they’re the input for automated processes, such as invoice processing. Document creators must take an outside-in approach and deliver documents in formats fit for purpose.

How can we motivate authors to take this outside-in approach i.e. change their behaviour. What’s in it for them?
VIB: “I want to emphasize again that forcing change is not helpful and disruptive in itself. Authors don’t need to be motivated to change their behavior. They simply need to be supported in their work. That includes making it comfortable and exciting for them. If they feel supported every step of the way, with tools available and fun to use, data provided, the ease of research facilitated. Then, their motivation will flow naturally and be available on tap.”

It is expected that robots will share the writing credits with humans. AI authorship will affect document authoring in the near future.

What developments do you expect to see in this context, and what do you already see happening today?
VIB: “AI is an advanced tool created by humans. An example I read about recently is on the writing of a brother’s Grimm-like story by AI. But before AI could write such a beautiful story, it was facilitated and “taught” by humans. Here is what they say, “To write this fantastical tale we teamed up with Botnik, a group of writers, artists and programmers that uses artificial intelligence to create new forms of writing.” — Blog Calm

I think this quote is quite telling about the general development in this field, be it for technical manuals or creative writing: Humans are and will continue using “artificial intelligence to create new forms of writing.” And humans might even create new, yet unknown, forms of intelligence to follow their imagination and creativity.”

Game-based systems are brilliant in using metadata-first strategy

In the future, documents will be more fluid, componentized, and structured to separate underlying information from its presentation. A strong metadata-first strategy must replace the folder as an organizing principle and become a foundation for automation and AI.

What is in your opinion the difference between ‘documents’ and ‘data’?
VIB: “That’s a tricky question. I think storytelling can help us understand this difference. Storytelling and story analogies are fantastic tools supporting us in understanding complex concepts. Here is how I see it: If there is a story (big like an epic novel or small like a scene), then it is a document. If there is no story, then it’s data. You could see it that way: A document is a story; data are the words.”

Which content platforms are already evolving in this direction?
VIB: “Learning platforms do, and specifically Game-Based Learning. Game-based systems are brilliant in using metadata-first strategy because it is like a board game where the game flow is clearly visible.”

Which industries are leading the way regarding the future of documents?
VIB: “Those of game and gamification design.”

Victoria Ichizli-Bartels

Founder and Consultant at Optimist Writer. Victoria had led various task teams in the S1000D community, including two teams that later merged into the Business Rules Working Group (BRWG). She served as the chair and co-chair of BRWG (and its teams) for almost twelve years and continues being its member. Victoria is passionate about making S1000D implementation processes and business rules easier to understand and authored two books on the topic: brDoc, BREX, and Co.: S1000D Business Rules Made Easier and S1000D® Issue 4.1 and Issue 4.2 Navigation Map. Currently, she is working on a resource she calls S1000D Implementation Map, which maps Business Rules Decision Points for ten S1000D Issues — from 1.9 to 5.0.

Victoria Ichizli-Bartels on LinkedIn

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