Why Your Role of Technical Writer is Becoming Increasingly Important – Global Trends & Developments in Germany
Nobody would have expected this development if technical writers had been asked 10 years ago: The job description has undergone far-reaching changes and has grown in importance across all industry sectors. “Documentation” was generally regarded as a very dry, quite boring subject. Latest trends and technologies, however, have brought about significant change. Definitely a gratifying development for technical writers. Their work has grown in importance and regard.
Wikipedia Side Note: Technical Writer: The technical writer conceives, creates and updates technical documentation like operating manuals, installation and assembly instructions, as well as training material or online help documents. Technical writers are increasingly working in-house and author e.g. requirement and functional specifications or manage terminology and user interfaces alongside the development process
But why is that? Will that trend continue? What changes will technical writers be facing? What will be his future responsibilities in the process of information creation and maintenance?
In the following, we will be looking at trends in Germany and at global developments.
In Focus: IT
Increased Requirement in IT
In addition to many other areas, technical writers are also used in IT. The need for technical writers grows with the IT scale. Let’s have a closer look at IT. According to statistics, the number of people employed in the “IT Services & Software” sector has grown steadily over the past 10 years. In comparison with 2008, a total increase of around 70% (to almost one million employees) was recorded by 2018.
The sales growth rates in IT Services & Software similarly express the increase in the German IT sector. The statistics show that the plus over the last five years alone was on average about 8.6%. In comparison: GDP growth was 1.8% on average. Another indicator for the growth in the IT sector is IT spending, e.g. for enterprise software and IT services. These increased in the past two years worldwide by around 15%.
The trend is therefore unmistakable and if we can believe forecasts, then it will continue over the coming years. The importance of IT grows and IT networks have found their way into virtually all industrial products and services. The more IT networks and the more IT is included in end products, the greater the need for technical documentation and communication – and therefore for technical writers.
In terms of forecasts, Gartner, Statista and the like agree: The trend is here to stay. Cloud services are a special case for growing IT services. The expected turnover in cloud computing will grow exponentially in Germany and around the globe.
Maybe you are familiar with the following quote from Peter Heidkamp, Head of Technology at KPMG: “The digital transformation of a business often begins with cloud solutions. In practical terms: they drive digitalisation”.
The cloud makes everything easier and less complicated – or so you might think. Unfortunately that is not the case in all areas. Many companies are faced with increased challenges in terms of documentation vis-a-vis simpler use. That means that the need for documentation increases alongside cloud use and therefore intensifies the need for technical writers.
In Focus: Regulatory Requirements
Freute man sich im letzten Jahr darüber, dass die DSGVO für weniger Spam im E-Mail-Postfach sorgte, bedeutete dies für Unternehmen eine enorme Umstellung. Nicht nur Prozesse mussten verändert werden – die Einhaltung der DSGVO muss zudem so dokumentiert und belegt sein, dass sie im Zweifel rückwirkend nachvollziehbar ist.
Although everyone was happy about the reduced number of spam emails in their inbox due to the introduction of the GDPR last year, it also meant a huge reorganisation effort for companies. It wasn’t just processes that needed to be changed – GDPR compliance had to be documented and detailed in such a way that steps could be retraced later in retrospect.
Guidelines, laws, directives and standards are meant to create orientation and stability. In practise, however, the pressure on companies increased and specifically where the digital transformation of a business increasingly interlinks these companies with their partners, suppliers and customers. That is why regulatory topics also need to be approached and defined in a new way. (KPMG, this article is currently only available in German).
You have probably come across various regulatory requirements as well, e.g. when opening a bank account or signing for an insurance. Financial service providers are struggling against a tide of new regulatory requirements (like Basel III, CRR/CRD IV, BRRD and most recently Basel IV) that need to be implemented within ever shorter deadlines, says Bankingclub (this article is currently only available in German).
Directives like GDPR or industry-specific regulatory requirements – the cost for documentation for companies is increasing. That in turn also means that the demand for technical writers is growing.
What Changes for Technical Writers?
Changes in technical documentation and communication result in changing requirements for technical writers. Statistics show that IT is a sector that is growing on the one hand and needs many technical writers on the other. Technical writers with a broad knowledge base in IT will therefore have particularly good opportunities.
IT knowledge in general has become an advantage because the way we communicate with each other has fundamentally changed. Technical communication increasingly relies on new technologies.
Changes in technical communication:
- Increasing numbers of networked products
in the way we work
- Use of VR, e.g. in the design process of a product
- Use of AI, e.g. in industrial applications to recognise machine downtimes early or to prevent them (predictive analytics)
- Employee and customer support using (chat)bots, e.g. chatbots for customer support
It isn’t just sector-specific know-how or being familiar with specific technologies that can be used to your advantage. Experience shows that methodology and the ability to think outside the box play an important role in documentation. Anyone looking for career development opportunities can take that step towards information management. Without delving to deep at this point: In addition to technical writing, information managers are (among other things) responsible for involving various stakeholder groups in the creation of the information basis to allow them to jointly define objectives. At the same time, information managers also take on the responsibility for project management, reporting and goal fulfilment.
Did You Know? There were around 85,000 full-time technical writers in Germany in 2016. A large portion of the documentation is, however, authored by individuals, who actually have a different role, which means that the actual profession ‘Technical Writer’ is largely unknown. (Wikipedia)
The trends and developments of recent years, as well as current forecasts suggest that the time has come for more and technologically & methodically more innovative documentation – particularly in the IT sector. A good strategy for technical writers is ongoing learning and training. This can be sector-specific or tailored to new methods, approaches and technologies.
Also interesting: 10 Tips how to Master IT Audits with Documentation.