Putting out fire with (pricey) gasoline

It’s not a fun time to be a driver, especially if your car is anything larger than a phone booth. Gas is now almost $1.30 a litre. Creative thieves don’t even bother trying to pry open locked gas caps – they simply get underneath your car, drill a hole in the gas tank and collect the liquid gold. Be glad you’re not living in Britain, where the price per litre is an astonishing $2.40, almost double what we pay here.

The really sad part is that the price increases will continue. Within a few years, we’ll match and then exceed Britain’s current prices, and wax nostalgic over the days of $1.40 “cheap” gas. Can anything good come of this?

Hummers for sale

Yes, and it already has. People are forgoing their trucks, SUVs, minivans and other gas-guzzlers in favour of smaller cars. They are carpooling, taking public transit, and thinking twice before driving unnecessarily. High gas prices have become a de facto carbon tax, without all the messy legislation required. They are forcing people to be more environmentally responsible, and as Martha Stewart would say, “that’s a good thing”. High prices will no doubt accelerate the development and acceptance of fully electric cars. In other words, high gas prices are completely changing both society and industry.

Finger lickin’ docs

Corporate change as a result of external factors and customer demand is nothing new. Recently, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) announced changes that would make it more “animal friendly”, as a result of pressure from the animal rights group PETA. (Veggie chicken burger, anyone?) KFC didn’t do this out of the goodness of their heart – do you really think they care about chickens? KFC, like all corporations, cares about one thing – profits. And their profits have been dropping steadily as people try to eat more healthily. The last thing they needed was further criticism, so they gave in to PETA’s demands.

A similar sea change is happening with documentation, but it will accelerate only when, as with gas, the price of the status quo becomes too high. For too long, companies have gotten away with creating documentation in an inefficient, unstructured format. They’ve been able to do this because they could afford to do it, but soon they won’t be.

The ultimate ‘change order’

The changes are already happening. The first companies to change were the ones where the documentation is translated into other languages. Translation costs are extremely high, but in an XML-based content management system, only the specific sections of text that have changed need to be translated. If a text segment is reused, so is its translation. The savings can be astronomical.

Companies with large volumes of documentation, often with different versions, also are changing to the new ways. Development time for new manuals will be shortened from months to weeks, or even days.

After all these international and larger companies have changed, the others will follow. They simply will not be able to compete otherwise.

Organizations have converted their documentation to the new format are reaping the rewards. Organizations that resist this change, that deny it’s happening or that continually stall will end up in the same place as General Motors and Ford. Their documentation will explode more violently than a hundred litres of that pricey gasoline.

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