April 1, 2024

Powin Builds Tech Pubs With the Support of the Paligo CCMS

image shows man working on technical publication

Company overview

Powin is a leading provider of grid-scale renewal storage solutions, revolutionizing the way energy is generated, transmitted, and distributed worldwide. The company was founded in 1989 and is headquartered in Oregon. It has customers worldwide, including the US, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, and recently the UK and Portugal.

Fun Fact: Powin and solar provider EDF Renewables helped power Superbowl LVIII (the first Superbowl powered entirely by renewable energy sources).

Building a Tech Pubs Practice

Jeff Birney is the Technical Publications Manager at Powin. He was hired two years ago to start the company’s technical publications department – the team and processes. At the time, Powin had two contractors and one full-time employee supporting technical publications. There was no official department and very little in the way of technical publications processes in place. Birney said documentation was created by whoever was available, using different tools, and stored in multiple locations.

For example, documents, including multiple document versions, were stored in Windows folders and distributed on SharePoint. Although there were some naming conventions, there was no real version control or way to know what was live or what content was in process.

Selecting the Paligo CCMS

Birney was first tasked with evaluating and selecting a component content management system to write their documentation. Powin leadership wanted a clean, well-organized, and accessible content management system that could be scaled and hosted such that Powin employees, customers and other authorized users could easily access. They started pressure testing platforms to get something up and running quickly.

He looked at several platforms, including Paligo and smaller, lesser-known systems, as well as help-authoring tools like MadCap Flare. The publishing output of the smaller systems wasn’t robust enough for Powin’s needs, and Birney said MadCap’s learning curve was too steep.

“I come from pretty strict backgrounds in aerospace. I’ve used Arbortext, Framemaker, and other writing platforms before. I wanted to take that sensibility and organization without all the complexity and be more pragmatic about Tech Pubs. I think in some Tech Pubs worlds, people get way too caught up in the rules, whereas we wanted to make this useful. Yes, all the T’s are crossed, and all the I’s are dotted, but can a technician actually take this work instruction, go out to a site, and actually do the thing?”

Although no one on the team had ever used Paligo before, Birney really liked the XML structured tree view because it helps you conceptualize how the document will look when it’s published. They also wanted a solution that would allow them to customize the PDFs to look like their existing designs, including look and feel and basic organization.

Another important reason for selecting Paligo is its ability to output content as HTML and HTML5, enabling content output to any channel.

I was hired in April . We chose Paligo as our CCMS in July and had everything up and running by the end of August.

Working with the Paligo CCMS

Today, the technical documentation team consists of four full-time writers (including one writer/illustrator) and two contractors, all of whom spend up to 90% of their day in Paligo.

Powin produces a number of different documents, including:

  • Product manuals – high-level descriptions of a system
  • Maintenance manuals – how-to and troubleshooting information
  • Commissioning documentation
  • Software release notes
  • Software operation manuals

Powin migrated over 150 documents to Paligo, from 2-page work instructions to 150-page manuals.

They are also in the process of redesigning some of their software systems, and that requires updates to the documentation. Without Paligo, Birney said they would have to take the old Word or InDesign file and start over, cutting and pasting and writing new content. The process would take them three times longer than using Paligo.

Using the Publication Structure View, writers can easily move blocks (topics) around and insert new topics.

Being able to get a publication structure up and then just start dropping in the custom topics or dropping in the topics that just need a few variables or a few filters to make it work saves us so much time.

The team also uses variables and filters to produce documentation for specific audiences. Powin currently publishes content for the US, Canada, and Australia, and has new customers in Europe who will require different versions of documentation.

“I just have this satisfaction about going through and putting all these filters on and then clicking publish, and it all comes out exactly how I want it.”

Another key feature of Paligo is its integration with translation management systems. Although Powin doesn’t currently need to create translated versions of its documentation as it continues to move into new markets, translation management may become necessary, and they wanted to ensure that the CCMS they selected could support that requirement.

A Note for Others Considering a CCMS

Prior to becoming a technical writer, Birney spent 15 years as an aircraft mechanic. So he understands the importance of good technical documentation.

“There was the manual that you just had sit on the wing [of the airplane] because you had to have something out there because FAA wanted to know what you were working on and what you were using, but it was useless. And then there was the manual that I actually wanted to read because it was a good manual. I always strove to write that manual when I became a tech writer.”

In his experience, writing in tools like Arbortext and other complex platforms doesn’t enable technical writers to easily create this type of documentation.

Whereas I feel like with Paligo, it’s structured, but it makes sense. It’s like you can see the text; you can see these steps are going to happen here. Oh, I need to drop in this different step because this is our 2.0 design. So we need to add four steps here to differentiate it from the other system. It’s intuitive.

Birney shared a note for others who are considering purchasing a component content management system like Paligo:

“I don’t want to say forget everything you know, but be willing to take a step back and start fresh. Take a completely different approach to how you write because it’s not start to finish anymore. And it’s so much more efficient not to have this idea that you have to write this manual from scratch. You can just go in and write a couple of topics and be done with a manual. I think for people that are not familiar with CCMS, it’s just a matter of recalibrating how you think about tech pubs.”

Powin’s Future Plans for Paligo

The Tech Pubs team has developed a solid grasp of the Paligo CCMS, but they are only getting started. One example of how they plan to use Paligo in the future is to support contextual help or embedded help in their monitoring software.

Birney said they’ve also tested the collaboration features, including reviews and comments, and a few engineers said they liked it. As they acquire more resources, they plan to set up official collaborative reviews within the CCMS.

Paligo CCMS works for more than technical publications, too. One VP has been test-driving Paligo to support customer contracts and is impressed with how it works. Birney said he can see more departments using the CCMS in the future.