While working as a contractor at BellSouth, I converted their Local Ordering Handbook from two manually edited documents that were published on over 400 separate HTML web pages to a database system which automatically produced the required documentation in pdf format. The new system won a Merit Award in the 2005 Technical Publication Competition from the Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.
The Local Ordering Handbook was produced in two versions; one for telecom companies that ordered local services from BellSouth through a manual ordering process, and the other for companies that had automated ordering systems. The ordering guidelines in both versions were supposed to be identical, just organized differently. I was asked to edit the documents because they had gotten out of synch with each other.
At that time, both versions of the Handbook were revised manually, and they were published in separate HTML pages on the BellSouth web site. A single change to the ordering guidelines could affect multiple products in both versions of the Handbook. These changes had to be marked up manually in the proper places in both documents. Then the revisions had to be submitted via email to BellSouth’s web site team for those changes to be made to the HTML pages. The changes typically took several days of coding work for content, formatting, and table of contents updates.
After I had started to review the two versions of the Handbook, I felt that it was almost impossible to manually keep them up to date with each other. I proposed to BellSouth that I could build a database that contained all the ordering guidelines for each product. The database could then produce the two versions of the Handbook, with the guidelines organized appropriately. In addition, I could have the database produce the required versions of the Handbook in two pdf documents.
I built a relational database in Microsoft Access with the ordering guidelines linked to the appropriate products and order form fields. Using the Access reporting capability, I output the guidelines in one document ordered by product, and in a second document ordered by ordering form field. This was how the information needed to be organized for the two versions of the Handbook. The database reports were then converted into two pdf files. Each pdf file had interactive bookmarks in a table of contents format that would allow the users to simply click on the appropriate chapter and/or section they needed.
With the database system, any changes to the ordering guidelines only had to be made once in the database and they were automatically reflected in both versions of the Handbook. In addition, no HTML coding was necessary to publish the pdf files. We simply emailed the files to the BellSouth web site team to have them posted. The other telecom companies liked the fact that they could have their ordering personnel download the appropriate pdf files and have the Handbooks always available to them, even if they did not have Internet access. (The revisions to the Handbook were published on a set schedule, so it was easy to make sure the current versions had been downloaded.)
The new system eliminated inconsistencies between the two versions of the documents, and greatly reduced the amount of time needed to revise the Handbook, both by the BellSouth subject matter experts and the web site team. The pdf versions of the Handbook were very well received by the other telecom companies for their readability and ease of use.
I submitted the new Handbook system to the 2005 Technical Publication Competition put on by the Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. The Handbook won a Merit Award from the chapter for the improvements in quality and productivity the new system provided.