The cosmopolitan information topic at Tekom tcworld 2012

I’m attending Tekom tcworld 2012, in Wiesbaden. Bright and early on the second day of the conference, Uwe Reißenweber and Waltraud Winter presented a session titled “The Cosmopolitan Information Topic”.

Here is the blurb for the session:

It’s time to stop thinking of customer documentation in terms of monolithic files, in all required languages, covering all legal requirements. Our customers are more than mere recipients of what we provide, lost in a world of words. Each customer needs appropriate content at the right time and in the right format, that is, topic-based information. For this reason, Siemens Healthcare has developed a new way of customer documentation, the Knowledge Gateway. This modern approach not only provides our customers with most suitable information, but also turns them into cherished collaborators. We therefore develop, maintain, and deliver topics of information as well as collaboration tools. The customers decide what to read, when to read it, and in which format to read it. And we stay in touch with the customers and learn from their experiences during the whole lifecycle of a product. In this way, a cosmopolitan information topic is the connecting link between the user and the information developers.

Uwe works at Docufy, which is the system underlying the Siemens documentation system. Waltraud manages a technical documentation team at Siemens, in the area of tomography equipment.

Waltraud started by telling us what Siemens wants to achieve with the new system. The system is still under development, not yet ready to be implemented.

Why a new approach to Siemens’s documentation system?

Doctors are using new technology in surgery. Even more, doctors have less time to spend on each patient. They don’t have time to waste reading the documentation.

The way people find information has changed. Waltraud showed images of Google, Twitter, Facebook, eBooks – we use different tools to communicate. We don’t look through thick books when looking for information.

The customer wants an instant answer to his question, and it must be the right answer. He wants to search for information.

Result: Siemens decided to deliver a portal to the customer, on the tomographical equipment. They will deliver printed documentation too, containing such things as safety information and FAQs.

They are designing a “Knowledge Gateway”, which is a portal consisting of 4 parts:

  • A web portal offering a flexible interface.
  • An up-to-date search engine.
  • Collaboration platforms that give the user in the hospital the chance to communicate with colleagues.
  • Publishing on demand, so that the user can print the results of his retrieval, or put it on his mobile device.

The search returns results, which are still in XML. The customer then selects the output format he wants, such as eBook format. This means that the customer can read the information when he wants to, and not when we say he must. That’s the big difference.

Topics are the basis for everything

To make this happen, they had to move from writing long documents into topic-based authoring. This is essential for the search, and is the basis of the new portal.

What is a topic?

  • Right size: A topic is something that should give the user the answer to his request for help (F1 click). That’s what determines the size of the topic.
  • Right metadata: This is essential for the search.


Search is very important. We need to make it as successful as possible.

You need facetted search results, via dynamic categorisation of search results. The search must be context sensitive, the result of analysis of a context and user model.

You also need a type-ahead search capability.


Based on the metadata, the system creates the links between topics. You need a metadata model that is sufficient to automatically create the relationship between topics.

Whenever someone uploads a topic to the portal, an automatic index process starts up. In addition, an automated process determines the metadata by analysing the context and relevance of the content. This is very important, as the technical writers do not have time to compile the metadata and relationships manually.


The customers can send feedback via the system. This helps the technical writers get closer to the customer, and the customer to get closer to them.

The technical side

The above  is what Siemens would like from the new system. Now Uwe took over, to tell us more about the technical side.

The challenge – linking topics to taxonomy

Technical writers must now write topics, and add the right metadata. But the authors do not know the ontologies, so adding the metadata is not easy.

Uwe said we need to turn the process around. Start by defining the classification, then add the topics required. Still, you quickly get to a point where it gets very very complicated. The structure is to build up a classification/ontology/taxonomy and link your topics into it.


How can the content management system support the user?

  • Strong topic management capabilities. There is no more concept of “document” except when the user prints the content.
  • Flexible classification features. You’ll need to extend the taxonomy constantly. It’s a moving target, and you must mirror it into the CMS.
  • Open and flexible interfaces. The interface must be comfortable for the users, and must integrate all systems that are related, such as translation.

It also needs to include other requirements of a CMS:

  • Versioning.
  • Traceability. This is significant when the user sees a dynamically-generated document, and you need to know which version(s) he saw at any one time, and which version he currently has on his mobile device.
  • Workflow.
  • Worldwide availability. Siemens is an international organisation.
  • Scalability and robustness. There is always someone working, due to the global aspect of Siemens.

Siemens has chosen COSIMA enterprise as their global CMS to fulfill the above requirements.


This was a fascinating topic, and hard to do justice to via these notes. The full complexity of the requirements came out in the Q&A session at the end, where we learned more about the users and the methods by which they will download the content onto their devices. Most users, for example, will be able to use a secure channel connected to Siemens. Others, in less connected areas of the world, will have to have this content updated by an engineer, via CD or other hard transfer devices.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 24 October 2012, in technical writing, Tekom tcworld and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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