Technical documentation is one of the emerging knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) sub-sectors that have huge potential in terms of employment, outsourcing, and revenue says Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander. The IT boom is fuelling the growth in technical documentation in India. Technical documentation connects the use of complex technologies, products and processes with the people who use these.
As today’s world depends increasingly on high-tech products and services, every innovation creates a demand for new documentation. User guides, technical reports, maintenance procedures, assembly instructions, project proposals, and quality manuals are among the many documents now required by business users.
In this new world of highly technical information to be presented to an ever-increasing number of users information management becomes as important as communication management. High-quality technical documentation is a necessity and is required in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, chemistry, aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, biotechnology.
Technical documentation is, therefore, one of the emerging knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) sub-sectors that have huge potential in terms of employment, outsourcing, and revenue. It is so since technical documentation creation combines well with the Indian software industries mature development and outsourcing process. High-quality technical documentation opens up a range of opportunities for India based companies to address the world market.
One of the largest challenges for the technical documentation industry is that though the requirements from technical documentation are mature the supply is still quite limited. This is meant from both a quantity and technology perspectives. While a large part of the technical documentation is not very visible as it is embedded in the software revenue figure, it is estimated that the number of technical authors across India would be approximately 3500- 4500. This puts the total value of technical documentation developed in India at the present to be approximately $ 70 – $100 Million. While this is a far cry from the total potential market approximated at up to 2.5% of software developed in India – over a 5 yr window this will be pegged in excess of $ 1 Billion, it is still a significant and rapidly growing market.
The interesting thing is that in a Billion dollar market the largest players should be approximately $ 70 -$ 100 million. In the Indian landscape this is so far not a reality because (a) most large documentation development teams are captive i.e. they produce documentation for their parent organizations (b) there are few large and established documentation plays and (c) there is huge gap between supply and demand and the demand latent since the market does not know how to meet it – since there are very few institutions that provide international quality education in technical documentation.
In most developed countries technical authors are created by Graduate/Post Graduate/Doctoral courses in Professional Writing. In India, however, the educations scene is nascent with only a couple of Universities in Pune and Pondicherry providing diploma courses. There have been other trainings available for the last couple of years but they are typically non-standardized, inconsistent and indifferent quality. One of the notable exceptions has been The Writers Block (TWB) which has created its own Certification programs as a benchmark in training. The Director of Training at TWB, Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander says “While TWB is a young company we are a serious technical documentation company founded by people with more than 40 hrs of rock-solid technical documentation experience. We have put this experience to use by creating programs that are valued by employers. Our quality imperative is endorsed by the fact that more than 150 leading software companies hire directly on the basis of these programs.
As the supply of well trained technical documentation specialists increases the result will be a large number of qualified people ready, willing and able to provide quality documentation for a variety of technologies and for global customers. It is natural that companies from all over the world will find India to be the hub of top quality technical documentation solutions that are cost effective as well. This will result in documentation companies from the rest of the world establishing offices in India. A move can be seen in this direction as many IT companies add Technical Documentation to their service portfolio.
This is already happening with companies such as Symphony Services, Dell, SAP Labs, Cisco and other setting up large technical documentation teams of approx 100 or more documentation specialists. In addition to this, there are several specialist documentation MNCs such as Citec (from Finland) who have set up base in India. It is natural for several Indian players to address this market as well. Several companies including TASC and NayaMode in Mumbai, K9 based in Chennai, TechnoWrites based in Pune have been operating in this market each between 10 to 15 yrs. However they have not been able to fill the market expectation of scale and world-class outsourcing processes. TWB based in Bangalore stands out since it is less than 1.5 yrs old it has more than 40 leading companies in India and the US as its customers. Rakesh Shukla, Founder – CEO of TWB says “The opportunity was there for us. We have the ambition of making India the technical documentation destination of the world and we are showing the world that we have the appetite by acquiring large marquee names and large projects at a furious pace. In a 5 yr window, we expect TWB to be a $30-40 million play.
The optimism may be realistic since there are significant market drivers leading to significantly higher requirement for documentation.
- More captive ready-to-ship service development in India (outsourcing to large Indian services companies) that requires documentation as part of the delivery.
- Significant captive product development from MNC companies (eg SAP, Oracle etc)
- A significant move to product engineering as an outsourcing offer that requires product documentation
- Significant documentation opportunity in the IETS sector
While the possibility for Rakesh and TWB distinctly exists there are some challenges for companies such as TWB to fulfill. Some of these are:
- Proving to the market that large delivery capabilities and complex program management exist – since most technical documentation companies are relatively small
- Addressing the key IP concerns of their customers – since most customers are technology or product companies and authoring documentation requires an end to end understanding of these products. Customers, therefore, risk exposing core IP to their documentation partners.
- Ability to gather scale – since most deals are small and only a few are of the order of $250,000 and multiples thereof it will be a challenge for companies like TWB to grow unless they are able to convince customers to give them large turnkey documentation outsourcing.
In a sense, the challenge is to replicate the perception shift the Indian IT industry has seen in the last decade-from a fragmented, low cost, body-shopping destination to an emerging IT destination known for its technical expertise. The Indian technical documentation community must aspire to change the perception of being a provider of small, low-cost writing services to a provider of scalable growth.
While challenges exist, so do opportunities. In many ways, the technical documentation industry in India today exists much at the same level where ‘testing’ did in 1998-1999. It had the same issues of scale, IP and overall delivery. However, the testing industry has grown phenomenally and fulfilled its promise in many ways. Even though the largest testing services are still found within the portfolios of large services companies such as Wipro, equally there are already $50 – $80 Million plays (such as Applabs, Hyderabad) that lead the 3rd party testing vendors from the front. There is nothing to say that the same success will not be available to technical documentation companies.
High-quality technical documentation is set to play a vital role in the development of the Software industry. It must attract good investments and maintain competitive business practices to emerge as a strong industry in India.
TWB Education is a vertical within TWB Corporate (now TWB_)