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How active is your directory?

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Getting the most out of Confluence’s personal spaces

If your organisation has been using Confluence for several years, already, chances are it’s adoption has happened gradually—organically, even—as one team started using it for documentation, and then another, and then another. Your organisation’s Confluence may have become many things to many people. One of the often untapped benefits is the personal space feature. In terms of basic info like name, location, department etc, it’s very much like any other directory service; it relies on the profile owner to keep it up to date, and hopefully a little bit interesting, so that you can quickly find contact info for whomever you happen to be looking for. But that’s just one small part of it.

Customisable home page

When you create a personal space, you’ve got your own dashboard view of your workday, in a way. The sidebar can be configured with links to frequently used other parts of Confluence—like project pages or a knowledge base—and even external links to oft-visited websites, like eBay. Just kidding; no one goes there, anymore. We’re all using Gumtree. You can use it as a home base for draft documents, meeting notes, tasks and project to-dos, and you’ve also got a ready-made platform from which to share your intrapreneurial insights via the blog.

Using labels

Confluence also gives you some pretty need functionality that can help you as your business grows and you find yourself working with so many people that you can’t possibly remember which team everyone belongs to. Labels allow you to improve your findability. You could label your personal space with fire-warden, JP, and projects or groups you’re associated with. It’s easy to go crazy with labels, though, so it’s a good idea to have a conversation with other team leaders and HR to find out what people wish they could search on when they go looking for people in the staff directory.

 

 


5 steps to better search with RightNow Answers

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I’ve been working on an interesting project with a higher education institution. They have Oracle Service Cloud Enterprise, which ships Knowledge Foundation as standard. Knowledge Foundation is what used to be known as RightNow Answers. They came to me with a need to fix their knowledge base—the search returned irrelevant results, there was a lot of outdated and incorrect answers, and there hadn’t been a knowledge manager role in the organisation for more than a year. The platform was good enough to do the job, but their previous workflow had a built-in bottleneck and the state of the knowledge base had only gotten worse since that one person left.

Knowledge Foundation allows you to serve knowledge articles to different audiences via interfaces and respective access levels. My client had three interfaces, each with a matching access level, set up to serve separate and distinct audiences—current students, prospective students, and internal staff. But, with an unclear knowledge strategy, content relevant to one audience was often appearing in more than one access level, making the whole experience of using search a difficult one, no matter the audience. There were also a few basic features that could be enabled, and some minor configuration changes that could be made, all of which contribute to a far more effective knowledge base. I’m going to share the steps I took so you can improve the search effectiveness of your Oracle Service Cloud knowledge base. For now, I’ll leave the roles and workflow process for another post.

1. Know the reason your organisation may have more than one interface and/or access level, and clearly communicate the differences between them. In my client’s case, when a staff member searched for information to do with lecture recordings, for example, they were getting a lot of answers relevant to students. That results in frustration and disillusionment with the knowledge base. I bulk-edited answers to update them with the appropriate access level.

2. Enable Search Result Limiting. How many pages get returned when you use a common search phrase? If you’re getting pages and pages of results, many of which are irrelevant, it’s worthwhile going into the configuration settings to tune the search results. Search Result Limiting uses an AND search except where there are no answers, then it falls back to an OR search. As an example, students like to know when the coming “census date” is. This configuration setting took 60+ results of “census” or “date” down to six relevant results of “census” and “date”.

3. Oracle doesn’t use keywords in the same way that you probably do. When you put key phrases into the keywords field of an answer, it artificially boosts that answer’s weighting in search results when that term is used. Most of us use keywords as synonyms, but Oracle provide a text file to do this job. Monitor the Keyword Searches report and add commonly occurring synonyms to aliases.txt in the File Manager of your configuration settings. Keep the keywords field blank unless necessary.

4. Enable SmartAssistant Auto Tuner across all your interfaces. I don’t know why this feature isn’t turned on by default, because it’s so helpful to search effectiveness. The Auto Tuner is continually learning answer relevancy and makes adjustments automatically. It’s influenced by how often agents reuse answers in response to incidents and will push those most reused answers, thereby deemed most relevant, higher up the results in both customer portal searches and the Smart Assistant suggested answers in the agent console. When you click on SA Auto Tuner in the config settings, you see a bunch of weightings under the current search configuration, and what the suggested config would be for a tuned search config. From here you only need to click one button “Accept new config” to have those suggestions applied. Once a week, a new datapoint is collected for the search relevancy graph that is also on this page. It’s early days for my client, but I suspect that the more the agents interact with SmartAssistant and Best Answer features in their ribbon, the higher these relevancy percentages will go. I’ll have to revisit this theory later.

5. Ensure you enable the Best Answer button in your agents’ workspace. Related to the previous step, the Best Answer button allows agents to select the best answer from those that were reused in the incident reply. This is a significant input to the SmartAssistant Auto Tuner algorithm and helps that work more effectively.

Separately from Knowledge Foundation, but foundational to knowledge management in general, is to embed a Search First culture. If your OSC agents aren’t using the search features within the console, you won’t see the productivity benefits available with the platform, so don’t skimp on the communications and training.


Support: the wild west of documentation

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Earlier this year, I was listening in on the Twitter stream for #writethedocs—a conference for technical writers—when one of the  speakers mentioned turning documentation from passive to dynamic.

 


Gregory Koberger is a developer and founder of ReadMe, a documentation tool for developers. It’s intended to fill the need that developer communities have for up-to-date API documentation, but I could see a fit for DevOps in the enterprise, so I went digging some more, by way of hitting up Gregory with some questions.

 

Developers are notorious for hating on documentation. Can you explain why that is?

The biggest reason is probably that it feels like busy-work. If you think they hate writing documentation, though… it doesn’t compare to how much they hate how bad other people’s documentation is.

Programmer’s live in a very logical world. An out of place colon can bring a whole program crashing down. The API is written in a logical programming language, and it’s consumed by a logical programming language. Yet we’re forced to serialize knowledge about it in English, which is incredibly ambiguous. Lots of logic and meaning is lost or mutilated when transferring knowledge of how something works via written language.

What are the mistakes you see people making with documentation?

The biggest mistake is just dumping people into paragraphs of text, with no warning. We know so much about the user and about the API or code library, we should be able to remove everything that’s not relevant to the user. New users should get a nice high-level onboarding flow, while more experienced users probably want information on error messages or reference guides.

Taking the time to read through your documentation as though you’re a user is another big thing people don’t do. Do your best to forget all knowledge you have. Does your documentation have working examples? Does it mention if the API key should be passed as a header or a query string? Do you mention any weird edge cases? Make sure you don’t leave out details that are obvious to you but wouldn’t be to other people.

What makes documentation great, and do you have any examples to point to?

Great documentation realizes you need more than just paragraphs of text. You need to provide a cohesive experience, and that requires everyone to be on board. Documentation should be seen as the frontend for the API or code library, not relegated to an afterthought.
For example, this means that well-designed SDKs count as “documentation”. After all, they can be self-documenting. Should the API key (which I mentioned in the previous answer) be sent as a header or a query param? Should it be sent each time? Doesn’t matter! You just do “Whatever.setKey(“abc”)”, and it takes care of it for you. Sure, you still need documentation – but you can reduce the complexity of the documentation.
A good support section is also really important. For something like PHP, it’s the only reason the language exists (because someone will have had the issue already and posted an answer). Support can be the wild-west of your documentation site. Documentation should be cohesive and fit together and be structured well; support (with a good search) is your way of having unorganized questions and answers that don’t fit the main narrative.

How does ReadMe work to solve those well-known roadblocks to documentation?

One of the biggest things we do is let people deploy documentation from semantic metadata. That sounds more complicated than it is – basically, it just means that we let people sync Swagger (and other similar specs) from GitHub. This let’s us divide up the work. Humans can still write paragraphs of text, but ReadMe can do things like generating code samples and letting users test out the API inline.

Of course, we’re just getting started! Our goal is to “redefine” how people look at documentation. Look at Slack, for example – it’s a “chat app”, but it’s quickly becoming a full-fledged platform that brings everything together into one cohesive workflow. That’s what we want to do with documentation. Documentation is the center of the API ecosystem; it’s the glue that brings it all together.

What kind of outcomes can a business expect when they put time and effort into well-maintained API documentation?

Look at Stripe vs Braintree. Similar products, similar pricing, similar everything. Stripe won out, because they had a huge focus on documentation.

Your API is your best bizdev hire, and documentation is the entire user experience. Partnerships aren’t made by people in suits anymore; they’re made by developers who share information and functionality via APIs.

How do you see the way we approach documentation evolving?

I’m biased, but I think we’re going to see documentation becoming much more interactive. Look at, say, O’Reilly books. They’re static, and everyone gets the same book. We’ve really just digitalized the way documentation was done in an analog medium. Most documentation is written using Jekyll or Sphinx, and is deployed statically. We know so much about both the user and the API! We should be able to give everyone a custom-tailored experience that takes into account their skill level, programming language, time using the site, activity on the site, and more.
Are there opportunities for ReadMe to be used beyond documenting APIs? What’s on the horizon for ReadMe?
 
While we definitely love APIs, there’s a ton of great uses of ReadMe. A good portion of our users use it for internal documentation. (StatusPage just wrote about how they use ReadMe, here.) Another big use-case is open source code libraries.
I’m incredibly excited about the future. Making the documentation the central hub for your developer experience is our main goal. That means we want everything from support to dashboards to API statuses to have a home in ReadMe. We’re looking to become a true “developer hub”, that sits right in the middle of your entire ecosystem in a simple, beautiful way.
About Gregory Koberger:
 
Gregory Koberger is a designer and developer living in San Francisco. He founded ReadMe, which makes it simple to create beautiful documentation.

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