Becoming an Information Hub: The Evolution of Technical Writing at BERNINA

Published: 2024-03-19 Updated: 2024-03-19

Technical writing teams often complain that hardly anyone notices their department and they feel marginalized within the company. But it doesn’t have to be this way, because technical writing has the potential to be right at the heart of the action. After all, the technical writing department is where all the different flows of information at the company all come together. Mirko Trepzik, Head of Information Design and Language Services at BERNINA International AG, showed us how he worked to build bridges and succeeded in making technical writing the company's focal point.

From the fringes...

Based in Steckborn, Switzerland, BERNINA has a global reputation as a manufacturer of sewing and embroidery machines for professional users and target groups in creative sectors. The family-owned company generates a turnover of over 270 million euros with a team of 1,200 employees working around the world. In addition to its classic sewing machine business, BERNINA also develops embroidery software and markets a wide range of accessories. Maintaining a high standard of quality is always the primary focus, and BERNINA aims to meet this standard with all its products.

Mirko Trepzik is an engineering draftsman who studied technical writing in Karlsruhe. After working at several other companies, he joined BERNINA, where he serves as Head of Information Design & Language Services and thus oversees product information as well as the translation of various information products.

When Trepzik joined BERNINA, the company had a technical writing department similar to that of many companies. Its main job was to create and produce manuals for existing products and manage their translation. But it quickly became clear to him that the department could do more. the central information hub...

The component content management system (CCMS) served as the starting point for the technical writing department’s evolution into the information hub at BERNINA. This system harbored a wealth of high-quality data that had the potential to be useful to other departments and organizational units at BERNINA as well. The flexible output options offered by the CCMS—including PDF, XML, Word, JSON, and many more—were a big plus when it came to making this information available to others. After all, there weren’t any limits on the target platforms and formats that could be used.

Based on these conditions, the technical writing team at BERNINA started searching for documents in the company that could be created on an automated basis. And they soon found what they were looking for with content that had already been translated by the team. Why translate existing texts and blocks of text again if the CCMS already has a translation that has gone through quality assurance?

...with success

Working step by step, the technical writing team tracked down further areas of potential, including manuals for accessories, icon sheets, firmware guides, GUI text, catalogs, and even sewing instructions for the customer magazine. All of these publications could be created directly from the CCMS and published automatically. Provided the data already existed in a different form in the CCMS or could be easily imported, they were also ready for larger tasks.

Another crucial factor in the team’s success was identifying projects that colleagues in other departments found to be time-consuming, rather unsatisfying, and difficult in general. After all, the aim wasn’t to take work away from anyone else but rather to make their life easier.

Another effective tactic was starting with “low-hanging fruit”—projects that generate substantial benefits without requiring major changes. This way, the team was able to quickly convince other departments to harness the power of the CCMS as well. Approving staff resources and budgets became easier as a result, and projects that the technical writing department couldn’t have managed on its own were implemented jointly.

BERNINA’s technical writing department is now an organizational unit that many people are familiar with, and whose work is valued. But why did it make sense to take this approach in the first place? Doesn’t it end up increasing the team’s workload, and demand too much of the technical writing department over the long term? Isn’t it true that their results simply benefit other departments, while placing an additional burden on the team?

The technical writing department at BERNINA has benefited greatly while evolving into an internal hub. Technical writing has gained a higher profile in the company, so it’s easier to tackle new projects. The technical writers make a measurable contribution to the company’s added value and have gone from being seen as a money sink to a department that drives efficiency. It’s worth noting that the workload is higher only during the introductory phase. And the tasks dealt with by the technical writers themselves have become more varied and interesting. All this is thanks to the automation capabilities and flexibility offered by the component content management system—because once production of the output medium has been set up, the new task happens “all on its own”.

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