The sheer genius of the Microsoft Visio subscription model


I’ve been a big Microsoft Visio user over various contracts as a technical writer. In fact, my history with Visio goes back so far, I remember it before Microsoft acquired it. Over the preceding years, I saw Visio become pretty much a niche application even after it got officially pulled under the Microsoft Office umbrella. Making Visio Pro for Office 365 subscription-based is sheer genius in my opinion.

Here’s why:

Joys of Microsoft Visio subscription licensing

Microsoft still sells Visio Standard 2016 and Visio Professional 2016 with standard desktop licensing.Visio Pro for Office 365 is $13.00 per month with an annual commitment or $15.50 for a monthly commitment. The new Visio subscription model allows each user to install Visio on up to five PCs running Windows 10, Windows 8, or Windows 7. You also get the latest Visio feature and security updates for the duration of the subscription. Visio Pro for Office 365 includes the same features as Visio Professional 2016.
 
 In my experience, restrictive desktop licensing one of the things that held back Visio. I saw the lack of flexible Visio licensing cause people to hesitate in using Visio diagrams. Collaboration was a No Go because the one Visio license was spread across multiple teams in some cases.
 
 When the time comes that I need Visio for a project, the subscription model is going to be too hard for me to pass up.

Collaboration and authoring options for more users

Visio for Office 365 includes co-authoring support which enables multiple users to collaborate on the same diagram without fear of breaking version control. I like co-authoring in Visio as a better way to run a technical review over diagrams. A business analyst or a technical writer can manage technical reviews electronically doing away with having to generate an Adobe Portable Document File (PDF) of a diagram or printing a hard copy to get review comments. Both the document creator and reviewer can make diagram changes in real-time electronically because of the 5-seat licensing and the technology that can make this happen.
 
 You can also secure Visio diagrams with Microsoft Information Rights Management (IRM) which can secure Visio files sent as file attachments and diagrams stored in the cloud. To date, I’ve yet to come across a Microsoft IRM implementation in the wild but like the potential of the technology for protecting sensitive corporate data.

Visio by subscription, yes, please!

The subscription model, flexibility, not to mention the collaboration and authoring options are sheer genius for Visio Pro for Office 365 because they knock out each of the pain points that has consistently held Visio adoption back in the enterprise.

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Fear, loathing, and the editorial style guide


Does my organization need an editorial style guide? It’s a question I hear quite often as a technical writer.

My answer to the style guide question is “Yes, organizations do need a style guide, but it shouldn’t dominate the documentation development life cycle.” With the prevalence of online documentation and the web to deliver information plus more iterative development and launch cycles, the style guide should foster productivity and consistency not stand as a roadblock in the way of technical writers and training developers making deadlines.

My concept of a style guide

Over the years, I’ve become a fan of more lean style guides. Cover just the basics of product naming, corporate branding, and anything industry/audience specific and leave the style guide at that. The document should be in a quick reference format, and all document authors should be briefed on the style guide before being let loose on a technical writing project. Sure there are many things that such an approach to style guides may leave out, but that is where standardizing on an industry style guide like the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, AP Style Book, Yahoo Style Guide, or ReadMe First!.

Decision-making about styles

Indecisive decision making over stylistic issues is boorish and counterproductive and in the end, there is no benefit to the document, project or end client. Running with a lean style guide means the occasion may arise where a stylistic decision is made on the fly.

A lean style guide only works when a senior writer or editor is given ownership over stylistic decisions. When such a decision is made it should then be documented in a style guide update. Having one “keeper of the style guide” avoids dragging out stylistic decisions by committee.

Publishing your style guide

These days, do yourself a favor and skip Microsoft Word for your style guide and take it online. I’ve had good luck with Atlassian Confluence cloud for style guide publishing. You can set up a space that’s searchable and can set the access privileges to your writers or even open it up to the public Internet.

Know the audience

Just like writers need to understand their audience for the documents they are writing, this understanding needs to carry over to the style guide. If the style guide serves up too many items that are lost on the reader of the end documents, then the style guide is ineffective.

Likewise, if the writers asked to follow the style guide have issues understanding it then the style guide also fails.

If the style guide is full of contradictions, it also fails.

The style guide is a supporting document, and when that is forgotten, the style guide fails.

An earlier version of this post appeared on my personal blog.

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government .Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Image by Markus Spiske via Unsplash.com

Welcome to the age of sovereign mobile productivity


We may finally be entering the age of sovereign mobile productivity where mobile users can be more productive because of improved security and access to backend systems with minimal IT intervention. A more self-sufficient your mobile worker community means a more successful your mobile-first, Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative.

Here are some signs we are entering an era of sovereign mobile productivity:

Self-service device provisioning

Self-service mobile device provisioning is a crucial indicator that we are entering the era of sovereign mobile productivity. The more that employees, contractors, and partners can do to provision their mobile devices to access enterprise assets the better. IT can focus on more strategic (read billable) work.

Identity management

The advent of identity management solutions from the Ping Identity, Okta, and others could help promote more user independence for accessing cloud applications.I see identity management playing a role because it’s a lightweight setup for a user on their mobile devices.

Right now my iPhone is running multiple identity management apps because so I can access some client systems. Each of the apps was easy to setup. The average end user could set one up using a one-page job aid to guide them.

Robust mobile app clients for cloud apps

Today’s mobile apps are offering features on parity with their desktop application cousins. There are examples across the board where mobile app clients for customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI) are packing features on parity with the full application.

Intelligent document discovery

“Where’s such and such document,” is a question that haunts many document writers. The question becomes a wee bit more annoying when some or all of the users are using mobile devices.

Intelligent document discovery is using technology to narrow project documents that a user requires for projects. It’s an expanding area that I first caught wind of when I was writing about Huddle, a cloud collaboration provider, back when I was freelancing for TechRepublic. I expect to see harmon.ie, Colligo and other third-party SharePoint client providers continue to innovate in this area through further iterations of their SharePoint/Office 365 client apps. Microsoft hasn’t spoken for themselves here quite yet either. I’ve come across news that SharePoint 2016 is going to be more mobile friendly so stay tuned.

Mobile project management apps

Another sign of sovereign mobile productivity is the mobilization of project management apps. Project team members can now update their project tasks, scheduling, and related information from their personal or corporate-owned mobile device.

iPad Pro

With its 12.9″ screen size and other hardware specifications, the iPad Pro has the potential to extend mobile productivity or be passed over by it. Personally, I think the fate of the iPad Pro is in the hands of enterprise app vendors right now, not so much in the hands of Apple. The initial reviews of the new device have been mixed, but I’m waiting to see some enterprise success stories around the iPad Pro before I pass final judgment.

Final thoughts

The changing nature of the workforce with more remote teams, teleworking, and contractors elevate the importance of mobile devices in the enterprise.

Is sovereign mobile productivity even achievable?

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Image by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash.com

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10 ways to template the s**t out of your writing life


Progressively, over my writing career, I’ve come to rely on checklists and templates as part of my writing and editing workflow. These days, I’m primarily a solo writer, so templates, boilerplates, and checklists help me remain on task and productive when I’m writing.

Here are ten ways to template that s**t out of your writing life:

1. Use TextExpander

While a regular freelance contributor to CNET TechRepublic, I used to get an inordinate amount of PR pitches. Eight of ten of those pitches were usually off-target. Over time, I also noticed I was using the same responses multiple times for other emails. I added TextExpander (iOS/Mac) to my workflow and saw it save me time and frustration when I chose to reply to PR pitches. Gradually, I started using TextExpander for other repetitive email responses.

2. Use writing and editing checklists

To avoid the image of client editorial standards dancing in my head, I use writing and editing checklists when writing articles, blog posts, and other content.

I took some inspiration from Michael Hyatt’s blog post template and created a writing and editing checklist template that I customize to client standards as needed.

Over time, I’ve setup checklist templates for Todoist, Asana, Nozbe, and Omnifocus.

3. Use document templates

I got my start working as a technical writer developing user guides, operations guides, online help, and the like where I learned the value of well-crafted document templates. Often, I had to fix Microsoft Office, template, and style issues for clients.

Even today, I set up templates specific to client projects. It saves me time and lets me focus on the writing part.

4. Create a workflow for deal scoping

The latest area where I’m trying to apply templates and checklists is to manage the scoping of freelance projects. It’s a move I hope to make fully happen in 2016. The boilerplate I envision has a standard set of questions and qualifiers that I can use when considering a new project.

5. Create templates for your collaboration platform

I do a lot of work with collaboration platforms as part of my corporate client work. Whether it’s SharePoint/Office 365 or Atlassian Confluence, there are ways to create templates for your standard pages given you have the right privileges.

For example, in Atlassian Confluence, you can create templates with macros without having any programming skills. In my experience, templates are an underutilized and underappreciated feature in Confluence.

When it comes to SharePoint templates, you are entering power user territory but creating and using site templates is getting easier with each new version. Hopefully, SharePoint 2016 will continue this trend.

6. Create boilerplate for your bio

If you write for publications and websites, you always need to have a bio ready. I save short and long form versions of my bio in TextExpander to reuse, so I don’t have to dig through old bios or always have to write a new bio for each request.

7. Keep a template library

I’m a long time template collector. It’s something I confess only in hushed tones, but I’m admitting to it here. I save templates in the public domain and templates I’ve created for previous projects (where the contract allowed me). Here’s how I see the value of a template library for writers:

  • An archive of best (and not so best) document design practices
  • Lessons learned from previous projects
  • Templates you can reverse engineer to learn how to create new templates

8. Use an invoice template for each freelance client

We’ve come a long way from having to create client invoices in Microsoft Excel to today’s cloud-based invoicing platforms. Take the time and customize an invoice template for each client if your invoicing system allows it. Using a template will save you time and let you fire off that invoice with even less fuss.

9. Save your favorite style guides

While it’s rare for an organization to have to write their style guides from scratch these days, I still recommend keeping a collection of your favorite style guides. While it’s not a template in the traditional sense but sitting on my secret stash of style guides has helped me kick off more than one client style guide because I had a folder of inspiration to help me start on the new style guide.

10. Create templates for your client status reports

If you have to submit status reports to multiple clients, I say make a template for each of them. Even if you get a Word document from them, just save it as a template and you’ll be good to go when creating a new status report.

If you use Gmail, you can create a status report template as a canned response. In Microsoft Outlook, there’s an option to create email templates as well.

Conclusion

I was once asked if using templates and checklists might stymy my creativity. My answer is an emphatic No. In fact, using templates and checklists have helped me become more creative because they free me to think and focus on writing.

How do you use templates in your writing life?


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Image by Sergei Zolkin via Unsplash.com