Interview with Edward Martino, PhD: AIRHelp by Adobe RoboHelp—energizes eCommerce Technical Support

Think about it, for the last 15 years, Help hasn’t changed much, the traditional tri-pane format has remained static and hasn’t kept up with trending Web 2.0 technologies, and as a result it does not meet today’s end-user expectations.

What we need is a revolution in user assistance

We need not think of Help as a box that needs to be checked before a product ships, but rather as a Social opportunity to engage with our users and ultimately as a way to build communities around our products and services.

Enter AIRHelp by Adobe RoboHelp!

Don’t think of AIRHelp merely as another output format, think of Adobe AIR as an innovative platform on which to build engaging user assistance experiences and think of AIRHelp as the delivery mechanism.

While AIRHelp was introduced in RoboHelp 8 and thus it’s relatively new, the idea is resonating well with our customers, especially because if doesn’t require any programming to build it. It’s my goal to showcase on this blog, what our customers are doing with this new and innovative platform through short interviews like this one.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Edward Martino, PhD, and I am very impressed and excited about all the great insight he shared about using AIRHelp to energize his eCommerce Technical Support teams.

I hope you enjoy reading this interview and if you want to learn more about AIRHelp, or want to share what you are doing with it, please email me at rjacquez(at)

RJ: Ed, thanks for agreeing to speak with me today. I’ve gotten to know you well over the last few months, but for my readers who don’t know you, please tell us a little about yourself.

Ed: RJ, I am a boomer geek with over 35 years of systems experience. About 3 years ago I stopped developing with an esoteric 4GL called Dataflex in order to find better opportunities. With my academic background (PhD in Experimental Psychology and 5 years teaching experience) Instructional Designer work seemed a logical career move. Since the change, I have worked for Accenture, ATT and  now McKesson. Working as an Instructional Designer, or Technical Communicator if you prefer, is quite satisfying as the tasks use more of my skills and the new tools are really great to work with. I am a happy camper with a new exciting career path!

RJ: Happy to hear that, Ed. As an Instructional Designer / Technical Communicator at McKesson, which Adobe tools are you currently using?

Ed: Currently I am using RoboHelp 8, Adobe Captivate 4 and Acrobat 9 Pro Extended. When I started with McKesson last August, their help systems were written in HTML but they were not up-to-date. I began migrating the main systems to RoboHelp my second week on the job. Over the next two months, I completed the initial online conversion and began working on converting the Knowledge Base (KB) that the eCommerce Technical Support team uses daily to find answers to common issues.

In October, we had a meeting with several other departments that was initiated by my Manager, James Lytton. In that meeting  the VP of Sales, Robert Fearing, expressed an interest in having a community-based help system that was “wiki like”. The week before I had viewed your introduction to Adobe AIR for Technical Communicators webinar. I then proceeded to build the new version of the Knowledge Base using RoboHelp 8 and to deploy it in Adobe AIRHelp.

Since we rolled out the initial version of this system, in mid December, our staff has updated the module over 25 times and we have processed over 100 comments from users.

I have now migrated the primary help files presented through WebHelp on the customer-facing side into the AIRHelp Knowledge Base. We have more help systems of other applications that we plan to load into the AIRHelp module. Technical Support Agents are very pleased with the full text search, speed of access, continuing updates, and ability to comment. While we have just started to review the metrics, it appears that the features offered by AIRHelp are helping our Technical Support Agents resolve issues more quickly, frequently on the customer’s first call.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I am also developing a number of Captivate 4 simulations. We use these both for training and for our internal Performance Support (PS). The PS Sims will reside in the Knowledge Base for reference allowing Agents quick access to just in time learning for a number of processes.

RJ: Wiki-like, I like that. Glad to hear that your eCommerce Technical Support teams are now using AIRHelp on a daily basis. You mentioned that you have now processed over 100 comments from users, so what feedback are you getting from them about the ability to comment on topics, versus using the previous, more static HTML-based system?

Ed: Well they are really much more engaged with the AIRHelp systems. Having their comments processed within the work week has become a big win for the team. In the past updates were not done in a timely manner. Sometimes it took weeks or longer for updates to be posted.

Here is a behavioral observation about the effect of AIRHelp in our environment.

When I first started, I often saw Level I Technical Support (TS) Agents getting up from their desks to find the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for an answer to a specific question. This seemed inefficient as the Level II SMEs were frequently backed up with 3 or 4 Level I TS Agents waiting their turn.  Now, Level I TS Agents are more often at their desks providing support. Once in a while a SME has to get up and assist, but in general the workflow here looks much smoother. I believe this workflow improvement is due to the unique properties of Adobe AIRHelp.

Today, at James’ request, I loaded 50 more topics from yet another module into the Knowledge Base. By Friday, the AIRHelp module will have another 100 topics available. Of course, they LOVE the instantaneous search results, which very efficiently guide them to the answers they seek. In McKesson eCommerce Technical support, AIRHelp Rules!

RJ: Let’s talk about the auto-update feature in Adobe AIRHelp. Can you share how updates were made before AIRHelp and the benefits the auto-update feature has added to the overall experience?

Ed: Before we began delivering our Knowledge Base with AIRHelp, updates were basically haphazard. Zach O’Neal, a Level II TS Agent and SME, did them when he had time. TS Agents would send Zach emails with update information. Agents often became frustrated because important information they needed to support customers was often not processed until weeks or months after the request.

Now Agents either make comments in the Knowledge Base using AIRHelp themselves  or send email directly to another Agent who makes the updates and generates the “AIRHelp” output to a shared drive. I also provide a list of all requested comments to the agent who makes the updates, allowing her to double-check the changes.  This Wednesday we added changes to existing topics as well as new topics that I imported from another help system. Later that afternoon, I got an IM from an Agent that said “I just love the new KB module. Today’s update had just what I needed to find. Thanks for all your hard work :).”

As you know, Technical Communicators often wonder if anyone reads our work. With Adobe AIRHelp’s commenting and updating features, I know that our Agents are using the module and, more importantly, that it helps them do their jobs better.

RJ: I hear similar comments all the time from Technical Communicators so I’m glad to hear that you are seeing AIRHelp bridge the gap between authors and end-users. You mentioned that you are also using Adobe Captivate for training & Performance Support (PS)

Could we talk a little about how you implement rich media (such as simulations) in AIRHelp and the benefits of other media for end-users?

Ed: I just finished a Captivate Performance Support simulation for the keyword-based search feature that our customers use for ordering. I also received a new list of data elements  involved in the search from our VP of Marketing.

I will use several Adobe tools to package this content and meet my users’ needs:

  1. I am adding the data elements list AND the simulation to the AIRHelp module for our team and the Customer Service team that will be getting the Knowledge Base shortly.
  2. Next week our trainer will be in town and she will get the same materials packaged in a .pdf for use with new customer and initial Agent trainings.
  3. Finally, we will send the combined .pdf to the developer who manages the customer facing help systems so he can post it on our web portal for customers to use.

So, in total we will get three different uses from this content with RH+AIR+Captivate+Acrobat Pro Extended as our tool set. Welcome to Web 2.0.

To give another example of how RoboHelp’s AIRHelp has impacted my team, here’s a little true tale from yesterday. One of our Agents, Lisa, came to my desk yesterday with a frustrated look on her face. “I didn’t get today’s update on my system. I don’t have the most recent version. Can you help me with this?” So I showed her how to check manually for the Update > Preferences > Check for Update > Check Now and sent her back to her station. Our Agents are very busy and although that info about Preferences was in the intro AIR simulation, she must have missed it.

When I passed by her station 10 minutes later, Lisa was smiling and reviewing some of the newest info from the Knowledge Base.  My team now is fully invested in the Knowledge Base. Their comments, corrections and additions have made them partners in the process of building and maintaining the Knowledge Base.

Adobe RoboHelp’s AIRHelp output clearly closes the gap between user and Technical Communicator, making for better experiences for both. No longer will technical communicators have to wonder if anyone reads their work. AIRHelp by RoboHelp output rocks!

RJ: That’s great! Since most people think that you need to be a programmer to develop Adobe AIR applications, can you share from an author’s perspective what it takes to build AIRHelp using RoboHelp?

Ed: RJ, building AIRHelp from RoboHelp is really very easy. After I viewed your

Web 2.0 Documentation using Adobe AIR and RoboHelp 8 back in November, I started to test AIRHelp. By the way, one tip that you gave on the webinar was most helpful – the one about building the “trial” digital certificate. I would have not thought that out by myself. Thanks a lot for sharing that tidbit!

After a few tests with the other skins, my team and I decided on the Black Accordion skin which has a nice clean modern look. It took a few days from the time I viewed the webinar until I had a working AIR module with commenting enabled and auto-updating working, but most of that time was just my learning a few procedural details. For example, to reliably change the Version #, which the system needs to manage the auto-updates, one should bring up the AIR layout  from “Properties” change the Version #, save the layout, and then generate the module.  I also started with a local generate to my C: drive and only went to the shared drive once I had the procedure down. My IT guy had to help with one step. For some reason, I could not browse to the shared folder for the comments, so we had to cut and paste the path from the AIRHelp file location.

In summary, RoboHelp does 95% of the work needed to make AIRHelp, so you certainly do not need to be a programmer to generate AIR output from RH. The author’s task is simply to correctly set up the layout. While this step took me a few trials to get right, I am very pleased with the results. If you are a Technical Communicator looking to put some more “sizzle” in your work, I strongly recommend you take a close look at AIRHelp output. AIRHelp shortens the distance and timeline between TCs and  their users. I feel most strongly that AIRHelp is only the beginning of the next generation of Adobe AIR tools that will bring many into the world of Web 2.0 or even Web 3.0! Stay tuned everyone. We’re just getting warmed up!

RJ: I agree; this is just the beginning. I understand that you are including a short Adobe Captivate simulation in your AIRHelp so that your end-users can quickly become familiar with navigating around this new format. Is this something you can share with my readers?

Ed: Sure, RJ. Since AIRHelp was a new cool format for the McKesson Knowledge Base, it seemed logical to make a little simulation to introduce the team to AIRHelp. I created the original simulation in a few hours with Captivate 4. I confess that the idea was Zach’s, but I was happy to use it. After we recently added more modules, I revised the simulation so readers will see the current version . This version has over 400 topics and a number of .pdf baggage files. The compiled AIRHelp file is about 35 MB.  My team is very happy with the instantaneous full text search because it makes everyone’s day a little smoother. Web 2.0 is really here! Adobe AIRHelp Rocks!

RJ: It has been great talking about AIRHelp with you, Ed. Thank you for your time.

Ed: You are welcome and thanks for the opportunity.

Contributing Editor:
Stan Samuels
Stan is a writer, editor, and content developer who lives in Decatur, Georgia. You can view his LinkedIn profile at

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