Screen capture: The new how-to document

July 2010 » Columns » LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY
Mark J. Scacco, P.E.

As a consultant working with clients across the country, I’ve noticed that nearly every office has binders full of “how-to” documents and a network folder full of digital files explaining everything from how to make coffee and how to log time to a project in the accounting software to how to set up a new CAD drawing for a particular client. As a small business owner, I must admit that we too have these paper and digital how-to documents floating around our office. But that is all changing now as more of our procedures are documented in easy-to-share videos.

Providing technical training and services related to CAD and BIM software, our technicians and tech support staff often create short videos demonstrating a particular task, documenting a bug, or otherwise capturing the goings-on of their computer screen. This allows them much greater flexibility and efficiency when conveying concepts and ideas to clients, vendors, and each other. Since so many of the tasks performed by professional consulting organizations are completed on the computer, screen capturing is equally beneficial in creating internal documents and procedures. Unfortunately, the software used by our techs is rather expensive and a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Then along came Jing.

Jing is a simple, free application available for download from www.jingproject.com With minimal configuration (just tell Jing where you want to output your videos) you can begin capturing your screen and sharing ideas within minutes of downloading the software. Jing has predefined settings that let users save videos to a hard drive, a server location, or an FTP site. Additionally, users can also send screen captures to a website, such as www.screencast.com (2GB free, registration required); Twitter; Facebook; the photo-sharing site Flickr; and with the upgraded Pro version, to YouTube.

So how can you and your organization leverage this technology to improve productivity? Almost any task that is performed on a computer and needs to be documented or explained to others is a prime candidate for video how-to’s. Why bother typing up step-by-step instructions, capturing still images from the screen, wrestling with document formatting, and then repeating the whole process when something changes? Just start the screen recording, do your task, and save it with a self-explanatory file name.

Human resources can create videos for new employees (and refreshers for existing staff) on how to log vacation requests or how to process government forms. Accounting can demonstrate how to log time sheets, how to create invoices, how to enter payments received, and how to create deposits. Office administrators can make recordings of the process of printing shipping labels, placing office supply orders, submitting digital plans to repro houses, and creating entries in your CRM system.

But the greatest potential in screen capture is the ability to convey technical concepts and tasks. In addition to the suggestions above, we regularly use screen captures for a wide variety of engineering and BIM/CAD-related tasks. Here are just a few:

CAD standards — Almost everything that is in a typical CAD standards document can be conveyed more easily in a video, such as creating a new BIM or CAD project/drawing; performing specific design or drafting tasks; setting up borders, title sheets, and detail sheets; and the correct plotting procedures for various devices and plot sizes.

Engineering design — Whether setting up a spreadsheet, calculating sewer capacity, determining traffic flows, or calculating earthwork volumes, so much of engineering design is now performed with the aid of computers. Because of the need to train new staff or refresh the memory of existing employees, engineering design how-to’s are quite common.

Collaboration — Sharing drawings via e-mail doesn’t take much explaining, but as drawings get larger, other collaboration tools are often required. However, the correct procedure to log onto your client’s FTP site or submit drawings and files to an online sharing site such as Buzzsaw or ProjectWise might require documentation. A simple video capturing the process can be shared with the entire team as easy as sending an e-mail.

The free version of Jing only records video in SWF format or still images in PNG and will display the Jing branding logo after the video ends. A Pro version ($14.95 for the year) lets users record to MPEG-4 format, strips the branding, and lets you share on YouTube and Vimeo. It even lets you record from a webcam, so you can finally convert that how-to-make-coffee document into a nice video!

Are you already using screen capture in your office? If so, please drop me a line and let me know how.

Mark J. Scacco, P.E., is the president and founder of Engineered Efficiency, Inc., a nationwide BIM and CAD training and consulting firm. He can be contacted at mark.scacco@eng-eff.com.


Upcoming Events

See All Upcoming Events