New authoring tool lets organizations rapidly develop electronic job aids that help users
carry out complex procedural tasks; TaskGuide obviates paper manuals, enhances IETMs

SAN MATEO, Calif., Feb. 26, 2007 – Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. ( today introduced TaskGuide™, the first commercially available software product for creating dynamic “intelligent instructions” for complex procedures, such as diagnosing and repairing equipment, operating computer software, or following organizational procedures. TaskGuide makes the cumbersome, paper-based instruction manual a thing of the past, and the digitally-based interactive electronic technical manual (IETM) even more robust, which helps to reduce operator errors and increase execution speed.

TaskGuide enables creation of sophisticated electronic job aids and “wizards” with little or no programming. In addition, it is a flexible tool that offers support for multiple levels of automation within electronic job aids – manual execution mode, manual review and override, and automatic. The “intelligent instructions” created by TaskGuide assist users by:

  • presenting each step’s instructions using formatted text, graphics, input controls, and other media;
  • presenting a graphical summary of the procedure’s steps and their organization to help users and authors quickly understand the procedure as a whole and maintain context;
  • making additional information easily available on demand to augment each step’s instructions;
  • executing branching and looping logic to determine the appropriate next step; and
  • accepting and storing data, decisions, and other information entered by the user, and automatically computing data values, recommending actions, and generating and sending commands based on information entered by the user or received from external systems and databases.

TaskGuide can be used to create intelligent job aids in which the software and user take turns conversing – the system presents one screen of information at a time, prompting the user for input, and then using this input to select, construct, and present the next screen. Example applications include decision-support, interactive learning, customer sales and technical support, adaptive questionnaires, and telephone scripting.

TaskGuide-authored intelligent job aids also can be embedded as Java applets within web-based IETMs. Steps within the TaskGuide procedure specifications can provide rapid access via hyperlinks to background facts and concepts managed and presented by an IETM.

Rooted in AFRL project

TaskGuide as a commercial product stemmed from a project called SatConPlan, which Stottler Henke undertook for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. “TaskGuide evolved very quickly from a structured satellite support tool for SatConPlan to a broader training solution that could support a variety of users and learning needs in both military and civilian environments,” Dr. H. Barbara Sorensen, Chief, Warfighter Research Operations Integration at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Mesa, Arizona, said. “Stottler Henke’s work on this project surpassed all expectations for a Small Business Innovation Research initiative.”

According to Richard Stottler, co-founder and president of Stottler Henke Associates, TaskGuide is representative of a trend in learning and support technology. “The move to electronic job aids and IETMs is well established in many domains, and cries for a development mechanism that simplifies how these powerful systems are created. TaskGuide, by requiring little or no programming, is a significant step toward making development much easier, and bringing these systems further into the mainstream.”

Step by step

TaskGuide supports gradual procedure automation, so steps in manual procedures can be replaced, one at a time, with steps that retrieve data, compute values, and carry out actions automatically. The procedure author can specify the desired level of user awareness and override capability for each step. For example, an interactive step could use calculations to compute a default parameter value or decision and prompt the user to confirm or override it. As confidence in the reliability and robustness of the calculation increases, the organization could replace the interactive step with an automated step that uses a computed value or decision to perform an action without user intervention. In this manner, a manual procedure can evolve over time into a more automated one.

TaskGuide comprises a Procedure Editor, for building the intelligent instructions and electronic job aids; and a Procedure Execution Tool, for running them.

A TaskGuide procedure encodes step-by-step instructions and execution logic as a list of steps, organized within a hierarchy. Each step presents instructions to the operator using formatted HTML text and graphics. Instructions can contain hyperlinks to web pages that present additional information on demand in a popup window using text, graphics, and other media. Each TaskGuide step can be either interactive or automated. If the step is interactive, TaskGuide performs pre-calculations (if any), presents the next step’s instructions to the operator, waits for the operator to indicate completion of the step, and then performs post-calculations (if any). If the step is automated, TaskGuide performs the step’s calculations without presenting instructions to the operator and without waiting for operator input.

No programming required

Creating “intelligent instructions” or electronic job aids in the TaskGuide Procedure Editor is a straight-forward process that requires no programming. The procedure author creates each step in the procedure by specifying the formatted text and graphics that comprise the step’s instructions. Optionally, the author can enter calculations that are performed at the beginning or end of the step. The author can organize these steps hierarchically into groups and subgroups, and can specify looping and branching logic that controls when each group of steps should be performed.

TaskGuide’s extensible architecture enables integration with general purpose and application-specific Java software libraries that provide functions that are invoked by calculations. This architecture enables TaskGuide procedure specifications to incorporate automated data retrieval, interpretation, automated reasoning and decision-making algorithms. Instructions can also embed arbitrary Java graphical user interface components, displayed among the formatted HTML text and graphics. The TaskGuide application programming interface (API) enables developers to embed TaskGuide within their own Java applications.

Price and availability

TaskGuide is one of a family of commercially available intelligent software tools and applications offered by Stottler Henke, a software development and consulting company with deep expertise in artificial intelligence and other advanced software technologies. TaskGuide runs on Windows PCs, and is available immediately. Stottler Henke is marketing TaskGuide to end user organizations, system integrators, developers of interactive electronic technical manuals, and vendors of equipment and software applications. Pricing starts at $995 per developer. Development of TaskGuide was funded in large part by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Founded in 1988, Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. applies artificial intelligence and other advanced software technologies to solve problems that defy solution using traditional approaches. The company delivers intelligent software solutions for education and training, planning and scheduling, knowledge management and discovery, decision support, and software development. Stottler Henke’s clients include manufacturers, retailers, educational media companies and government agencies. In 2006, Stottler Henke was the subject of a NASA “Hallmarks of Success” video profile for its work developing and later commercializing advanced planning and training software systems. Stottler Henke received a 2004 “Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning” award for innovative technology. For the past four consecutive years, Stottler Henke was named one of the “top 100” companies making a significant impact on the military training industry by Military Training Technology magazine, and in 2005 received a Blue Ribbon recognizing it as a company that leads the industry in innovation. 

Feb. 26, 2007