Document Handling Needs to Be as Easy as Driving a Car
Interview with Harald Grumser, founder and CEO of Compart
Process automation, universal document design, central rendition services: Compart is known for its innovative spirit, which is ultimately reflected in its scalable and powerful solutions. The goal is to make it much easier for companies to handle increasingly complex document processes. This year's Comparting in November will introduce a wealth of new solutions.
1. Mr. Grumser, what is currently the biggest pain point for companies with respect to document and output management?
Harald Grumser: Things are actually very good. Take color printing, for example. Efficient memory and faster hardware did a good job solving the problem of ever larger print files. The color transparency and management issue was resolved long ago.
Management wanted to finally jettison old hardware and handle quarter- and year-end peak loads via Docker containers and cloud services, e.g., with Amazon. Most users usually implemented this in the last quarter via software solutions with voice input for automatic conversion from legacy applications.
Automatic process monitoring practically runs itself because the manufacturers adopted uniform standards. As for using special Eastern European characters in names, outputting smiley faces, and reproducing customer e-mails in AFP, a nationwide weekend workshop that guaranteed success was given before Easter.
There is currently a comprehensive open source project to incorporate ZUGFeRD and XRechnung (electronic invoice processing). And last but not least, progress is being made on modifying old print layouts for responsive display on the Web. There is a good new solution based on artificial intelligence methods that can convert up to a thousand forms overnight. So all's right with the world.
But all kidding aside: The requirements are growing and the merry-go-round is getting faster and faster.
2. Do the "old" issues such as conversion still come up?
Harald Grumser: Well, digital processes require access to document content, and even artificial intelligence needs eyes and ears. What I mean to say is this: Whether documents are generated internally or externally, a standardized form, like PDF/A or better yet PDF/UA, is becoming increasingly important for generally accessible, barrier-free documents.
More and more customers are deploying central, scalable conversion solutions (also known as rendition services) to solve this problem. Conversion of scanned pages and office formats on the inbound end is just as sought-after as generating print data on the output end.
3. So Compart is becoming increasingly involved in inbound communication. Is this new territory?
Harald Grumser: Not really. In the final analysis, there isn't much difference between the interface to archives and the management of metadata in inbound and outbound communication. The scanning of paper is practically a bulk commodity nowadays. And it makes no sense to reinvent text recognition via OCR yourself. We have been dealing with everything else for quite a while, and sometimes we're even surprised at how many projects, some of them quite large, we have completed in this area over recent years.
For example, one major insurance company converts nearly 100,000 incoming e-mails with attachments per day for forwarding to processing clerks. People have so many ideas about the formats that can be submitted, you might as well be "herding cats." Some require an automatic e-mail response asking the sender to resend the missive in a format that comes close to standard. In this case, digitalization takes place quietly; electronic inbound communication has long surpassed traditional mail in many companies.
Think about Siri; at some point we may express things in speech only. And in future we'll have to cope with radically different channels of communication, light years away from DIN A4. Fifteen years ago, we understood digitalization as the desire to make documents available electronically. We used to joke about which would come first: the paperless office or the paperless toilet. Today we want to process entire business transactions and processes electronically. A service invoice from an insurer is a transaction of computer systems that jostle data in the end. Everything else, like account statements or policies, is secondary
4. Doesn't there need to be a type of instance that orchestrates and monitors everything?
Harald Grumser: At the last Comparting, our annual international professional forum, one member of the audience asked what the "next big thing" from Compart would be. My answer was guarded. It should come as no surprise that no explicit answer would be forthcoming, no matter what the form. Over the last several years, we have worked mainly on projects in large companies with nearly all the workflow and process automation tools in the world. Our previous products already cover some of these functions.
That doesn't mean that we can build better generic solutions than others can. However we do know that in document processing very specific functions are needed. Think about address extraction, applying a barcode, adding metadata to PDF files, or bundling individual documents into postage-optimized mailings.
These are very specific functions that are often extremely expensive or associated with enormous performance deficits. We try to understand our customers and the markets well; we know what we already have and what we still need. And sometimes it is time for a new big thing. That's exactly how our software for universal document creation, DocBridge Impress, came about. I promise that this year's Comparting in November will be worth a visit.
5. Apropos of DocBridge Impress, what is the current status?
Harald Grumser: When we decided to develop the product about four years ago, we first had just a high-performance formatter for XSL/FO, along with a lot of ideas. We were fully aware that we needed to prioritize the digital channels and still manage to build in a little hardcopy.
We knew that almost no one would migrate to the next proprietary system. That is why we considered only open, established standards on which to base the new product. We also knew that cloud and Web services were to be taken seriously.
To be honest, we are surprised at how good the response to DocBridge Impress has been. Initial customers are in production using the new solution, and meanwhile we're working on new proofs of concept practically every two weeks. In fact, the three application scenarios that we had in mind from the beginning proved to be the most requested.
First, customers running DocBridge Impress in parallel with their existing documentation creation system wanted specific functions like Web output, responsive design, and in one case Eastern European special characters.
We were sure that this guerilla approach would work. Then there were companies that wanted to replace their aging legacy systems with a completely new and modern solution. These projects take a bit more time. Even then, progress can be made in just a few months if the conditions on site are right.
Finally, implementations are ongoing that use DocBridge Impress as a pure technology, especially for mobile applications. Based on our experience thus far, we are convinced that "big bang" projects really can work, with few exceptions.
That is why we place such value on gradually introducing new systems. In the end, what we offer our customers is not only the technology, but also enough time to do things in the right order and at the right time. It's like with good wine: Some things need to mature sufficiently for their full strength to unfold.
6. Is Compart working on other things?
Harald Grumser: Absolutely. In France, for example, we worked with several customers on a powerful system for tracking and tracing documents across the entire production cycle. This new solution supports seamless tracking of a document from creation to dispatch. If the physical document is to be sent, then the "usual hardware suspects" come into play, such as printers and enveloping machines. This solution will also be available outside of France this year.
We are also pursuing innovation in other areas. In England we are working with multiple print providers on a portal prototype for the self-service upload of documents, whereby the customers themselves can run quality assurance using predefined rules. Our release portals for individual dispatches and print spools, which until now were incorporated in different project solutions, are currently being standardized.
We worked with one of the major insurance companies in Europe as a beta customer to develop, with an intermediate development team, a new resource management tool that displays the recursive dependency of all print resources and performs versioning.
In future, this tool will become a component of other products. We are currently working on integrating components of DocBridge Suite into established cloud ecosystems. Besides the conversion business, there are plenty of other things that keep us excited about coming into work every day.
7. What else is Compart doing to make the world of document and output management a little bit better?
Harald Grumser: We want to make handling documents as easy as driving a car. The world's been driving motor vehicles for more than 120 years and is still working on improving it.
Now autonomous driving is the next big thing. In contrast, we haven't even had half that much time with IT. We want our customers to be able to concentrate on the things that advance them as a company. They shouldn't have to worry about the Eastern European special characters I mentioned earlier. Some may get a good laugh as they painstakingly comb through our PDF profile for a specific parameter.
To put in plainly, in our industry, we are working on specialty machines, figuratively speaking. And not on the assembly-line production of the thirty millionth VW Golf. And we don't build in the complexity because we don't have anything better to do, but because it was already there in two thousand specialty machines in the first place.
Our job is to make document production as easy as possible for our customers. Yet I'm far from satisfied with what we have achieved thus far. I'm rather impatient in this respect. But that doesn't mean that I'm dissatisfied overall. We are growing, we're profitable, and our liquidity is high. Overall, that helps me rest easy.
Thank you for talking with us, Mr. Grumser.
published in BIT 3-2018 (Germany)