Interview with Harald Grumser
Founder and CEO of Compart
“It’s the content, stupid!”
Automated Case Management instead of Customer Communication Management (CCM): In ten years, machines will handle 80 percent of today’s processing tasks. Communication with the customer will be exclusively event-driven and spoken language will have virtually replaced writing as its medium – so predicts Harald Grumser, founder and CEO of Compart AG. These hypotheses may invite discussion – but there is no doubt that automation and personalization in document processing are advancing rapidly. Harald Grumser explains why.
1. Mr. Grumser, what characterizes modern customer communication?
Harald Grumser: It is convenient, secure, and complies with the law. Yet the problem starts right there, in balancing the three. Customers, IT security officers, legal departments, and data protection officers all approach the problem differently. Customers who send a request by e-mail, for example, usually expect to get an answer the same way. They don't want to have to read a PDF on their cell phone. Or take the 23-year-old globe trotter about to leave on his next trip, who on the spur of the moment decides to take out baggage insurance at airport check-in, preferably using WhatsApp and via a voice message. The same user may also prefer reporting a fender bender to his insurance company in the same way. On the other hand, he might use a Web portal to enter the meter reading for his utility bill, because it's too much trouble to fill out, print and send a PDF form. In sum, customers are looking for the most convenient communication channels, which can be very different depending on their situation, age, and technological savvy. And companies need to adjust to that. Anyone going through life with their eyes open knows that. We don't need any more seminars on the communication preferences of generation X, Y, or Z. Everyone understands the premise, but there’s still a lot to do on the practical side.
2. What will customer communication look like in ten years?
Harald Grumser: That is a challenging question. We can’t see into the future, but we can learn from the past. If we project the changes of the last thirty years onto the next ten, we can get a sense of it. I would tend to bet on the following. In ten years, nobody will be using the abbreviation CCM (Customer Communication Management) anymore. We may talk about Automated Case Management, because machines will be handling 80 percent of today's processing tasks, which customers will directly feed with content and data. Communication with the customer will be almost exclusively event-driven, such as at the airport check-in counter, to go back to my previous example. Spoken language will have almost completely replaced writing as the communication medium. And a 2.5 cm indentation on the left-hand side of an odd-numbered A4 page will be about as meaningful as the code 3C function of an interrupt 21 in DOS 3.1 to open file.
3. What are the biggest stumbling blocks in the digital transformation of document and output management?
Harald Grumser: Companies are having a hard time establishing the organizational foundations urgently needed to cope with the new challenges. Here’s a typical situation. Management is forming new young teams to take care of apps and portals and erect new silos. The youngsters simply look on as the older teams continue to struggle with the legacy issues. It would be better to bundle the experience of the old guard with the young teams’ strength and understanding of change. Otherwise, the youngsters end up standing there without any data or process know-how and the older ones without the strength or the will to move on. In short, the biggest stumbling blocks are the data and the interfaces. Individuals need to move into the new digital world one step at a time. And most companies are not doing that very thing, because there are too many concerns and too little willingness to take baby steps.
4. One obstacle toward a multi-channel world in customer communication is the inertia of legacy applications. Many companies find building the bridge between the old (print-oriented) and the new, digital world difficult. How can they address this dilemma?
Harald Grumser: Most companies have legacy applications that are 30 years old and even older. With just a minimum of management, the legacy stuff could be phased out as new things come online, thus closing the support gap. Question: Why, for example, are companies using five different formatting solutions? Answer: Because there were four failed attempts to replace the old ones with a new one. Somewhere along the way they always run out of steam. The truth usually lies somewhere between major failed projects and doing nothing. If I know where I want to go, I can break down the journey into small steps. A new interface here, an encapsulation of old data there. A slight parallel course here to buy some time, a minor data migration there to phase out something old. There are many ways to live in the house I’m simultaneously renovating. I just shouldn't try to tackle everything at once.
5. Today nobody knows how many more channels there will be in three or four years, or which ones will later be important for customer communications. As a company, how can I prepare myself appropriately for the future – and optimally use my existing architecture, of course?
Harald Grumser: Let me respond with a slightly modified quote from Bill Clinton: “It’s the content, stupid!” What I mean is that we don’t know whether voice output will be the next channel to make car trips more efficient or if videos will replace print because no one wants to read anymore. What we do know is this: The future lies in the content, in the data, and not in the form. Take the following example. Using reasonably clever software and a few instructions like “insert heading such-and-such” and “create a table with cells such-and-such,” I can easily generate a DIN A4 page. But I can’t get a heading out of “12-point semi-bold Helvetica, underlined” or start a table with “insert 8 cm horizontal line”. The best approach is to structure the data in the best way possible then describe rather than paint the output templates. That way you see tangible success even when proceeding in small steps.
6. At the last Comparting, you spoke about the digital-first approach in this context. What do you mean?
Harald Grumser: Digital first means that we orient ourselves with the complex communication requirements and derive the less complex ones from those, not the other way around. To revive an old saying, we can make a bedside rug from a tiger, but not vice-versa. Say a hyperlink gets lost when printing. If I have only print data in my head, I can’t easily add the hyperlink back in when converting to PDF or even HTML5. In other words, it’s no longer enough to generate “pure” print data streams. The content must be flexible, and created at the last possible minute, in order to meet the diverse communication requirements of today’s customers. Every document is created (formatted) once and only once, regardless of a specific page size, and is therefore multi-channel-capable.
7. Another critical issue in the digital transformation is central data storage. As a company, how do I ensure that the content is consistent and compliant across all communication channels (compliance, corporate identity)?
Harald Grumser: The problem is that the data is already available as page data or entirely print-oriented. However, if I want to define the channel later on in the process because the customer is constantly changing it or has other preferences for the given delivery, then I have to maintain the data in the channel-neutral format. Compliance and corporate identity follow automatically if the right software is used.
8. Let’s move on to DocBridge Impress, the new solution from Compart designed to bridge the analog and digital document worlds.
Harald Grumser: For many years, we were hesitant to delve into document generation – and with good reason. There are already any number of established suppliers in this segment. We dealt with the “last mile of formatting” via XSL-FO. A customer may use it to format over a billion pages a year, but we remained on the sidelines when it came to business logic and document composition. When the topic of HTML5 and responsive Web design emerged several years ago, we looked very closely at what the relevant providers were doing in this area. We came to the conclusion that they were all struggling with the compatibility of their own solutions. Encouraged by many customer discussions, we finally decided to develop a solution that needed no architectural compromises, thanks to its late arrival on the scene or “grace of late birth.”
9. What exactly is new in DocBridge Impress?
Harald Grumser: We consistently draw on existing standards such as HTML5, XML, XSLT, XPATH, CSS, XMP and Unicode and do not use a proprietary format. The data remains in the customer’s jurisdiction. No special skills are needed, and the younger employees who learned these standards as part of their education can become productive very quickly.
DocBridge Impress works extremely well in scalable, transactional Web services and SaaS environments, but can also be invoked for batch processing if desired. And that’s not all. Thanks to its sleek architecture, the solution can be used from a memory stick in offline environments for field applications. The template designer is a clean browser application that requires no installation, which supports the principle of separating content from layout.
10. Speaking of which, separating content from layout in document processing is hardly a new requirement. There are already initial field-tested approaches.
Harald Grumser: Using the underlying format of DocBridge Impress, which we call the Document File Format, or DFF, I generate a document template that works on a smartphone, a notepad, a 21 in. screen, and as a DIN A4 page. So the first question the designer asks is not, “What size is the paper?” The output device isn’t always left out of the picture completely, but we made every effort toward channel-independent creation, fully aware that we can’t, in all good conscious, answer the question, “Does it work like in Word?” with “Yes.”
11. So what advantages does DocBridge Impress offer that similar multi-channel-capable formatting solutions do not?
Harald Grumser: DocBridge Impress consistently uses HTML5 as the basis. With respect to output, HTML generates no real surprises and can be totally manipulated by an experienced user. On the other hand, page-based systems produce grab bags because HTML generation has to make so many assumptions.
12. In this context, what exactly is meant by omni-channel or multi-channel?
Harald Grumser: Quite simply, it’s the ability to make use of multiple channels, even simultaneously, whereby a channel can mean both input and output.
13. The two terms are sometimes used as synonyms when discussing customer communication in the 21st century. For Compart, where are the differences?
Harald Grumser: For us, multi-channel is print, fax, archive, an e-mail attachment, all of which are based on page formats; whereas omni-channel comprises print, the Web, and e-mail, which also includes HTML5 as a responsive format. That is the most important difference. For us, multi-channel means an e-mail like “Dear Mr. Smith, we attach hereto our correspondence,” meaning a PDF file, which is a nightmare for cell phone users. An omni-channel e-mail is a formatted, responsive document that can also be read on a cell phone.
14. In general, to what extent will DocBridge Impress change document management in companies?
Harald Grumser: We expect that many customers will first use the solution to solve tactical problems, such as generating e-mail with formatted content, providing information as an HTML or PDF file on a Web site, or creating personalized PDF forms. Over the medium term, however, we think that DocBridge Impress, as an architecture, will catalyze the conversion to open standards and will help with replacing the many special legacy solutions. Our vision is using DocBridge Impress to effect, in small steps, the final migration with respect to document generation, because open standards like HTML, CSS, and XML are anything but hype and will certainly shape the coming decades.
15. What target groups is Compart addressing with DocBridge Impress?
Harald Grumser: We market DocBridge Impress to all companies with a high document volume such as banks, insurance firms, telecommunications companies, and energy suppliers, but also increasingly to logistics service providers, public administrations, and the healthcare industry – sectors with high growth rates. We are also cooperating more and more with manufacturers of industry-specific solutions for these sectors.
Thank you for the interview.
Source: BIT Magazine, Issue 3/2017
For more on the digital-first approach and the different application scenarios for DocBridge Impress, see Thorsten Meudt’s presentation entitled “The grace of late birth: document generation in the age of digitalization,” at 4 p.m. on June 20, 2017 at the Doxnet conference in Baden-Baden.
For more on DocBridge Impress, go to: www.compart.com/en-US/docbridge-impress
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