Parallel worlds

Parallel worlds

Batch versus individual processing in output management

 

Batch versus individual processing in output management

Output management in companies today is still heavily batch-oriented. Banks and insurance companies, in particular, still set the tone for bulk paper transactions. There are clearly defined, long-standing, tried-and-true workflows that are well covered by IT. But communication behaviors are changing, and customers seldom reach out through the postal mail.

Even “good old” e-mail is no longer the medium of choice. Instead, apps, chat and voice services are replacing the traditional letter, fax and e-mail. Even in more traditional industries such as finance and public administration, more and more processes are electronic. Banks today offer their customers much more than standard online banking, providing popular services such as balance que-ries, transfers and deposit accounts.

Batch processing alone doesn’t help

Digitalization is spreading and changing business processes. Every electronic message (whether by traditional e-mail or an app) and every chat triggers a business process that requires a response from the recipient – and as swiftly as possible. The customer expects answers within minutes, if not seconds. According to current studies, the longer the response time the greater the probability is that the customer will cancel the transaction. Batch processing (read paper processing) alone is no longer enough. An Internet order that triggers instantaneous creation of a PDF invoice is not batch processing. Output processes are becoming more singular with the rise in electronic communication.
Innovative digital media are supplanting physical communication, while paper is being upgraded to a premium product through high-quality mailings and advertising. Both worlds will therefore exist in parallel for the foreseeable future, at least for the next few decades.

The problem is that existing batch systems do not lend themselves to piecemeal processing. The workflows, and hence the performance (speed), are just too different. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how long the system needs to retrieve the necessary data and resources (fonts, logos, overlays, etc.) to begin generating thousands of account statements, invoices or delivery slips for mailing.

However, milliseconds count when an online statement is requested. Practical experience has shown that using a system designed for batch processing for web-based transactions results in considerable performance problems.

A4 is obsolete

Completely new platforms and architectures are needed to merge both worlds. One conceivable ap-proach is to establish a service-oriented archi-tecture (SOA) with software designed especially for that purpose. (See more on SOA in document processing at the end of the article).

Furthermore, to master the increasing complexity in output management requires putting aside the issue of layout when creating a document. The content needs to be the focus – and typically the final format isn’t known until just before sending anyway. In other words, because it is unsuitable for output on mobile end-devices (apps) and on the Web, A4 as the standard format in document processing is obsolete. It is more important to prepare the content for display across all media. The formatting takes shape just before dispatch when the correspondence is about to be sent. It is only then that the document takes on the form appropriate for the delivery channel. This moves formatting and document preparation from the departments to central output management (for more on this topic, see interview with Harald Grumser).

What goes together, grows together

Many companies set up parallel worlds with com-pletely different technologies for physical and electronic document creation. Merging the two worlds would be better, and especially more cost-efficient. The imperative: The same data and mechanisms should be engaged in static (batch) and interactive (individual) processing.   Furthermore, business logic should be cleanly delineated from recipient-specific content preparation (including page breaks, hyphenation, preparation for the physically/cognitively disabled/tagging).

In conclusion, the use of paper is waning in document processing but will not disappear completely in the foreseeable future. The law alone will ensure the continued existence of the hardcopy document, which in many instances is still required. So batch processing will continue. Many paper-bound processes will disappear in the coming years, but certainly not all of them. For batch and individual processing to co-exist, companies must finally create the technological prerequisites. There can't be two completely different IT systems, one for the customer who does everything over the Web and another for those who prefer the protracted back-and-forth of paper communication.

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