Interview: A4 is Over - The Revolution Begins

Is document production a mature industry or only in it's infancy? Compart CEO Harald Grumser weighs In.


Mr. Grumser, Compart enjoys a worldwide reputation as an innovative market leader as well as a developer of professional and leading-edge solutions in the field of document management. Are you proud of how your company has developed over the last two decades?

Harald Grumser: I would be a fool not to be proud of what we have achieved. But naturally, I see that we still have more to do. And by that I don't just mean Compart as a company, although we certainly do have plenty of things to do. I'm talking about our overall industry. Document handling is still in its infancy because we still think in terms of paper –even if we are not always outputting paper--and don't really want to take that last step into the 100% digital world. The A4 format rules us to the point where we can’t break away and re-conceptualize. But that’s the next logical step. More and more customer communication is taking place in Web applications, and nearly every company is building a parallel world without even noticing the substantial overlap between traditional  and Web-based document processing. We are adding complexity on complexity and making life more difficult for ourselves.

Industry 4.0 is all the rage in Europe right now, with increasing digitalization and networking of the old economy. How will that affect document processing?

Harald Grumser: We are ahead of where they are in the United States. In my opinion, the invention of the Internet has had a greater political and sociological impact than the invention of the modern printing press over 550 years ago. Industry 4.0 is a powerful way of saying that we are at the dawn of a new age in production. But that is just one of the many intermeshed changes that the Internet will bring, or in fact has already brought. At the same time, the Internet of Things, wearables, and completely new mobile applications are proceeding apace. But I believe the new challenges we'll be facing over the next decade won't be anything like those we have tackled for the last ten years. To think otherwise would be a serious mistake. As for our industry, we are facing major changes because business processes cannot remain paper-bound. Yet we're still acting as if e-mail PDF attachments are the be-all and end-all of modern customer communication. The problem is that people tend to think linearly—due to the paper-based mindset I mentioned earlier. We have got to free our minds—and then the innovating can really begin.

At the last Comparting, you talked about the inevitable separation of data from layout and that HTML5 would be the format of the future.  But you still maintain that one goal of modern communication is the exchange of raw data. How do you reach that goal? Or to put it another way, where are most companies' weak points in this regard?

Harald Grumser: Many companies are creating new Web applications, some with extremely innovative teams that understand a lot about Web design and modern service architectures. In the end the customer may still want a PDF document to file away nicely in the cabinet, although a print-out from the browser also works. As long as the number of applications is few, no one notices that the text modules need multiple reviews by the legal department and that some of the data procurement shifted to another department long ago. I can't end up with two completely different IT systems, one for the customer who does everything over the Web and saves my company money, and another who prefers the protracted back-and-forth of paper communication.

Input and output management as well as Web applications need to be integrated into an overall architecture, and therein lies the challenge for modern document processing. What does that depend on? What are the risks?

Harald Grumser: Entire business sectors have automated their processes on the Internet; the rest must follow. But if I have been offering multiple options for the same business process for a long time, such as an HTML input screen, an interactive PDF form, and a paper form to fill out, then I first need to harmonize these applications and documents.  In most companies, that means shifting responsibilities. Input and output management need to apply their document processing competencies to Web development, or even make the latter a separate organizational unit. Layout rendering needs to stop, because the display has to work on a large screen at the office workstation and a 4-in. screen on a mobile device.

Let's briefly stay with responsive design, the page- and device-independent display and output of documents. What role will HTML5 play in the future? What impact do you think this format will have on document processing?

Harald Grumser: AFP is the "last mile" format for print and PDF is the "last mile" format for archiving. HTML5 offers everything for displaying content regardless of device and is comparatively easy to convert to AFP or PDF. The reverse, however, is extremely complex. HTML5 is not just the successor of HTML4; it is the foundation for completely new applications in the Web right up to Web apps, applications that run as apps only in the browser. However HTML5 is not just the foundation for responsive applications, but also for responsive business documents that adjust to the size of the screen on which they are displayed. Document creation needs to break away from the A4 format and requires a new paradigm of our industry, one that will occupy us for many years to come.

Nonetheless, digitalization is not cutting into physical document volumes as drastically as expected. How do you see that developing? How long do you think the printed document will stick around in its current form?

Harald Grumser: Although the Scandinavian countries really embraced digitalization, it has not had the same impact on physical document volumes in Germany and the US. But transactional volumes are falling off in Germany and the States, too, although the decline is offset by the strong economy and higher mail volumes. The fact is, wealthier people get more mail. Paper will never disappear completely, and with color printing becoming cost-effective and hence more interesting, premium paper products may actually turn it all around and replace some forms of electronic communication. The downward trend of mail will continue over the long haul, but it's difficult to say how long. Early predictions turned out to be way off base. There will be paper and mail for a long time. But younger people want mobility and interactivity and they won’t stand for paper. The youngest of them don’t value privacy and security the way we do, but they probably will as they get older and have more to lose.

How will this impact print service providers?

Harald Grumser: You can be successful even in consolidated markets, but size advantage alone is no guarantee. I think new areas of business emerge because large companies are increasingly outsourcing pieces of their customer communication. Campaigns that intelligently link paper and the Web, catchy and highly personalized mailings, or bulk transactions such as meter readings might be good candidates. I believe that it's not necessarily the large businesses that will remain successful but the creative ones.

Regarding quality assurance in production printing, which processes are best for which types of companies? What it important?

Harald Grumser: We basically differentiate between regression- and rule-based quality assurance. Regression processes ensure that the document content and total pages do not change after a software conversion, although better hyphenation is most welcome if it doesn't raise the price of postage. Regression-based QA is needed primarily in traditional batch processing. Rule-based quality assurance is mainly used when documents are created decentrally, e.g., using office applications, and the accuracy and placement of the address needs checking and certain production requirements or layout specifications must be observed. Quality assurance should be an integral step in the production process, not just tacked on at the beginning or the end. It’s a value. An integral value.  And it’s a value that we enable with innovative technology. So to get back to your first question, I’m very proud of what we continue to accomplish.

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