Interview: Modern Document Logistics
In today's projects, the term output management often falls short of the mark
Interview with Harald Grumser, CEO of Compart, on media continuity in corporate processes and the increasing incorporation of mobile end devices in document logistics.
Mr. Grumser, what companies use your software?
Harald Grumser: For a company that sends only ten documents a day, acquiring an expensive document and output management solution makes no sense. The companies that use our software have a certain document volume to keep under control. They can be small- and medium-sized operations, but also large companies like banks, insurers, energy suppliers, telecommunications providers and public agencies. We have over 1,200 installations globally and have provided our customers output and document management support for decades now.
What projects are currently the bane of the output manager's existence?
Harald Grumser: In today's projects, the term output management often falls short of the mark; we tend to talk more about overall document management with our customers. Corporate customer communication has emerged as a cycle that involves not only output but traditional input and document management as well. There are a number of underlying processes. A company reaches out to its customers for a specific purpose, and their responses trigger additional processes. Or vice versa, a company receives specific customer queries that need to be handled. Together with our customers, we are working on total business process management, with output management as one sub-component.
Setting up comprehensive business processes doesn't necessarily make projects easier, however.
Harald Grumser: Quite right. In fact, complexity is looming larger all the time. Ten years ago output management meant mainly print and the integration of the telefax; now there are countless other disciplines to master. Many suppliers were extremely proud simply to produce electronic documents by generating PDF files from print files and sending them via e-mail, for example.
Electronic document exchange was a big step for the document management system (DMS) industry.
Harald Grumser: The main focus of output management used to be print processes and the production of hard copy. Recently the PDF format, which can be generated and sent electronically, has come to replace paper, saving companies massive postage costs. In this context, three output channels took root -- print, fax, and electronic transmission.
What are the current trends?
Harald Grumser: As far as output channels are concerned, today's mobile end devices have to be taken into account, which requires a fundamentally new approach to preparing data. More than ever, transmissible content must be adapted to the output channel. PDF turns out to be an unhappy fit with smartphones and tablet displays. Many users do, however, continue to favor the PDF format with its traditional and familiar A4 display. Yet the standard 21 x 29.7 cm page no longer works everywhere, which is why traditional channels oriented to A4 are being superseded by format-independent media.
To what degree have those responsible for document management internalized this change?
Harald Grumser: Specialist users in particular demand functions that can no longer be implemented using traditional technologies. We are currently in the throes of change. Managers do now recognize that not everything revolves around print; it's more about multichannel-capable document logistics. It is clear that PDF files no longer work for many applications, especially for mobile display. Add to that the continuing influx of new output channels, like text-to-speech messages and video files that also need to be sent automatically.
What do you advise managers in charge of this area of a business?
Harald Grumser: You need to think carefully about what content you want to send and in what form. The document management system (DMS) has to be separated from purely paper-bound processes and concentrate solely on the actual content -- the specialist user can then choose the output channel at the last minute. In other words, lose the paper, get right to the data.
But a lot of content and associated processes have not changed in years; take orders, order confirmations, contracts, and complaints, for example.
Harald Grumser: That is why the goal of document logistics should be to transfer ERP- and CRM-neutral data to document management systems that prepare it for the appropriate delivery channel.
Can you give an example?
Harald Grumser: A business that wants to provide its customers with order confirmations on mobile end devices via an app has to display standard content like the order number, product description, and cost in a presentable way. One or the other customer might also want to receive a PDF file for storing the document elsewhere -- the DMS also needs to accommodate this need.
Another example is invoicing, a typical business process that is launched a million times a day in this country alone. But in a lot of companies this procedure is still quite complex. The billing data is generated in one system and then sent to another program that prepares the data. Only then is the final document printed out and sent to the customer or another company. The latter, in turn, scans the received document, reads the content via optical character recognition (OCR), and transfers it to an input management system to recreate the digital data. This process is very costly and is an expensive form of information destruction and recovery.
How can such media disruptions be prevented?
Harald Grumser: By exchanging PDF files via e-mail, thereby eliminating the need to print and scan the documents. In most cases, the sender does still need to convert the data set so the recipient can read it and further process it. That is why it is important to make PDF files more intelligent in future to automate document exchange, which makes relying on other forms of presentation useful. For the new generation of mobile end devices, Adobe is not the best choice, which is why we are assuming that PDF will not gain significance in the future. Nonetheless this file format will play a role for many years to come, albeit a subordinate one.
What format do you think is the future front-runner?
Harald Grumser: That will be HTML5. Unlike PDF, this standard is completely device-independent. Furthermore, HTML5 -- similar to PDF -- is technologically capable of displaying an invoice and everything related to it, including all the style sheets. HTML5 documents can also be enhanced with data or output as a print file. The headers and footers can also be included so they appear on the printout but not in the browser. In the next stage, native mobile apps could gradually give way to HTML5-based mobile web sites.
So HTML5 can display content on the smallest of screens?
Harald Grumser: Yes, but not only that. In today's world there are different device categories -- smartphone and smartwatch displays are getting smaller, while desktop PC and Smart TV displays are getting bigger. Screen sizes run between two to 24 inches, and we need to be able to display documents on them. So we need a file format that supports all sizes -- and that format is HTML5.
Could we consider HTML5 as the future universal standard?
Harald Grumser: HTML5 is a web language developed by an international community and is recognized worldwide as a technology that is especially configured for responsive design. It's now used in all web browsers. So further standardization efforts, e.g., on the part of the government, will not really be needed.
Have you already incorporated HTML5 into your own product palette?
Harald Grumser: Yes -- most recently we tackled the intelligent data issue. Here we are working to connect the old worlds with the new. Some companies, especially banks and insurers, are still holding on to applications that are 20 to 30 years old, so surely these applications will not replaced anytime in the near future.
How should we handle legacy systems?
Harald Grumser: We constantly encounter ambitious customer projects for which the project managers want all new systems set up. If the projects are large-scale, they tend to fail. So much is invested in most old applications that they can't simply be tossed over board from one day to the next.
That being the case, we have to be able to build bridges between the legacy systems, which may need to remain in place for another ten years, and current customer communication requirements. In short, we have to be able to display data from an old host application on a smartphone. This requires technologically advanced components that can prepare documents of any type, format and age for every electronic and physical channel -- and vice versa.
Not only are end devices changing, but user behavior as well. How do you address that?
Harald Grumser: Younger users, in particular, barely communicate by e-mail anymore. On the other hand, just because the youngsters contact their friends primarily through chat does not mean that the entire world of business communication suddenly needs changing. The digital natives are just arranging their social schedule and school and study-related matters through chat and instant messaging. They don't have to process contracts, invoices and orders or ensure communication is legally and otherwise compliant.
Yet aren't social channels becoming more important in business-to-consumer (B2C) communications?
Harald Grumser: Customer communication in the business world is currently comparable to sex among the young: everyone is talking about it, everyone thinks everybody else has already done it, and nobody is actually doing it. We believe that social media functions mostly as a grand advertising platform for companies, a place where they can distribute their marketing messages.
Of course there are interesting uses, like selling travel health insurance to young backpackers via LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Social networks are really more synonymous with modern forms of communication, which in turn rely strongly on the widespread use of new end devices and apps. If young people today are organizing their free time over WhatsApp and Facebook, it hardly means that an insurer is also going to have to to sell and issue policies over these channels in the future. From that standpoint alone, business e-mail is certainly not destined to drop in volume. On the contrary, the number of e-mails sent continues to rise.
Who are your main contacts within companies - CIOs or department managers?
Harald Grumser: It varies a good deal. We communicate very closely with the specialist departments, especially where technical details of an installation are concerned. But the progress of a project can suffer if we have to talk to different departments in one and the same company. When that happens, I sometimes wish for a mandate for overall organizational consulting. Too often input and output are considered as separate areas. The best-case scenario is a main department head that oversees both areas.
Yet this shows that those in charge have still not grasped the cycle of document logistics.
Harald Grumser: If you want to know how innovative a company is with respect to document management, you just need to study their organizational structure. If incoming mail processing does not encounter outgoing mail processing until they reach the IT manager, then something is wrong. Companies with a great deal of IT affinity and a modern structure have generally already laid the appropriate foundation. They favor central customer communication and document logistics -- not individual disciplines.
For us, this means we have to adjust to different circumstances in each customer project. We can some approach customers with very advanced concepts, but often we need to bring to bear adequate technology to keep traditional processes and systems afloat.
What advice can you offer process managers?
Harald Grumser: A company should position all of document logistics centrally. Leave the discussion on file formats behind and concentrate on content. In the U.S., a lot of companies already have a chief data officer (CDO). Here they have already understood that data is the big profit-maker of the future. In conclusion, let's take quick look at software development.
To what degree do you consider security mechanisms and data protection in programming?
Harald Grumser: Our focus on data protection is intense because many of our customers need to work with numerous sensitive documents such as invoices, dunning letters, contracts, and account statements on a day-to-day basis. As a solutions provider we are required to safeguard confidential information, which is why we already build the necessary specifications into our software. Our systems and we as a supplier are also regularly audited in this context. We also ensure that our software supports the customer in fulfilling all data protection and other compliance regulations. Finally, we make sure -- right in development -- that our products are so stable that they cannot be hacked. We are fully aware of our responsibility, which is why we do everything we can to support security and compliance with data protection.
What compliance aspects are especially important?
Harald Grumser: We ensure that documents comply with either self-imposed or legal regulations. We have to be able to satisfy the needs of different branches. We also help customers make their documents more accessible, such as with PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility), a variant of the PDF standard for barrier-free documents. Or we install a module that customers can use to define their own quality assurance rules for document creation. Regression testing can be used to ensure that all written content leaving the company is strictly conformant.