Interview - Output Management in a Changing IT World

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The rate of change in the IT world amazes even insiders. Who would have thought that consumer products like Smartphones would present IT professionals with new challenges? How does the plethora of new communications channels impact IT? And how does output management keep pace with the (r)evolution? BIT spoke with Harald Grumser, CEO of Compart AG, about all the latest trends in the IT and communications world and how to move forward.

 

BIT: Mr. Grumser, output management used to be a niche field back when we just needed to get print data streams into readable documents. What’s changed since then?

Grumser: Output management has evolved from letter-mailing in the print center into a central customer communications hub – at least that’s what software makers would like. But seriously, customer requirements to support the array of communications channels and the technological jump to color printing have wrought more change in the last five years than the previous fifteen. In particular is the completely new, demand for seamless integration into the company’s existing applications landscape.

BIT: Do company leaders and IT departments really understand the true value of output management?

Grumser: The issue has yet to fully get the attention of many in corporate management. But I do think that most IT professionals understand that output management, by whatever name, has to be part of the overall architecture.

BIT: Today output management is in the eye of the storm of current IT trends. What trends to you think will be important in the long term?

Grumser: As for general trends, I think cloud, mobility and social business will affect our industry the most, although big data may initially play a lesser role. What truly keeps IT managers up at night is cost concerns, the ability to be flexible without major investments, and how to best retain customers.

BIT: What demands do these general IT trends place on document and output management? How should companies prepare?

Grumser: First, companies need to be competent with respect to coordinating the different applications and communications channels. For example, it won’t work if the director of the print center is responsible for physical mailing, the web team for portal applications, and IT production for e-mail distribution, while legal is suggesting how to implement digital post solutions and marketing has just commissioned a technical study on ad placement in social media with one-click ordering. That’s no joke; that’s real day-to-day in some companies. What I’m saying it that if you fall from the 100th floor, there’s no sense bragging about how smooth the ride was down to the 10th.

BIT: In addition to general IT trends, are there any special trends in output management? Which ones do you see, and how important are they?

Grumser: We are currently in the midst of two major trends with enormous implications. Electronic presentment has a substantial influence on applications and paper can still connect electronically. Paper doesn’t have hyperlinks, for instance, but it can have QR codes. I fully expect an e-mail to have hyperlinks, but no QR codes. That is just one simple example. Over the medium term, electronic and physical distribution both beg the question: What are the best interfaces for distribution logistics? If a print provider prepares the documents, he needs to archive them, too. Otherwise they have to be sent back to the in-house archive. If a company runs portal applications internally and outsources only expensive printing, then uniform document creation must also stay in-house. Those are just a few of the considerations and each of these examples includes factors of costs and efficiency that differ for every company.

BIT: Compart tasks itself with responding early to relevant trends, but not chasing after every one. How do you distinguish the lasting trends amidst the hype? What is Compart doing to satisfy the new demands that the IT world is lobbing at output management?

Grumser: Even we have yet to find the Holy Grail, but we are fortunate to be able to work with over 1,200 customers in over 40 countries. If you look at the success of e-Boks in Denmark, the massively higher outsourcing rates in the USA, the activities of more than 10 postal organizations or all the other types of contracts in Latin America, you have a much fuller picture than if you look at just the rate changes at the Deutsche Post. Of course we are also investing more and more in market studies and our own systematic market investigations.

BIT: One of the trends that has not gained much traction is transpromo. Where does transpromo stand today?

Grumser: A few years ago transpromo was invented to justify the higher costs in color printing. I believe that once color printing translates into infrastructure savings instead of higher response rates, we will have more and more data from CRM systems flow into document preparation. Or, with better metadata, we’ll simply use more whitespace marketing and eventually not even realize that we’re making use of transpromo, just not calling it that.

BIT: White paper solutions, or the production of business print materials without pre-printed forms, represent another of these slow-moving trends. What future do you see for white paper solutions and what is Compart doing to contribute?

Grumser: As for the low-hanging fruit, i.e. replacing pre-printed forms, I think excellent progress has been made already. The second step, concurrent printing of traditional attachments, is largely underestimated. Here color know-how and the option for full-bleed printing are critical. The third step, printing white envelopes, is still in its infancy. I’m sure that the future is in white roll paper and we are doing quite a bit to make this as easy as possible in our solutions. We do still have a way to go with configuration and language input, so some of the brainpower – including our people in the field – is still sitting in front of the computer screen.

BIT: To what extent has the idea of white paper solutions or color in general made actual inroads?

Grumser: Besides the movement away from pre-printed forms, I see more and more applications using color to the customer’s advantage, such as to make an invoice more readable. It’s just a question of time before customer pressure gets so great that even the last fanatic of black-and-white will have to make the switch. Furthermore, color can make paper a premium product. We are so desensitized by the deluge of mail we receive that a visually attractive, non-verbal experience will garner more attention

BIT: High-volume color printing, for customer correspondence and internal corporate reports alike, is a lasting trend. More and more companies are switching to color printing. How is Compart supporting the trend toward color?

Grumser: Once color profiles are mastered, we orient both employee and customer training toward color workflows. We are also systematically working to make color control options easier to access in our solutions. We confer with nearly all the printer manufacturers on how to safely circumvent the “mine field” around color. There are a lot of ways to achieve the goal, but all the software and hardware providers are on different paths, so the many components of an entire system do not automatically mesh.

BIT: Output management is the art of steering single printed pages away from the office printer toward central printing stations. It saves a lot of money, but also requires workflow redesign. How is Compart helping to centralize individual business mailings?

Grumser: Two years ago we introduced our DocBridge FileCab workplace solution that can take documents from any PC application and feed it to central printing. Inspired by several major customers, we just introduced version 2.0, which greatly improves local review of documents prior to dispatch and enhances integration into the existing IT structure. We believe it to be one of the very best available solutions for this highly significant input channel.

BIT: One hot topic in the output world is dovetailing incoming customer inquiries and outgoing responses. A seamless input and output process would be ideal. How do we accomplish that?

Grumser: A great many modular solutions have emerged in both input and output management over the last several years, and on closer inspection they reveal increasing commonality. For instance, feeding the archive does not require two solutions and some workflows can be handled with the same tools. Years ago when some companies tried to merge input and output management and failed, the market may have not been mature enough. Now we see increasing convergence in organizational responsibilities and technical components; I really think it is just a matter of time.

BIT: What are the technical hurdles that need to be overcome?

Grumser: Input management first needs to master scanning and OCR, output management printing and production control. Both must be able to identify document content. Yet each discipline is still grappling with separate service architectures and highly domain-specific workflow control systems. As the right model to merge all of these has been developed, it will become a discipline.

BIT: Do companies also face organizational roadblocks when implementing these kinds of universal processes?

Grumser: I think there are actually fewer organizational issues than technical ones. A number of innovative companies have already merged both disciplines under the same umbrella.

BIT: Word around the industry is that suppliers of input systems, meaning systems that identify, classify, and pass content to downstream processes, are quite aware that input and output need to be more closely linked. However, this isn’t the case for suppliers of ECM, ERP, BPM and CRM systems. To what extent are these areas involved in the output and output process?

Grumser: I believe that data- and document-driven disciplines will always need interfaces that work in both directions. Without waxing philosophical, I see documents as transportable representations of data. In the traditional sense, the bridge between input and output management is paper. But it is the document that is forward-looking. The bridge to the other systems is always the data.

BIT: What do you think needs to happen to link document processes more closely?

Grumser: In the best case scenario, data and documents must always travel together. This results in more intelligent documents and easier electronic input processing in the event that legal concerns prohibit input via a browser.

BIT: One overarching topic is the security of processes, data and data access. How do security requirements and compliance impact output management, and what precautions is Compart taking?

Grumser: The subject of compliance alone is worth an entire series of articles. Let me illustrate. If I send something confidential to the wrong recipient I can end up in jail. If I exclude the handicapped people (i.e. blind or mental-ill people) from a rate change notification, I can be sued. If I use the wrong stationary, I can substantially damage my image. Those are just a few of the examples that involve output management. If I want to be absolutely sure that documents leaving the company meet certain guidelines, it behooves me to send them all through a common gate. That is how we think about output management and that is where we are concentrating our efforts for compliance.

BIT: Your explanations show that there is certainly no lack of complexity in output management. Of course, companies can also outsource their output processes to save themselves the trouble. This leaves a single interface, between the outsourcer and the service provider. When is outsourcing worth it?

Grumser: Executives and managers who are considering outsourcing, should know exactly where their business is headed because that’s the only way to determine the right breakpoints. Printing is the end of a processing chain and has only one interface. Archiving has two, configuration and querying, like from an application. Document preparation and channel-friendly dispatch can have any number of interfaces.  Outsourcing can be worthwhile if I have high volumes that require long runtimes.

BIT: So, when would you recommend outsourcing output processes?

Grumser: For one thing, you can pretty much always assume that outsourcers will be better at compliance than your own organization. Printing and enveloping are sure bets. For many companies, a cloud-solution archive would be another place to outsource. Beyond that, you need to carefully weigh how much control, and thus time-to-market, you're willing to give up.

BIT: Thank you for talking with us, Mr. Grumser.

 

Published in BIT Spezial, June 2013

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