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Emerging Trends in the Automated Document Factory

Many organizations search for scalable, flexible, and open workflow solutions to help solve industry-wide issues.

By Steve Watters

Both in-house and service bureau print-and-mail organizations face growing pressures to reduce costs, meet compliance requirements, and produce more sophisticated documents. Many manage multi-vendor shops that evolved as the result of merger and acquisition activity as well as customer demands. As companies struggle with these pressures, the need for flexible, scalable, and open workflow solutions expands the scope of the document factory.

The traditional automated document factory (ADF) is developing through the addition of new functionalities. Processes typically found in upstream legacy applications—owned by IT organizations—find their way into expanded ADF workflow processes. Marketing campaigns once outsourced and handled separately from legacy transactional systems are moving toward integration with transactional production to create a sophisticated document that meets the customer’s needs and creates cross-selling and up-selling opportunities—the TransPromo document. As a result, organizations re-evaluate their current document production workflow solutions and search for products offering enhanced workflow.

A wealth of workflow software exists to manage data from capture to document creation, transformation, and digital print and mail production. The challenge is finding the solution that works best in a given environment. But first, it helps to understand how workflow solutions fit together.

Expanding the Scope of the ADF
In TransPromo document-production workflow, the most important key to creating successful TransPromo documents is the use of relevant customer data to drive the inclusion of promotional offers. In other words, in order to reach captive transactional customers with personalized promotional data that will have an impact and produce ROI enhancements, the data must be timely, accurate, and speak to the customers’ needs.

Accuracy is essential. Data errors make an organization appear uninformed, translating into reduced customer retention. References to customers’ pertinent personal data points must be current. Relevant personalized promotional messaging and marketing offers drive satisfaction, retention, and higher offer-acceptance rates.

TransPromo document creation must serve multiple legacy transactional systems and gather data from multiple—sometimes dozens—enterprise or outside commercial databases. When gathered, this data creates comprehensive profiles of customers that drive the inclusion of appropriate promotional messages or offers. The difficulty and expense of working within multiple legacy systems, combined with the advent of the tools now available at the document factory level, is leading many organizations to shift TransPromo document creation away from legacy systems and toward the document factory.

Expanding the Document Factory Model
The original model of an ADF was developed during the early 1990s by print and mail automation pioneers who viewed document production as a manufacturing effort. The model, which achieved industry-wide legitimacy in 1996 when Gartner coined the term "automated document factory," was very straightforward. In early ADF implementations, data entered the ADF, usually as a printstream output from legacy systems, and was transformed for production print and finishing activities. Delivery modules prepared documents for output to recipients. The reporting and control layer provided management with control of production print and finishing, system monitoring, inventory tracking, and production results reporting.

Today, the emerging ADF is bigger, better, and more complex. ADF leaders are increasingly asked to support post-legacy creation and production of mission-critical, hybrid documents. To meet these needs, ADF solutions must interface and integrate with enterprise databases, manage content such as images and promotional messages, and integrate with campaign management systems. Concurrently, color variable data printing (C-VDP) technology has evolv-ed to where many ADF print managers working with enterprise marketing de-partments are able to justify the addition of color printers. Document comp- osition solutions offer better color control and color printer technology is more cost-effective.

The evolving ADF handles more than just document production. An ADF now includes data management, content management and integration, color management, and document composition functions previously found upstream.

The evolving ADF sometimes re-quires the integration of response analysis systems with marketing campaigns. By providing respon-se analysis for personalized campaigns, the ADF moved further into IT departments and assumes functions previously outsourced to specialized providers. Additionally, ADFs are integrating USPS confirm tools to track response mail such as payments or marketing campaign responses. The entire document production process is currently evolving into a large, closed-loop process that extends outside the traditional ADF model.

Data Analytics and Data Mining
Organizations must have access to current, accurate data about their customers. This data drives the promotional content to be merged with customers’ transactional data, which builds applications such as TransPromo documents. While this data is traditionally demographic or psychographic, it can also be data related to customers’ home improvement efforts, travel histories, spending patterns, or other behavioral habits. Whatever specific personalized criterion is used, its relevance is the key to successful promotions.

Most enterprises capture customer data from transactions including credit card purchases, telephone calls, and financial investments, and store it all in databases. Data mining is utilized to access and analyze customer data in order to identify customer-specific be-havior trends that match a desired pattern for a promotional offer. When correctly performed, data mining yields valuable customer data that drives successful TransPromo document messaging. This expands current customer activity and retention, and identifies potential new customers.

Many enterprises have numerous customer data points, often disparate databases. These enterprises require a system that brings these data points together to form a single image of the customer and keep it current. Software providers recognize the need and are responding. Two relatively new solution offerings reflecting this trend are IBM’s InfoSphere Master Data Management (MDM) product suite and the Pitney Bowes’ Group 1 partnership with MDM solution provider, Siperian. The goal of data analytics is to create and manage a single image of a customer—from multiple database sources—that is relevant and current whether based on spending habits, account specifications, psychographics, or demographics.

Delivering TransPromo
As the task of TransPromo document creation finds its way into the document factory, ADF managers must implement a process to store and manage the promotional messages, data, and images that will be used in the documents. Content management software systems fill that need and provide a collaborative interface to marketing departments that control promotional content. Digital asset management features help organizations store, access, search, modify, and repurpose digital content for use in TransPromo documents.

Once the content management is complete, organizations need to address the printstream repurposing or document composition re-engineering to create the TransPromo document. Software re-quirements vary according to the tasks that need to be performed. The repurposing of current printstreams to create TransPromo documents requires the ability to insert personalized promotional data and images into white space already reserved for those purposes, add color to monochrome transactional documents, or create onserts. These tasks are accomplished through printstream transformation tools such as Böwe Bell + Howell TransFormer, Crawford Technologies PRO Transform, Emtex VIP, Group 1’s StreamWeaver, Sefas Remake, Solimar’s Rubika, and others.

If an organization decides to re-engineer a document, a composition tool is necessary to combine transactional data and appropriate promotional content and compose the output.

Workflow: Production Control Solutions
ADF managers require a centralized workflow and production control tool to track production jobs from data receipt to postal hand-off. There are several tools on the market that fill these functions end to end and others that fulfill specialized functionality in specific workflow areas.

Choosing the correct workflow tools is a critical step in developing an overall ADF strategy. Since the ADF environment is evolving, flexibility is a key requirement to consider when selecting a workflow solution.

The selected solution must provide an ADF with the flexibility to change production process, whether through the addition of data mining, content management, and document composition at the front end of the processes or the ability to interface with campaign management or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems for re-sponse management at the output end of the processes.

The desired level of new ADF functionality determines the amount of integration necessary to achieve the vision. Those interested in tracking individual customer records from data receipt through data analytics, document composition, print stream transformation, print, finish, and postal hand-off need a tool with the robustness to integrate these functionalities. For sophisticated document factories, Böwe Bell + Howell, InfoPrint Solutions Company, ISIS Papyrus, Océ Printing Systems, Pitney Bowes’ Emtex, and Sefas Innovations offer highly integrated and flexible workflow solutions.

Success in Evolving ADF Workflows
There are several keys to the successful evolution of an ADF implementation with enhanced capabilities— including the ability to produce Trans-Promo documents—interdepartmental sponsorship, IT skills in the ADF, and open architecture.

Interdepartmental Sponsorship
The ADF concept began as a way for production print and mail managers to increase production quality while reducing production costs. As ADF strategies continue to evolve, new functions to support color printing, content management, document composition, and re-sponse management systems must have the interdepartmental support of IT and marketing departments. The enablement of TransPromo documents, for example, will provide striking enterprise ROI, but not necessarily expense budget reductions in the ADF. To acquire these systems and add color printers requires sponsorship from marketing departments that will realize significant reductions in direct mail costs and improved response rates and, IT departments that see huge cost avoidance and/or savings in legacy system maintenance costs.

IT Skill Sets in the ADF
Initially, the ADF concept was also a way for print and mail production managers to improve performance, but the evolving ADF is more complex and requires more technical resources similar to those in IT organizations. In the most successful, large-scale ADFs, organizations have embedded technical departments responsible for these emerging functions. Is the ADF becoming an IT organization? Yes, in many ways. While an ADF still relies on production personnel, it also requires a sophisticated IT support structure.

Open-Architected ADF Workflow
There continues to be ongoing changes in—and increased pressures on—ADF organizations. As enterprises acquire new companies, develop new products, and look for new competitive edges, the demands upon their ADF increase. The best offense in this environment is a production strategy that includes flexible ADF architecture. Open-architected workflow solutions are allowing organizations to change their production processes quickly and inexpensively as requirements change.

The Evolving ADF
Recent trends force ADF leaders to go beyond automated document production and look at the automating the entire document lifecycle. In the future, more ADFs will assume the function of document composition from the many legacy systems where it is done redundantly, centralizing enterprise document composition in the ADF.

The ADF is the logical place to create specialized documents that support dynamic marketing demands, whether through total document re-engineering or printstream transformation efforts.

Gone are the days when the ADF was solely used to enable the automation and control of print, finish, and mail processes. Today, the ADF must also support an enterprise in the management of data and support of marketing campaigns, creating the potential for response management and closed-loop controls for marketing campaigns.

The early ADF was designed to be scalable and flexible, and today’s leading ADFs are certainly putting that flexibility to good use. The future holds even more promise for the evolving ADF. dps

May2008, DPS Magazine

      

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