by Cassandra Balentine
The document lifecycle is a complex and increasingly essential part of enterprise communications. When incorporated strategically it helps improve efficiency and productivity.
Above: Racami is a multi-national software and IT company focused on improving the performance of customer communication processes and advancing multi-channel initiatives.
Enterprise output management systems (EOMS) represent one element of an enterprise document strategy that offers page description language (PDL) processing and transformation; print queue management; job grouping/splitting/merging; file modification; and reprinting.
EOMS is used to organize, format, manage, and distribute enterprise data utilizing the above competencies and more to add value to production processes.
The way in which people communicate continues to evolve, therefore processes that support organizations’ document communications output strategies do as well.
Matt Mahoney, EVP, sales, Racami LLC, points out that EOMS software developers have been under pressure to advance their products to support digital channels, cutsheet and continuous printers, measure production activity, and automate upstream and downstream tasks from printing. He says content creators want better control of customer communications. “They want visibility of jobs and documents, emails and chats, and purchases and payments. They want to coordinate the offline and the online to create good customer experiences. You hear the terms customer journey mapping and customer experience. These are driving change in EOMS systems, but the legacy systems are burdened with the old architectures, business culture, and technology that make it hard for those to support increasing demands for digital output.”
Jonathan Malone-McGrew, senior director of engagement, Solimar Systems, says one change is that print engines are faster with the ability to have higher quality output than ever before. “Enterprises with inkjet roll-fed engines are challenged to make sure they can ‘feed the beast’ to keep the digital presses running efficiently and cost effectively,” he adds, noting that when they sit, they require more maintenance and produce more waste. Meanwhile, organizations running cutsheet are starting to look at the efficiencies of inkjet cutsheets and the difference in speed that some of these new, disruptive print engines offer.
A move towards multi/mixed equipment vendors means that organizations must stay on top of managing costs and finding the best equipment for the shop’s specific needs. “Using an EOMS that has the ability to fully communicate and ticket—without re-ticketing—to equipment from all major print manufacturers is a must,” notes Leccese.
“In all cases, there is still a challenge of making sure that work is flowing, that you can load balance between engines and align the work to print correctly with the expected output, which is where workflow software has continued to evolve and make an impact. It allows people to run their production environment at the speeds their customers demand,” says Malone-McGrew.
Adding to this the impact of COVID-19 has organizations looking for more ways to future proof their businesses and still keep them running. “This is where we believe the dashboard visibility solutions that incorporate tracking and reporting are becoming a crucial part of the print management equation in EOMS. Solimar accelerated its development to make sure it could help customers with features like piece-level tracking, proofs and approvals, and the ability to release work directly from the web-based and mobile-friendly dashboard,” he shares.
In the last 12 months, Malone-McGrew has noted interest in this type of solution that is fully documented, able to be implemented remotely, and fully supported. “We have seen the ability for our customers to automate and optimize rapidly increase over the past few years, especially with customers that are standardizing on PDF—even if they wrap it in another object container like IPDS. The benefits are smaller files, faster processing, and higher quality output. It also makes the work easier to deliver in a multichannel world and positions them to move to omnichannel communication strategies leveraged by the latest technology to engage with customers.”
The emergence of full-color printing along with PDF becoming a de facto standard is not only pushing the boundaries for printer vendors but software vendors as well. “As we all know, all PDFs are not created equal. Many software vendors can attest that within this industry we have been tasked with processing very complex, almost pathological, PDF files and it has pushed many systems to their limits. Over time, software vendors have evolved and now have the ability to fix a pathological PDF, or other PDLs, and this has become vital in the industry today. From missing fonts or repetitive resources to the ability to enhance color, remove and/or add elements to a PDF—these are becoming essential elements of EOMS,” says Raymond Grant, director of product management, BlueCrest Inc.
Traditional data transforms from AFP to PostScript, PCL, or PDF for printing have changed drastically. “Most customers now require EOM solutions to accept any data and perform complex reengineering processes and data manipulation on files at speeds of hundreds of pages per second,” explains Ernie Crawford, president/CEO, Crawford Technologies. He says where traditional EOM revolved around transforming output files into new print formats to drive specific printers, today EOMS has evolved into fully automated, interconnected workflow environments. Each record must be validated and run through postal processing, checked against a preference management database, and then the output needs to be optimized for each specific output channel. It’s no longer as simple as creating an AFP-, PCL-, or PostScript-formatted file to drive a high-speed printer.
Output today may include creating a PDF for longer term archive for e-presentment, generating responsive HTML5 for mobile or tablet presentment, or output could be formatted to support assistive technology for recipients that require it in accessible formats. “The required outputs and integrations have changed immensely to support inclusion and customer experience management. In fact, most industry analysts today classify the EOM environment as a subset of customer experience management (CXM),” shares Crawford.
Another area that has seen significant growth is adding content to documents, particularly barcodes. “As ‘smart’ finishing and insertion equipment becomes more affordable, smart features have become part of the standard offering instead of an optional expensive accessory, increasing the desire to drive these devices,” shares Leccese.
“We have seen the pendulum swing away from home-grown or custom-built solutions due to the IT overhead and cost to maintain, as well as the risk associated with keeping up with the latest security requirements that are starting to impact even commercial printers if they print information that is deemed by new legislation as personally identifiable information like we have seen with the CA privacy legislation. This creates more interest in finding solutions that will work within existing environments while advancing the capabilities of the production environment,” says Malone-McGrew.
Driving continued evolution is overall industry and cultural trends.
Crawford notes a “digital first” mentality as one trend driving change—the ability to ensure that every individual can access/view all communication on any device at any time. Another is “anywhere operations,” which incorporates the ability to provide seamless employee and customer support and deploy and manage your products, services, and solutions regardless of location. “Examples of this are enterprise control of ad hoc printing and distribution or managing multiple print shops from a home office,” he comments.
Another trend is the hyper-automation of digital workflows, including the holistic automation of sequential tasks into an integrated business process. “Customer experience and hyper-personalization—to be able to deliver the right information at the right time to the right person in the format that they require, communications need to be personalized based on real-time interactions and historical information about that person,” says Crawford.
Further, organizations are looking to develop fully compliant, accessible output to ensure that a message is effectively delivered to the blind, partially sighted, and cognitively disabled.
Grant sees a push for cloud-based solutions and the need for the security they provide. “Cloud-based solutions like Microsoft Azure spend more that one billion annually on cybersecurity research and development and employ 3,500 security experts. The cloud is finally here in the EOMS space and it will solve your security concerns,” he states.
Personalization demands continue to grow. Malone-McGrew explains that this can be customizing information like name and address or changing items within the printed piece based on buying behavior or demographics. It could also be adjusting the messaging or look of a piece for different regions or neighborhoods. “Basically, we see people wanting relevant print and digital communications or both. This means their EOMS must be able to handle it and handle it well so production work can be completed at the rated speed of the machines and hit the turnaround time customers expect or demand.”
The more runs there are for custom or personalized print production, the more tracking becomes an issue. “Production environments and their organizations want to know if items were produced, delivered, and billed. Moreover, they want to know if the costs were what they estimated or if they were higher or lower. Was the job run more than once because there were problems? Print is a competitive market; printers need to be able to gain competitive advantage, which we believe they will do by being able to leverage the capabilities of today’s EOMS,” says Malone-McGrew.
Leccese discusses the move to householding. “While the cost of physically printing output has been decreasing, especially with the next generation of production class inkjet devices, the process of printing is becoming more expensive as key costs like labor and mailing have increased. EOMS need to be able to automate more to reduce costs by removing touches and steps in the production process. Householding becomes more important to reduce duplicate content and consolidate mailings,” he offers.
Another area driving change is a move to bi-directional host and output device communications from one-way (Host ->EOMS->Printer) communications. “As both host and output devices have become more sophisticated, EOMS needs to support more bi-directional communications to gather information from printers to determine which resources are best for routing and then get feedback if output was successfully completed. The output device information is then passed back to the original sending host to create a more complete, closed-loop system,” says Leccese.
It is beneficial to consistently evaluate EOMS and all organizations should focus on continuously improving in this area.
Signs that your EOMS strategy is out of date include lower campaign response rates, reduction in revenue numbers, manual processes, too many errors, dependency on tribal knowledge of operators, increased customer churn and complaints, too much technology debt related to old hardware and software solutions, and employee turnover.
Crawford suggests customer expectations change rapidly, delivery channels emerge frequently, and new technologies become available almost daily. “With so much change, the opportunity is always available to improve processes, lower costs, increase revenues, and to do more to improve digital CX. He suggests that an EOMS can be viewed as a “living and breathing” entity that impacts your organization at both strategic and tactical levels.
“An organization should always be looking at ways to improve how they process communications through their systems. Marrying the organization’s requirements with their current vendor and/or competitors should be done multiple times a year,” suggests Grant.
Leccese feels that if an organization finds that it needs to add more staff and/or equipment—especially to produce the same or less output than in the past—they should reevaluate their EOMS. “The right EOM system can likely remove or reduce inefficiencies impacting production. The EOM system would also provide valuable data about what is being produced and the data then used to optimize operations.”
Malone-McGrew says if you haven’t revisited your EOMS since the start of COVID-19, he recommends taking a step back and reviewing how it is working for your organization today while also looking at how you think it will perform as your business continues to evolve over the next six, nine, and 12 months. “If it has been longer than a year, the good news is that you are still operating. The bad news is you may be leaving valuable money on the production floor; money that if invested in new processes and workflows through an upgraded EOMS would offer return in investment and continue to pay dividends.”
Mahoney argues that because EOMS has traditionally been in the hands of the print and mail departments, it is unlikely that they will see the need for dramatic change because printing is not changing that rapidly. He sees larger changes driven by content creators like marketing and customer care departments. The people responsible for coordinating offline and online communications and ensuring positive customer experiences will drive technology changes in EOMS. These people have a stake in the output and want to see job statuses, proof documents and other forms of communication, customer communication histories, and the like. “Some existing EOM systems will be adaptable and new types of products will fill the gap. Newer systems with dashboards, automation, APIs, databases, and functions to do the work are commercially available and will continue to mature,” says Mahoney.
Any organization with customers, clients, or members should see EOMS as a core part of their business strategy.
“Effective client communication increases revenue, improves customer experience, promotes long-term customer value, and helps you grow your business,” states Crawford, adding that an effective EOMS positively impacts the perception of your brand and improves customer satisfaction metrics.
“Print and mail providers as well as any in-plant provider that produces a significant amount of print and mail will benefit from an EOM solution as it provides processing flexibility with a particular emphasis on business continuity,” says Grant.
“We believe that any organization that prints at a significant enough volume to create bottlenecks in manual processes, where errors start to tick up and deadlines or customer deliverables become difficult to meet, benefits,” says Malone-McGrew.
Long established entities in industries such as finance, insurance, healthcare, and government typically have legacy systems that need significant investments to modernize, adds Leccese. “But these organizations often are unable to invest in modernization costs. For organizations that are unable to modernize, EOMS provides a cost effective and quick way to produce output that meets today’s needs in formats and mediums that weren’t even imagined when some of the company’s infrastructure was originally built.”
Another business model that benefits is service bureaus and in-plants within large brands, education, public services, and government—whether they operate an in-plant or outsource their print, shares Malone-McGrew.
Direct mailers benefit from looking at their EOMS processes due to the increased demand to reach people who have been at home more in the last year. “This is the same with any company trying to reach their customer base through print and digital communications. EOMS isn’t defined by the industry; it is defined by the need to create mass communications that have what we have seen referred to as mass customization and then produce and deliver it in a timely and cost-effective manner,” adds Malone-McGrew.
Companies that mass produce and distribute large volumes of communications via hardcopy and electronic format benefit from EOMS. “Especially those where the work is recurring and batch mode,” shares Mahoney. Traditional EOMS are not tuned for one-to-one, real-time communications. Newer products developed in the past ten years are heading in that direction, offering batch handling and real-time communications.
The COVID-19 Effect
In early 2020, the world as we knew it abruptly changed and businesses sought ways to work through a global pandemic while consumers and the workforce stayed home.
“Suddenly, we were faced with a new reality. People were not allowed in production print facilities or offices. If they could get into their operations or offices, print operators had to socially distance from each other and manual processes were put under a microscope,” recalls Crawford. He says many printers, both in-plants and print service providers, lost revenue and were forced to furlough workers. “Between March and April 2020, the commercial print revenues in the U.S. decreased by 57 percent.”
Three common outcomes emerged. Crawford says first, unprepared sites struggled trying to execute their disaster recovery (DR) plans and had significant difficulties meeting their SLAs, which resulted in critical communications, such as bills and policies, being delivered late or containing errors. “They worked long hours and focused only on jobs that were government mandated, many times without success,” he suggests.
Second, sites that were prepared had previously implemented data standards and job automation solutions and had working DR plans and real-time EOM dashboards. “We heard from our clients about how they were able to run multiple production facilities from their kitchen tables—or other remote locations—and automatically re-route jobs to sites with the correct stock and output devices,” shares Crawford.
And finally, the third case included organizations that chose to implement software and solutions in their facilities at the start of the pandemic to support anywhere operations and to enable rapid migration to cloud offerings to prepare for a complete digital transformation of their EOMS. Crawford says these organizations were able to pivot to survive and thrive through the mandates and lockdowns.
Leccese points out that while creating and managing digital output has been a part of EOMS for years, in many cases it was the ancillary function or not used at all for many customers. “With the pandemic closing or limiting print shop operations and many of shops’ customers working from home, digital forms of output became the primary or even sole output.”
EOMS were tasked to take output that had been printed—in some cases for decades—and convert it to useable digital formats and then email or make the output available for download to end users or feed it to an electronic presentment system to get the output to the final user, he offers.
EOMS also became like a dam, says Leccese, collecting print and allowing only the most critical output to pass to print production. What was not printed would be held for a defined time period, and if no request was received, the output would be deleted without being printed. In the long term for some organizations, a portion of the physical print may never return or will remain digital. “Pandemic print holding processes highlighted the lack of use of some output, potentially signifying it had no value to the organization, or that users are now getting the information upstream from the output process.”
The pandemic brought with it uncertainty and unpredictability. “Some of our Customer Advisory Council members at Solimar have seen dramatic increases in their business with volumes requiring them to look at process improvements and optimizations. Other customers saw reductions causing them to change how many shifts they ran in the print production environment. Government actions are also causing upticks in business; it really just depends on where the organization is and the mix of print and digital production business coming from which industries. Those serving travel or hospitality have seen devastating losses in their business levels. Ultimately, we believe no matter who your print and digital customers are, organizations want to future proof their business and add the lessons learned from COVID-19 to their disaster recovery and business interruption plans,” notes Malone-McGrew.
The push to digital transformation in many ways accelerated due to COVID-19. EOMS plays a vital role in an organization’s ability to effectively communicate with customers, clients, and members through a variety of efficient processes.
Kemal Carr, president, Madison Advisors shares his take on enterprise output management (EOM):
The last decade has witnessed several new developments in the marketplace for EOM. Changes in technology and increased consumer expectation for digital delivery have driven this already mature market to respond by developing capabilities to support additional channels for electronic delivery. Other improvements include sophisticated workflows that can be designed easily through a graphical user interface (GUI) and robust print transformation capabilities, all of which help streamline print production operations and allow service providers to increase their value proposition beyond print and mail.
Several years ago, Madison Advisors identified workflow as an area of opportunity for EOM. At the time, most solutions offered basic job processing workflows and allowed developers to create workflows using scripting tools. Today, these solutions offer sophisticated workflow and business process management capabilities with a user-friendly GUI that enables organizations to receive print jobs and automate a wide range of actions to allow work to flow seamlessly through the production operation. Workflow—the heart of a print production operation—automates the process from the ingestion of data files through delivery. Steps such as data stream preparation, PDL transforms, job ticket management, and directing print files to specific printers can be accomplished by creating process steps as part of the workflow. A browser-based workflow system can provide a GUI with simple programming mechanisms that reduce development effort and the need for IT resources.
Advances in technology and the addition of new delivery channels, such as mobile applications (apps), social media and SMS text, interactive voice response, and interactive personalize video have given organizations the opportunity to communicate with consumers in a variety of ways. Transactional communications, once thought of as documents that had to be sent to customers for regulatory reasons, to provide proof of activity or to collect payment, are now optimized to create an enhanced customer experience no matter the delivery channel. Organizations are rethinking their communication strategies by having print and digital be channels that work together to increase consumer engagement.
A decade ago, Madison Advisors reported that most of the output management systems evaluated leaned heavily toward print output management with few vendors offering strong support for multiple electronic delivery channels. Since then, these solutions have added sophisticated functionality to their technology to support additional delivery channels, such as email, SMS, and even push notifications to mobile apps, whether as part of the solution or by interfacing with a customer’s electronic delivery platform.
EOMS includes processes from the time work is accepted into a print and/or digital production environment until it is delivered to the final destination. “The EOMS should add value to the production areas—we call them swim lanes—in the enterprise,” offers Malone-McGrew.
From onboarding to prepress, enhancement and enrichment, print management, visibility and dashboards, tracking and reporting, archive, eDelivery, and portals, the goal is to add value throughout enterprise document processes. dps
Jul2021, DPS Magazine