Friday, September 17, 2010

We Do the Hard Stuff

People in my company are often challenged with how to give the best “elevator” description of what we do.  We are not an application.  We are not really middleware.  We don’t solve any single problem.  But we do work with companies on very vexing problems, the kinds of problems that seem oh-so simple at the start of the project.

The abstract view of what we do is complex document automation.  More simply put, “we do the hard stuff around document generation, archiving, printing and presentation.”
A Simple paradox in life is that what at first seems easy can sometimes turn out to be the hardest to accomplish.  This is very much true in the world of document automation.

Why is it that we can construct new secure portals for outside access to sensitive content, find ways of locking down even Blackberries, but when it comes to reliably putting pixels on paper, the wheels can literally come off?  The answer is not that it is complicated - that goes without saying.  What we are facing is the gap of where printing is in our heads vs. where it really is circa 2010.  Let me elaborate with a quick for-instance:

A large investment firm needs to consolidate customer statement print from two centers into one and create mailings from these systems into a single, mail piece for hundreds of thousands of customers.  There is a huge opportunity to drastically reduce costs by consolidating centers.  Ok, you say, just "merge" the print and maybe transform the print to the format supported by the newly consolidated center, right?

If only it were really that simple!  Over the years, the guys and gals in the print shop have implemented a slew of tricks to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, especially mailing costs.  Here are some of the tricks that need to be accommodated in order to consolidate the print into the new center:

  • Recognize the arrival of print packages, and unzip them
  • Parse related .csv file that contains instructions for manipulating the print
  • Translate the .csv information into a specialized data format for downstream mail systems
  • Consolidate multiple print files into a single print file
  • Add other metadata for downstream processing, archiving, discreet presentation
  • Transform or normalize the print into a single format supported by the printers
  • Add Barcodes to the printed pages so they can be read by envelope inserters
  • Add banner and trailing pages to ensure that batches of print are kept separate

These are the kinds of requirements that drive our business, and sometimes drive our customers a little crazy!  Let me know what you think – if you have any war stories that you can share, I’d love to celebrate or commiserate with you.  DK

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