Your Documents Are as Good as Your Printing Solution

Today's transactional applications can go far beyond the boring, black-and-white, simple-text invoices and statements of the past. With new technology developments in personalization software and high-speed color printers, it is now possible to customize transactional documents with transpromotional messages, which has been shown to boost effectiveness of printed output, whether it's measured by response rates, readership, ROI or customer satisfaction.

Because transactional applications produce some of the highest volumes and, therefore, most cost-intensive digital print operations, it is important to consider devices that can produce these volumes at high speeds and at the highest level of reliability. With speed and reliability, maintaining the quality assurance of these time-critical jobs becomes much simpler. Two quality assurance benchmarks to consider when printing personalized transaction documents are acquiring adequate customer data and determining the most appropriate printing technology.

High reliability for your transaction printing system is critical. Customer invoices need to be sent out on specific dates (and as soon as possible). Any delay in invoicing creates a drag on cash flow, with the subsequent statements producing issues with customer satisfaction.

Let's face it: Laser printers are slow and costly to operate (two to five cents per page - just for black printing). How about your MFPs? Paper jams, "out of order" signs and assigned parking spaces for copier technicians are old jokes around many offices. Also, MFPs use heat, which causes reliability issues in high volumes. With these challenges, more organizations are opting for new high-speed inkjet printers over conventional toner-based laser printers and MFPs. With their heatless imaging process, high-speed inkjet printers typically have much greater uptime and longer machine life than comparably priced toner devices.

It is also important to consider the value of utilizing full color and including personalized, targeted messages within customer invoices. Personalized transaction documents that include color can have an impact, as evidenced by one of RISO's hospital clients that recently incorporated color into its invoices. Doing so has already resulted in payment cycles accelerated by 15 days, as patients are more attentive and responsive to these personalized and full-color documents.

Selecting the right in-house printing solution not only addresses quality assurance issues associated with personalized transactional printing, but it delivers consistent and cost-effective documents that are customized, in full color and have an immediate ROI for organizations.

DAVID MURPHY is the vice president of marketing for RISO, Inc., a leader in digital printing technology.

The Test Plan that Is as Complex as Your Documents

The quality assurance of transaction documents has always been challenging. Even before the advent of so-called "TransPromo," these documents were personalized by virtue of including dynamic data for each individual customer. Historically, many companies failed to test for basic conditions like maximum account value and subsequently found this key information being truncated or wrapped for their highest-value customers.

As data-driven documents have evolved to include relevant personalization, the variations of both content and formatting have increased dramatically. Top challenges for developers continue to center on: development of suitable test plans to address all variations of the document; the ability to generate adequate test data to exercise all variations; and tools to enable the ongoing management of the test plan, problem tracking and regression testing.

Naturally, the test plan must specify the testing process for all steps in the document creation cycle and all variations of the document. Further, these variations and associated "use cases" will change with each relevant campaign and associated business rules developed for a personalized document.

Testing all variations will require substantial, segmented test data. All of the combinations of boundary conditions (transaction types, account types, account sizes, personalization triggers, etc.) may not exist in production; therefore, some amount of test data may need to be "manufactured." Even if production data were adequate to test all conditions, privacy considerations often prevent sending "live data" to outside companies.

When errors are found in transaction document applications, it often takes time to determine if the problem occurred in the data, in a pre-processor step, in composition or in an associated messaging platform. Each problem and cause should be documented to make future diagnostics easier and to facilitate regression testing. It is also useful to archive test files used to identify problems along with sample output. There are a variety of automated testing tools on the market, but few are specifically geared to testing document applications. There are, however, a number of print stream comparison tools, which are highly valuable in the testing and regression testing of transaction documents.

More personalized means more variable, and that means more testing. The challenge is to ensure that your test plans, processes and testing tools are as advanced and flexible as you want your personalized transaction documents to be.

ELIZABETH GOODING is the president of Insight Forums, an analyst and consulting firm that serves communities for communications professionals.