Many industries have software vendors who have created specific line-of-business applications to perform particular tasks. These tasks could be as simple as generating a response to an inbound customer inquiry or as complex as creating compliance communications, like a mortgage or insurance document. In most cases, these systems are very customized and help the knowledge worker execute the task well. However, the applications were not designed to be part of an efficient production printing and mailing system. In other words, when it comes down to getting these communications out the door, the elaborate tool that was built can become the bottleneck. This bottleneck often requires more labor to be involved in the process and a lot of hands-on, “apprentice-like” training simply to learn the process—the slow, manual, multi-step process.

The challenges are not isolated to the tribal knowledge required by the extra labor to execute the task of document creation. The challenges may also include things that cause production bottlenecks, like no application protocol interfaces (APIs), older print description languages (PDLs), also known as legacy applications, or simply the inability to batch or group documents. Compounding this situation is the line of business leaders' and purchasing teams’ ignorance (and I use this in the kindest way) of the effects of their decisions. Some call this isolated decision-making or silo creation. This lack of inter-departmental collaboration can wreak havoc in many ways later. More “solutions,” or bandages, may be required, which can further complicate the workflow and may cost a lot more.

So, what can we do as document production professionals? Do we keep correcting the problems with better downstream software and savvy? Or is it time to get proactive and become more involved upstream? I believe it will continue to be a combination of both. However, if we can position ourselves as part of the business communication team and get seats at the planning table, many of the challenges can be nipped in the bud prior to bottleneck fruition.

To do this, we have to get busy to get that seat. In an in-house/in-plant operation, the leader must market his/her services to any department that is tasked with customer communications. This could include: marketing, sales, compliance, customer retention, finance and information technology. Once those areas of the business learn what you are capable of, do not stop there. Invite them to visit your operation to understand how their documents are being produced and explain the challenges you have. Once people understand and know the repercussions of their actions, I find that they are more willing to work with you to make the necessary adjustments. The adjustments could be to make a design change to their documents, giving you a little more time to get certain applications completed or financial support to acquire the necessary tools to make the process better for all parties.

If this sounds a little familiar, you may have read my last blog, where I posed the question, “Are You Addressing the Document Production Problem or the Business Problem?” To become the trusted advisor or the go-to-guy, you need to understand their areas of business, their challenges and take the time to participate in their communication-related planning.

You may learn that the new software that they are thinking of implementing is designed to output PDFs at the end of their workflow. This could lead to some testing within your area to see if they output efficiently on your printers, since most of your internal clients may not realize that all PDFs are not created equally. It could also demonstrate that they do not have the ability to prepare the document for downstream manufacturing or finishing, like processing pages automatically on an inserter. Your knowledge of document integrity (making sure all the pages that are supposed to be together stay together and are not mixed with another customer’s mailpiece) may be able to add more value to their process or help them to avoid a law suit.

If industry-specific applications handcuff your production, ask for a seat at the “communication table” so you can all get to know each other. In essence, communication with your customers starts with communication within your own campus.

Paul Abdool is the vice president of enterprise solutions for Solimar Systems, Inc.. He uses his 17 years of document industry experience to help customers develop and optimize their automated document factories with process automation, workflow solutions and professional services. Follow him on Twitter @PaulAbdool.

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