This article appears in the Summer 2019 digital issue of DOCUMENT Strategy. Subscribe.

Image by: Anastasia_Stoma, ©2019 Getty Images

It’s been a few months since DSF ’19 ended, and I'm still processing the vast quantity of information shared at the conference. The 2019 move to Anaheim brought new ideas into the mix, and I can say with certainty that this year's event brought me to a new level. After three full days at the conference, the key takeaways became apparent:
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has moved from theory to practice
  • Customer experience (CX) strategies are delivering a quantifiable return on investment (ROI)
  • Our technology implementations are becoming more holistic
Throughout the educational tracks, and even within the keynotes, the topic of AI was inescapable. Almost every session I attended highlighted a practical application of AI to improve our content-related processes and data-laden tasks, featuring concepts like chat bots, machine learning, and natural language processing. Even the breakfast keynote, featuring technology journalist Stewart Rogers, shared how to turn buzzwords, like AI, into practical production. It became clear that this is the year that innovators will use AI for content migration, content generation, forms processing, and process automation.

There were also some amazing case studies highlighting projects that started with a technical challenge but resulted in a positive customer outcome. These presentations from companies like USAA, Wells Fargo, Grange Insurance, Chubb, and National General Insurance delivered a powerful message that intertwining technical innovation with customer experience can produce concrete ROI in the real world. The common thread among these case studies was that those DSF innovators who involved a wide set of stakeholders achieved better results.

The main stage keynote by Tamseel Butt, the Global Head of Governance and Enabling Operations at MetLife, revealed some of their performance data tracked during the company's digital transformation—an amount that was surprising to the entire audience. This data allowed for the simplification of 2,500 types of correspondence, a redesign of communications to use clear language, and the elimination of low-value tasks from the MetLife workflow. Tamseel went deep into the financial performance results in terms of operational and staff costs, cross-sell data, and customer experience impacts. All the technical aspects of the communication initiatives in MetLife’s rebranding delivered customer experience results that contributed substantial dividends to the business. This is the type of quality information that DSF attendees should put into their own 2020 plans.

This year, it was apparent that successful technologists and document strategists have moved on to holistic thinking. As a community, we have become frustrated from decades of creating redundant technology stacks—by the business, by channel, and by department. We're tired of shadow IT creating compliance and security complexities that create burdensome audit obligations, and we've learned some painful lessons along the way with those pesky cloud-based tools hidden from sight. Whether the story started with technology, customer experience, or a line-of-business need, the most interesting sessions showcased those who removed complexity from their infrastructure, design, or workflow.

The way people approached these technical topics at DSF ’19 was decidedly different from past years. Maybe it was the proximity to Hollywood, but the cast of characters was highly developed this year. Even the most technical topics defined success in terms of multiple perspectives. Customers, line-of-business employees, architects from other teams, and managers were all considered part of the same team. There was a dynamic collective understanding at DSF that our solutions must align with many more stakeholders: Our strategies are growing deeper and wider as we face an omni-channel future together.

Scott Draeger is Vice President of Customer Transformation at Quadient. His broad experience includes helping clients improve customer communications in over 20 countries. Follow him on Twitter @scottdraeger or visit www.quadient.com.
There is an expression, “The only constant is change.” That certainly appears to be true in 2020, and especially so for communicators in almost every industry