In this Industry Trends Q&A, Ernie Crawford, President & CEO of Crawford Technologies, shares his thoughts on AI’s possibilities in CCM and CX as well as other recent trends.
What leading trend are you seeing emerging in the transactional print market?
The emerging trends we are seeing all involve finding ways to do things faster and better with a higher degree of auditing and verification. From intelligent job routing and advanced normalized automated workflows to AI and machine learning (ML)-based job and application onboarding technology, AI is enabling enterprises and print service providers (PSPs) to bring products and applications to market with fewer resources while delivering a superior product. This includes the ability to meet customer preferences by providing multiple output formats which can be delivered digitally or as accessible documents. Organizations that adopt these technologies are able to deliver communications faster to a wider variety of channels than ever before.
How is AI affecting customer communications from a production standpoint?
We are seeing significant growth in enterprises and PSPs utilizing our AI tools to onboard applications and complete migrations in one-tenth of the time it has taken previously. Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges with onboarding a new application or setting up a workflow and connecting it to your automated document factory (ADF) is making sure your barcodes are correct and the data is optimized for your software and hardware.
In many cases, this process can take days, weeks or even months and often involves a content or application specialist to understand the data and then a developer to create the workflow or build the configuration files and workflows. With some AI and ML tools, print files are automatically indexed and workflow and application files are created in minutes, so the organization’s only role is to verify and QA the document and workflows, rather than build them from scratch.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity AI offers when it comes to CX?
The biggest opportunity for AI regarding the customer experience (CX) is utilizing intelligent enterprise communications processing (ECP) tools. Many organizations have multiple CCM tools for creating communications. However, as an organization, you may not be aware of how an end user consumes the required information when it is created, leaving you with multiple challenges. Do you create a PDF file for archive in case the end user wants to view the communication on their PC and an HTML version should they prefer to view it on their phone? You still need an AFP or production print file if they prefer a printed copy of the communication. This is possible if you have a new CCM system; however, you may incur large processing and storage costs.
What if you have two or three older systems that do not create PDF, HTML or accessible output?
This is the challenge that many organizations are facing and that negatively impacts CX. The answer is a centralized ECP solution with fast AI-based job setup and application onboarding that can input a single data stream, connect with your consent and preference management tools and output communications to the end user on whatever platform they want, when they need it and how they need it. A robust ECP offering can dynamically convert your archived content to responsive HTML or accessible content in milliseconds to power new mobile and cloud-based technology, delivering a seamless experience to the end user.
What industries are or will be impacted in major ways by the use of AI in this market space?
PSPs and business process outsourcers (BPOs) seem to be the major winners with AI, as they can more cost-effectively outsource customer communications from enterprises. This is because they can complete “lift & shift” application onboarding in weeks instead of months or years, significantly reducing their cost burden. Other industries are finance and insurance that have a plethora of legacy content that requires a quick and easy way to get communications online into digital formats, like HTML, PDF and accessible formats without months of work or upgrading their CCM tools. We have had a lot of success in recent years helping large in-plants in these industries to standardize and normalize their workflows so the data drives the output, rather than the employee driving the output. By combining an intelligent ECP solution with AI-powered onboarding and digital output, many large in-plants and PSPs can produce work faster than ever before without the strain on their technical resources.
How accurate is the work that comes out of an AI-enabled process? How much trust should we put in it?
When utilizing AI, it is wise to follow a “trust but verify” strategy. The applications do require verification; however, it is primarily considered “supervised learning.” We have seen many data streams and documents indexed perfectly utilizing our AI-based SmartSetup solution, but they are only as good as the data they are given. If a certain condition is not provided in the application sample, then there is the opportunity that it could be missed. That is why application QA and auditing always need final sign-off on AI-built workflows before deployment.
How is AI making document strategists more productive? In other words, what were their processes like before, compared to now?
AI helps document strategists to be more productive by automating and streamlining many of the required tasks and processes throughout the document lifecycle. With AI, workflows are simplified and streamlined. Manual and repetitive tasks are automated, resulting in more accurate results, fewer errors and reduced QA time.
Previously, document strategists could take days, weeks or even months to ensure accurate processing for each document type. This can now be done in seconds. These same solutions will also incorporate functionality to ensure communications are compliant. Tools like this can analyze documents to identify personal and confidential information for redaction, not only saving significant effort and time, but also reducing the risk of exposure and regulatory issues. An example of how this works with compliance is that if your organization is required to make a statement accessible to comply with laws and ensure a non-sighted person can read it, the cost a few years ago was about $10-$25 per page. Today, this is completed utilizing advanced AI tools for just a few cents per page, resulting in huge savings for the company and a way to ensure compliance and a positive CX for everyone involved.
Crawford Technologies exhibited and presented at DSF ’23 in May. How prevalent was the discourse on AI at DSF ’23?
DSF ’23 was an amazing experience this year for the Crawford Technologies team. The audience was extremely excited to discuss and experience AI-based job onboarding, which was demonstrated, and people were lined up to see it.
AI and digital output options were top of mind for many of the attendees. They were interested in learning how new AI-based tools can help them automate their manual processes, improve production efficiencies and reduce costs throughout the document lifecycle. Many of the vendors were discussing technology-based solutions, but attendees were enjoying the live real-time demonstrations.
Crawford Technologies recently held its 4th annual Customer Communications Virtual Summit featuring presentations from companies such as Broadridge, Fidelity Investments and Ameritas. How did AI figure into the business issues discussed by these and other companies?
AI is part of most every business issue now. Companies are looking to do more with less, find better ways to utilize technology and reduce the cost of complex, repetitive tasks as part of their digital transformation imperative. Most every presenter at the Summit referenced AI in their presentation.
An electronic document industry pioneer, Ernie Crawford is the President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. One of only a small number of people worldwide with a Master Electronic Document Professional (M-EDP) designation, Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the high-volume electronic printing market.