by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division Most hardware and software vendors have components of solutions that may be very good at one or two functions, and were designed to address one or two steps in only one or two environments. September 27, 2004 -- Environmental groups encourage people to "Think Globally, Act Locally." If one thinks of their entire company as the "global organization" and individual business environments such as the office, CRD, or data center as "local groups", the same holds true with regards to developing effective and efficient workflows for digital document production. Equipment vendors have long thought locally by--providing equipment and workflows for accomplishing a specific application (statements, policies, direct mail, manuals, books, etc.) --and expecting individual print providers to adopt many of these "local" solutions across their "global" business. The typical results were multiple workflows within, and across multiple business environments that weren't connected and worse yet, required specific dedicated systems, staffing and equipment for each application. Similarly, most hardware and software vendors have components of solutions that may be very good at one or two functions, and were designed to address one or two steps in only one or two environments. For example, a print provider could easily rely on one brand of product for scanning, another for document composition, and others for RIPing, spooling, tracking and verification. All these tools may be good and capable in their own right, but may not be suitable to work together within and more likely across, business environments. In today's economic times, C-Level executives and IT professionals need systems and tools that span the office and CRD - or data center and production print shop, reduce the need for dedicated staff, and that can be applied easily to produce many types of applications. Sales people often focus on one product line or environment, fitting a prospect's needs into the limited capabilities of the product lines they are selling. One root cause of this problem is the sales structure of system and equipment manufacturers where sales people often focus on one product line or environment. In doing so, they work to fit a prospect's needs into the often limited capabilities of the product lines they are selling. A company selling document composition software, for example, might focus on the ability of its product to add color, graphics, and enable 1:1 marketing when the customer's core issue is needing to increase response rates. While it is true that a powerful document composition system can provide some benefits towards that goal, the sales person's tendency to jump right to that "solution" is driven mainly by his lack of alternate offerings and his compensation plan. For example, if your business would benefit from via combination of 2-D barcodes to aid response tracking and serving the same document up as an interactive web page with the ability to provide estimates, order reprints and track shipments, then the composition product only addresses a portion of the ultimate need. Technology vendors must be attuned to changes in your environment and understand the items that make or break your current and future success. Taking an environmental approach is crucial to developing the workflows your business needs to succeed. There are two sides to this. First, you already have an intimate knowledge of your business. This encompasses not only the operational aspects but also your company's business goals and objectives. You also know about the varying needs of your customers in their respective business environments, both now and as they shift to remain competitive in the future. In all likelihood, you try to anticipate your customer's needs and adapt your business to deliver products and services to meet their current and future requirements. You are, in effect, continually adapting your business environments to meet and exceed your customer's needs. Second, your technology vendors must be equally attuned to changes in your environment. They need to understand the items that make or break your current and future success -- your operational issues and pain points, your business goals and objectives - and how these reflect your customer's needs. This way they can provide the workflow solution building blocks to address these needs today and then adapt as those needs change in the future. In some cases, you may need a workflow that will span and unite equipment and systems across multiple business environments. The data center in an insurance company for example, may need to print policies, statements and checks. Typically these require different data streams -- which may require separate print engines, staffing and processes. The ideal workflow would be an architected solution that utilizes many of the same components, equipment and staffing within-and-across business environments to develop and produce all these documents. The days of the data center running 24x7 one week a month and the print shop running one or two shifts, five days a week are gone. Today's systems and workflows must help companies leverage all their people and equipment resources no matter where they are. One of the things we do at Océ North America, for example, is develop print engines and workflow software that work across environments to do the work of many traditional devices. For example, Océ cut-sheet and continuous forms print engines can print at 240, 300 or 600 dpi, and offer MICR or Highlight Color. The PRISMA workflow products driving these machines can accept any PDL and support non-Océ printers to span and unite many business environments As you talk with vendors about their workflow solutions, contrast their offerings against all your business requirements. To ensure a solution will meet all your needs, you should look for companies that offer a breadth and depth of capabilities that are already integrated and architected to address the needs of multiple business environments. Finally, they should be easily implemented, so you don't have to invest major resources in changing the ways you work today. Such solutions, though, are not the norm. Most vendors lack the resources to address many areas and continue to offer limited solutions. Others have a catalog or collection of workflow tools that may lack an integrated infrastructure and not be effective for multiple applications or across different environments. Be sure to step back and evaluate the vendor's overall capabilities. Do they have one piece or many? Most importantly, can they help you achieve your objectives by delivering workflows that span many applications and multiple environments, or only address today's needs in a small part of your world. The workflow you need is one that is attuned to your environment and doesn't force you to play by someone else's rules.