Putting it Together:System Integration that Works
As operations look to optimize and automate their business and production processes as well as launch new marketing services, the topic of “integration” is something that is bound to come up. With so many different software tools, systems, repositories, and technologies that often exist within print businesses, defining what exactly integration entails can be challenging.
Integration requirements must be aligned with the goals of optimization and automation as well as the ability to offer new marketing services. The ultimate goal is to successfully create a logical, efficient flow of information. In approaching integration, businesses need to consider the scope and scale, the choice of internal versus external execution, and the associated technical issues that need to follow to ensure an effective end–result.
When is Integration Needed?
It’s a familiar story–over the past few decades, businesses have acquired various types of systems and technologies to accomplish different operational tasks ranging from web–to–print to cross–media to production management. We are now at a point where software systems are present at each step of business and production processes. Linkages must be made between order entry and production of static and personalized communications and mailing and fulfillment. Clients may be coming to you to create and develop solutions that are beyond the scope of your existing IT resources. While these solutions can represent a tremendous opportunity, you need to provide data and system integration services to ensure that information is being passed from one process to another in a quick, accurate, and automated manner. In fact, according to InfoTrends’ 2011 Production Software Investment Outlook, close to half of print businesses that place a high priority on workflow automation priorities consider system integration to be an initiative for increasing efficiency.
The term “integration” is often used quite liberally, regardless of the industry. It should be clarified that what is typically being talked about in the context of automation and optimization is system integration. System integration encompasses connecting disparate systems together to work in concert with each other, ensuring continuity between systems and business or production processes across the entire organization. This includes integration of your production processes and integration with your customer’s infrastructure.
The Right Resources
Performing a system integration or cross–media marketing services project with an internal team versus using some type of external provider is a choice that many companies have to make. Making that determination often depends on the scope and scale of the project, internal IT capabilities, and subsequent costs. Software vendors themselves typically have a team of technical consultants that can perform fee–based system integration or provide programming services for of their products. There are system integrators that specialize in integrating specific types of systems or particular products; common ones include integrating print e–commerce with digital asset management or building out cross–media solutions to drive multi–channel communications.
Among printers who own graphic communications software tools, the top purchasing criteria is ease of integration. Printers want systems that will easily integrate with other systems and are easy to use when up and running. Pre–packaged software doesn’t always get the job done. It is a challenge to find an off–the–shelf product that fits your unique requirements while also integrating with legacy systems. That’s when it’s time to either build the right IT staff or find the right business partner to make systems work together effectively.
Figure 1: What are your top criteria for purchasing print production workflow management solutions?
Why External System Integration?
While resources for system integration are plentiful, some companies still opt to perform integrations themselves. Given the complexity of the system integration process and the systems that need to work together, printers of all sizes are seeking partners. The logic behind utilizing external system integration resources is outlined below.
Access to Skilled Expertise
One of the biggest challenges that today’s print service providers face is finding skilled resources, not to mention the investment required to train employees and the need for attendant infrastructure. This can have a major impact on cash flow and overall profitability. Partnering with a knowledgeable organization can provide access to skilled resources at lower costs, with the additional benefit of not managing them directly.
Time to Market
Service providers can improve time–to–market for new products and services. System integrators with the right expertise and experience can accelerate the delivery of new marketing services that will ultimately improve your bottom line.
The Ability to Focus on Core Competencies
Most graphic arts senior managers do not have a core competency in IT system integration. The graphic arts manager is usually an operations executive or business entrepreneur who wants to spend more time developing strategies that grow business and improve profitability. Managing a complex IT system integration is typically not part of a graphic arts manager’s skill set, and this capability is best left to the experts.
System integration partners can frequently complete projects at a lower cost based on their ability to manage offshore resources. You can get work done at a fraction of the cost that you would have to spend locally, while getting equivalent or better quality. Because of the differences in pay and standard of living that exist between Asian and Western countries, labor costs are much lower in Asia. On average, you can expect about 60% cost savings if you outsource to countries like India.
Tecra: Integration Solutions that Deliver Results
A number of print service providers have turned to system integrator Tecra Systems, Inc. for help in dealing with complex customer projects as well as interlinking disparate systems into a streamlined productive workflow. Founded in 1998, Tecra is an industry leader and innovator in providing software solutions and systems integration for handling marketing and customer communications. It also offers a comprehensive cross-media platform for building personalized marketing campaigns.
According to CEO Giri Gondi, "Tecra is in a state of continuous self-improvement in terms of technology, business philosophy, and growth. We pride ourselves on always putting our clients first. We listen closely, discerning solutions that will complement the uniqueness of an organization and aid in furthering its goals. Our flexibility and knack for applying knowledge in distinctive ways enables us to target exact needs and develop a custom plan to address them."
Custom Programming that Works for Xpressdocs
Established in 2001, Xpressdocs was initially created to help real estate professionals produce high–quality marketing materials in an efficient, economical, and timely manner. Jeffrey Weiss, EVP of Operations and Technology, states, “With over a decade of success, we have become the leading provider of direct marketing solutions for organizations with large agent, dealer, and franchise networks. We build numerous on–demand marketing platforms for a variety of industries, including education, financial, healthcare, hospitality, insurance, and real estate. While we have direct customer–facing applications, the bulk of our work today is private–label cross–media based Internet marketing systems. Our clients have access to a complete marketing platform to support their print, direct mail, e–mail, and social media marketing needs.”
Xpressdocs provides a simple online marketing platform to provide users with everything they need to build marketing campaigns that truly resonate with target audiences. The offering includes:
Xpressdocs works to make implementation as simple as possible without compromising time and quality. The company starts by assessing a client’s current marketing needs, then it builds a customized marketing platform based on that customer’s unique requirements. This consists primarily of design collaboration, product selection, account management, and billing structure customization to ensure that users get the best possible solution. In addition, Xpressdocs offers a variety of automated programs, third–party partnerships, and marketing support to facilitate rapid adoption and ensure a hassle–free, streamlined implementation process.
Weiss elaborates, “That’s where Tecra comes in. Initially, we had 18 developers to deliver implementation. Today, I have six solution architects that interface directly with the client on their specific needs and requirements. When it comes to programming and development, we partner with Tecra. The company provides us programmers with subject matter expertise at a very competitive rate. The benefits to our organization are significant. In an environment where technical talent is scarce, I don’t need to worry about retention. Tecra sources and recruits programmers, and there is guaranteed redundancy. Our turnaround times have improved. By utilizing offshore resources, development is done at night while we are sleeping and we can review the content during our working hours. In today’s market, it made good business sense for us to partner with Tecra.”
Helping Pitney Bowes with Complex Solutions
Pitney Bowes provides its clients with customized communications management solutions. Because no two customers are the same and resources are limited, Pitney Bowes partners with Tecra to meet complex implementation requirements. Managing Director Troy Olsen highlighted one example. “A large non–profit wanted a marketing fulfillment solution that created customized information packets on the fly. The company wanted to address the need for audience segmentation and management of coordinated, timely communications. There were 500 to a 1,000 mailings daily with variable content and varying number of pages. We partnered with Tecra to build a system that indexed and managed page counts so the right pages went to the right person. Tecra created the infrastructure that addressed needs for customized mailing and fulfillment.”
In another instance, Tecra worked with Pitney Bowes to develop a solution for a Medicare D provider on the Annual Notice of Change and Welcome Kits for new members. Every document is different for each recipient. Olsen explains, “These are time-sensitive documents that need to be compliant with federal and state regulations. There are late fines if they are not delivered on time. Tecra created the data infrastructure for the various versions, approval routings, and audit trails.”
Programming Support to Help Budco Leverage Touchpoints
Budco is a leading fulfillment and direct marketing company that was established in 1982. It helps a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies build strong relationships with key business, consumer, and employee audiences. Budco believes that every touchpoint within the fulfillment and direct marketing process provides an opportunity to connect and to begin a meaningful two-way communication that ultimately shapes a relationship. Whether it is designing an e–commerce website, correctly fulfilling and shipping a product order, generating a relevant and compelling message through a multi-channel direct marketing campaign, or producing an analytical analysis to optimize marketing performance in a concise and accurate manner, Budco works with its clients to manage the dialogue.
Jeff Sierra, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development, notes, “We handle a lot of our systems work in-house and employ over 100 IT professionals. We have proprietary applications, Oracle, Java and .net, XMPie, and NetSuite ecommerce software. When our workload is excessive, we need a partner with domain expertise. Tecra has a wealth of strong XMPie expertise and we leverage its resources to supplement our internal team. It is an efficient and open partner to do business with.”
Making Web Storefronts Work for Allegra Network Franchisees
Allegra Network and its franchise members offer advanced graphic communications services (including marketing consultation and strategic planning) to small and medium-sized businesses. These capabilities include copywriting, graphic design, digital and traditional color printing, variable data printing, online ordering, mailing services, e-mail marketing, website development, promotional products, and environmental graphic/signage solutions.
According to Allegra VP of Technology Tim Wood, “We decided to use XMPie as our cross-media and web–to–print solution. The franchise market however is unique. Typical cross-media systems have a single administrator for web capabilities. At Allegra, each franchise however must be able to administer his/her own site. There are two levels of hierarchy required for our web–based services.”
That is where XMPie partner Tecra came in. Tecra has several developers skilled in XMPie software development. The company created AccuConnect as an alternative to XMPie uStore so Allegra could have a main administrator (Allegra Network Headquarters) and sub-administrators (each franchise location) to properly control web-based transactions with optimal security and no cross-sharing of information between franchise portals.