By Matt Mahoney, Vice President of Sales at Racami
If you want your operation to survive the next five-plus years, then you need to pursue comprehensive operational automation. I’m talking about both the digital and physical work that you do to produce and deliver customer communications. As a service provider, your operation is striving to outpace competitors. As an in-plant, you’re finding ways to offer more value while simultaneously cutting costs. You have seen the decline of competitors and the outsourcing of jobs. You are facing the transition from supporting the reliability of one or two channels to competently handling the fluidity of omni-channel marketing. With all of this, you’re wondering how you can solidify your successful future in the marketplace.
The complexity of communications is growing, government regulations persist and technology is advancing, forcing you to address these issues to maintain viability. Automating the digital and physical work is now a necessary part of justifying the communication and achieving customer satisfaction. Print and mail used to be easier—now it’s a high-risk game of customer preferences where only the most capable operations are thriving.
If you’re a believer in this philosophy, then you’ve implemented automation to tie together the clusters of independent systems to process data, create communications, manage inventory, schedule and track production across facilities, push messages through multiple delivery channels, and create reports without human involvement. Whether you call it an ADF, ERP, MIS, a workflow engine, a process manager, a dashboard, or a CCM system, you’re employing better ways of doing things.
As vital as these advances are, automation can cause issues or fail you with little warning, causing an automation upset. Whether this is due to computer glitches, bad data, natural disasters, hackers, or a construction crew severing a data cable, it can wreak havoc on your ability to deliver. When this happens, you and your team must act.
That’s when you realize that these three things are very important to mastering your automated workflow
- You must monitor the workflow to identify problems when they occur
- You must provide people the ability to perform the work in the absence of the automated system
- You must have the proper redundancy (a.k.a. a backup system)
Your most common issue that requires staff involvement is identification of component failures. For example, someone running a printer or inserter finds a problem with the printed pages. That failure happened in the digital workflow, but was not caught until later in the process. Your team works on pinpointing the issue and that often involves rerunning the job and watching it go through each step. This can take longer than the production schedule allows and you miss the deadline. You need a better way and that’s where a workflow monitor adds value.
It’s one thing to automate the workflow, it’s another to monitor it. You want a system that watches over the automation and measures the health of the process. A good workflow monitor audits each step, making sure things are happening in the proper sequence, on schedule, and that each task is performed properly. Your staff uses a GUI or dashboard to perform triage and, when necessary, overrides the automation system when the workflow monitor reports abnormalities. Your IT professionals and others troubleshoot the problems while production progresses manually.
The workflow engine with workflow monitor are supplemented by the command-and-control dashboard. Both your staff, and customers do their jobs better when they have access to information about customer communications. They want to know more than “…was the job printed and mailed?” They want to know the content, timing, and delivery channel for the communications. They want to know where a communication is in its lifecycle. They want to manage production bottlenecks. They want to adjust consumer preferences. They want to know all sorts of things and affect the process at any stage where they are allowed to do so. The command-and-control dashboard serves this purpose.
Ultimately, the answer to mastering your automation is to blend computer based automation with human interaction. Most roles in an organization can be automated to some degree, but not entirely. It is the combination of a good workflow engine, workflow monitor, and command-and-control dashboard that keeps you in the race and ensures your future success.