Why Documents Should Be (Almost) Empty

Creating customer-facing communications can become rather complex tasks. Transaction-oriented documents are typically based on a host of business information systems. Recipients view data pertaining to their accounts and/or business relationships without realizing that multiple sources generate the compilation—sometimes up to four or five different systems within larger enterprises. Transaction details come from one database; customer data (name/address/ZIP code) comes from another; credit terms, interest rate, payment plan, payoff amount and minimum payment data may reside in a third. To further complicate customer communication, different, “expert” groups within most organizations prepare and maintain these resources. Quite often, documents are the only place where data from these varied platforms mingle. “Ideally, ‘business rules’ are employed to pull together information from the different databases,” explains industry consultant Pat McGrew, managing director of McGrewGroup, Inc. There are still many SMBs and “light-large” businesses using outdated systems, she points out. “Not everybody updates their environments like the ‘big guys’ do,” McGrew acknowledges, adding that now could be prime time for smaller and mid-tier companies to rethink document workflow integration.

Streamlined Documents

Conversations about streamlining documents are two decades old, but technological “bells and whistles, including more sophisticated data and the addition of color and marketing objects, have muddied the proverbial waters, according to McGrew. “We need to get back to basics,” she advises. Intermediate middleware can facilitate the three-phased extract, transform, and load (ETL) process. Software can extract data from multiple sources, transform it (which entails cleansing and verification) and then load the data into customer communication management (CCM) systems, where it can be formatted into more print-friendly templates. The key point: “Data used to complete documents needs to be ‘live’ and based on best-known information,” McGrew stresses. “You don’t want to do the math and database resolution during the print-mail or electronic document production cycle, so be judicious about how you fill those fields.” Which translates to: be wary of using the same scripts month after month!

Document Templates

Document creators need to resist the temptation to paste content from varied sources, even if that content appears to be static, such as terms and conditions. Why? Because getting out of sync can involve too much risk. “There should be a single reference point, a single source of truth,” McGrew continues. “You really should not have multiple data feeding into the document. You don’t want info about five transactions coming from one database and 15 more coming from another database.” A common merger/acquisition example is a customer relationship management (CRM) system that has not been normalized upstream. “Let’s say Bank A bought four or five other financial institutions. Which has the most current [version] information?” she asks. “We often do not know. A business rule can become out of date if you’re pulling information from the wrong place.” It doesn’t bode well if said bank inadvertently sends a monthly checking account statement to a customer’s old mailing address. Legal liability aside, “transactional printers live in fear of the penalties associated with bad data” that can lead to security breaches, notes McGrew, a former HP “inkjet evangelist” and a transpromo expert for Kodak. DocOrigin® from Eclipse Software has always embraced the concept of template-driven transactional documents. We encourage customers to build their templates with variables that call in the data from various sources while the documents are being composed. This ensures the bills, statements, purchase orders, or other customer-facing documents contain all the latest, accurate, and approved information. “Hard-coding” data into documents is a dangerous business practice that exposes the organization to risks associated with errors and makes document maintenance a needlessly tedious task. Constructing document templates that pull the most current and approved content from corporate databases protects the documents from obsolescence. This practice also simplifies document maintenance. When business rules extract data from a single source, all documents using that data are simultaneously updated. Organizations need not worry about locating multiple document versions and pasting in the new information individually. When companies use software like DocOrigin to design ”empty” documents, they control the sources of relevant information that fill the pages at production time.