In my last post I said that composition vendors weren’t very far along with their content partnerships. Nasser Barghouti, the Chief Technology Officer at Document Sciences set the record straight before I could finish my Thanksgiving turkey. Mr. Barghouti informed me that Document Sciences has had a long and successful integration partnership with both Filenet and Documentum. In fact, the next major release of the Xpression Product Suite, will offer an embedded OEM version of Documentum. Document Sciences wants to be able to give customers the choice of a bundled solution or open integration. I expect to see a lot more partnerships of this type and more CM OEM deals with leading composition players.
On August 15, 2006 another Gilbane blogger, Rita Warren, queried whether a marriage between CMS and CRM made sense. “Circa 1996… it was all about one-to-one customer communications. That (broad) vision was apparently too hard to realize back then! Maybe it’s possible now.”
Well, circa 2006 it’s still all about one-to-one, but I think we understand what that means a lot better. One-to-one customer communications are not only possible, but they are happening in many small and large businesses. In most cases they are not coming from major CRM implementations ala Siebel – they are coming from composition tools. Many composition tool vendors now refer to themselves as personalization or customer communications management products. If you look at some of the case studies from the composition vendors included in my last entry you will find case studies for communications such as statements, enrollment books, and invoices that tailor messaging, educational content, product content, document format and delivery channel based on customer data or stated preferences.
Okay – so as a CMS professional why should you care about composition tools? Several reasons:
- Personalization is a beast that feeds on content. Lots and lots of content. Many composition experts have never even heard of taxonomy – CMS architects needed!
- Many composition tools have rudimentary content capabilities – but integration with “real” content management tools is necessary to feed the beast – CMS integrators needed!
- High volume composition tools are getting to the point where they can serve printed and electronic transactional channels equally well and are starting to move upstream into driving personalized web content. CMS and composition tools are not on the same path – visionaries needed!
It’s only a matter of time before some of the composition vendors decide that they should be in the CMS business. Personally, I think that trying to tightly couple those capabilities with composition would be a bad idea. Composition tools are complicated enough as it is. CMS vendors who have been trying to deliver the holy grail of print and web content management across document types are still not there yet. I find it hard to believe that a composition solution would leapfrog over the current CMS vendors. I suppose this is one instance where it would be nice to be proved wrong.
Meanwhile, an easier path to integrating current CMS technology for managing web and print content with leading high-volume composition tools would be welcome. Document Sciences has worked with Documentum and a few others. GMC Software has partnered with Interwoven a couple of times and Exstream and Metavante have both partnered with IBM OnDemand. I have also seen a number of Exstream – Vignette combos. Few vendors have broad and established content management partnerships and the market is ripe for this kind of collaboration.
I’m a firm believer in the value of user groups. I think that they are most valuable when the user community has enough energy to manage them independently from the software publisher. This is rare and getting rarer in the composition software industry.
In the absence of an independent user group, and not to be confused with same, many vendors sponsor User Conferences, which are great opportunities to mingle with other users and see presentations on “real life product implementations” albeit under the watchful eye of the vendor.
A number of vendors have their 2006 user conferences coming up in the Autumn:
Today and tomorrow GMC Software Technology will be hosting its 1st Annual International User Conference in Prague, the Czech Republic. No word yet on plans for another US based user conference. (Prague is gorgeous this time of year – wish I could go!)
Isis Papyrus will hold their Users Conference on October 2 and 3 in Dallas. (I’ll actually be presenting at that event on some of the latest trends in composition tools that are of interest to the print service bureau market. Look me up if you’re there)
On October 16 – 18 in San Diego Document Sciences will hold their annual conference, now dubbed “xCelerate North America 2006.”
Exstream Software will hold their Annual User Conference in Lexington Kentucky from October 22 – 25 and is currently blasting the user community with printed and electronic invitations to attend. I think I could paper the cafeteria with the invitations my firm has received! (Yes, we’re registered – please stop!) They will also be holding a User Group meeting during the event.
If you are aware of any other upcoming user conferences, please post.
If you are currently evaluating composition tools, user conferences are a great way of getting information somewhat independently from the sales rep. If there is an actual user group meeting at the conference, this is a great way of gauging customer satisfaction and vendor responsiveness. I highly recommend attending user conferences when shopping for products.
If you don’t have the opportunity to join a user group or attend a conference, some other good resources are the various product communities on Yahoo Groups as well as the always “infotaining” UK based site run by Mike Gatiss.
In all of these forums please let people know what you REALLY think about the products you use. If you don’t air the problems, the vendors don’t fix them and the next guy gets sold the same problems. Some firms are hesitant to publicly reference any shortcomings in the products they purchase, as if the problems reflected on them instead of the vendor. Every product has room for improvement and every software user can probably learn something new about the products they own.
Connect! Share! Learn! ‘Tis the season.
Your definition of “document composition” will largely depend on your perspective.
A graphic designer might immediately think of Quark Express or Adobe InDesign. A desktop publisher could probably name various plug-ins to those environments or perhaps list database-publishing tools like Corel Ventura or Adobe PageMaker. If you are approaching this question from an operations, IT or print production perspective you have a much longer and more granular continuum of needs which can only be met with high volume composition software. In my work, I deal with both ends of the continuum from the graphic designer to the high-volume output specialist (see www.ArtPlusTechnology.com)
Composition products range in their ability to design documents from static to dynamic, and it can be generally stated that the more dynamic the document, the less fine control you have of layout, layering and color management. Beyond static page layout and database publishing tools are two categories of composition solution that begin to bring marketing, operations and IT needs together.
- Variable Data Print (VDP): tools geared to one-to-one print marketing primarily targeted at print shops with digital presses
High Volume or Transactional Composition: the “big rigs.” These are the tools that use business rules to transform data into dynamic documents for a variety of print and electronic media.
The high-volume composition products did not start off with even a tip of the hat to marketing. The long-time leaders evolved from one of four major categories:
- Report Writers – high volume sys out and other reports of which statements & transaction confirmations were once considered a part. Example Metavante CSF circa 1990
- Typesetters or Page Layout – These products were focused on batch creation of forms documents that needed fine typographic control along with merged text. Example: Document Sciences Compuset (ne XICS) circa 1990
- Assembly Tools – these tools were typically used in concert with page layout tools and provided the rules-based merge engine to bring together various forms and other resource to create policies, contracts and the like. Example: DocuCorp DocuMerge cira 1985
- Correspondence – rule based correspondence generation often linked by a user interface to call-center or sales personnel. Example: Napersoft circa 1989. Major players who have been producing composition software since the early 1990’s or before include:
These days, many of the leaders are sunsetting their traditional products and launching new products that attempt to serve all four categories and drive output to both print and online channels. More and more, the desire to reach marketing users (and their budgets) is driving their product requirements.
Some of the key developments in the evolution of these products since the early 1990’s include the introduction of proportional fonts, data-driven graphics, graphical user interfaces (most of these tools did not have UI’s when first introduced), marketing campaign and message tools, post-processing tools for intelligent sorting and postal management. Some of the many tools that have established themselves in the market since the late 90’s include:
- Elixir Technologies
- Exstream Software www.Exstream.com
- GMC Software www.GMC.net
- Sefas Innovation www.Sefas.com
While these products are trying to serve broader audiences and layer more and more into their solutions, new players are emerging that go back to the approach of trying to do one thing well. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not clear what that one thing is. With no slight to their products intended, I find it challenging to place tools like XMPie and PageFlex into the continuum above. There are many other products that are not listed here that are targeted to very specific document types or vertical industries. I will drill down on some of those in future entries.
Meanwhile, I would be interested in feedback on the products that you are most familiar with and how you categorize them.