How Does PDF Drive Powerful Content Assembly? Industry Experts Tell All

As producers of content look at their print and digital production processes, there is a significant opportunity for operational efficiency, cost savings, and labor optimization. To start on this path, it is imperative to understand where manual processes can be transitioned to automated and repeatable software-driven workflows. Whether you run an In-Plant print and digital delivery environment or are a Print Service Provider (PSP) that provides print and digital content creation, production, and delivery services–there are important software capabilities that can improve efficiency, drive down cost, and open the doors to new opportunities.

As part of our Solimar Systems ROI Boost video series, Pat McGrew, Managing Director of McGrewGroup, and Drew Sprague, President of Solimar Systems, discuss the importance of being able to assemble content when creating communications output for delivery to recipients in a timely and high-quality manner. To facilitate this, Pat and Drew also share how the PDF file format can be a strategic and vital part of the operational decisions made in achieving the most efficient processes for onboarding, assembly, production, and delivery.

These conversations between two industry veterans have unexpected outcomes too! In this video, we learn the difference between many different ways the print and digital creation and production industry leverages when making content ready for the production process. As Pat indicated to Drew, this is one of the rare times she has experienced someone walking through all of these methods clearly and distinctly. As you watch and listen to the conversation, make sure you note these different capabilities and benefits of assembly, batching, concatenating, comingling, householding, merging and insert. These flexible and configurable workflow capabilities are what can migrate a challenging and time-consuming process to a rules-driven, templated, and automated workflow process.

Join Pat and Drew for the rest of this ROI-boosting video series! Watch the next video in the series where they discuss print and finishing workflows.

So, let’s talk a little bit about PDF assembly and mail automation, because that sort of follows this concept of piece level tracking that is embedded in the Solimar universe now. So, when we talk about PDF Assembly, some people get the idea that what you’re talking about is at a very granular level. But, your solution sort of will work for anything from granular assembly to major document assembly, won’t it?

Well, that’s right. What you see, Pat, is you know, there’s been a very strong movement in the transactional document space and other spaces to PDF because it’s so flexible. And, what’s happened is that a lot of entities have gotten into the space producing PDF in ways that are maybe sub-optimized. And, to get those into an automated production workflow, you need some help.

And, for many years now, we’ve been providing solutions that help people basically onboard PDF workflows into traditional transactional workflows. And, what you find is that for some people, those are individual PDFs. For others, they are very small sets of mail pieces because the system that generates the content maybe runs periodically on some sort of clock-driven basis.

So, the mechanisms work for both and the kind of the critical juncture that people are running into is that from time to time, these systems, which they may be leveraging but are a little bit dated in terms of their software capabilities, sometimes output bad stuff that can confound the workflows. And, so then it’s really critical to isolate the bad stuff so that the other stuff can at least work.

OK, so when I talk about PDF assembly is part of that conversation, then the ability to batch a lot of like documents together that might come from different sources?

Well, we would kind of view that assembly as something maybe a little bit more like batching, specifically. So, we have a bunch of coined terms that we use for different ways of approaching assembling PDF content, right? We have a simple concatenation which means you just take them and you stack them together. Another we call assembly, which to us assembly is kind of been a rules driven ordering of that content.

OK. And, then we have another term that we use called commingling, which is where you would take disparate content that you want to post together and derive some postal discounts from doing so, we call that commingling. And, then you get another one where you take content that’s intended for the same recipient and put that together so it goes in the single envelope, and we call that householding. So, there’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat.

Wow. And, you know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually walk through the series before where and really explaining because there’s so many new people to our industry who haven’t lived through all the things that we didn’t used to be able to do. So that’s really helpful.

There’s even another term. It’s the word merging. And, for us, merging has yet another context that’s different because some people use the word merging to mean the simple concatenation. You just ram the things together. But for us, merging is where you intelligently take content that’s related and weave it so that, for example, you might have a set of declaration pages and policy pages that need to go together that have been constructed on different systems. And, merging is intelligently uniting those things so they can go in a common packet.

Okay. So, the net result of that is that whether I’m dealing with transaction or that might even work for direct mail assembly or marketing collateral assembly, right? No matter what kind of package I’m trying to put together, I have a lot of choices about how I can intelligently do that in a way that benefits my production workflow. And if it’s intended to be mailed, my postal discount opportunities.

That’s right. And, then there is yet another method to this madness, which is that sometimes people have historically used preprinted stock shells and gone through that and at the inserter inserted content, and so there’s the concept of white paper workflows, which use yet another variation of this concept of assembling PDFs. And, there you can insert pages that use digital images of content, basically PDF files or the preferred mechanism there, and weave those into other pages so that you don’t have to actually insert physical inserts at the inserter, you can do it electronically.

Yeah. We used to talk about that in the early days of transpromo where one of the opportunities of a white paper workflow was that you could eliminate all those buck slips, all those things that that would fall out of the envelope when you opened it, and actually put them onto regular 8.5×11 pages to present them in a more attractive way.

Sure, and then it can become a part of your archive too. For many people that might be a missing piece of their archive. They may not actually know what went into all the envelopes, right? Right. Yeah.

So, OK. So, PDF assembly and mail automation are a key part of the Solimar infrastructure capabilities. What’s the one thing people forget about when they think about assembling PDFs? OK, that’s a good one. If there’s one thing they forget about.

You must get a lot of support calls or you must get support calls during implementation, do people say, oh geez, I forgot I have a PDF coming from five different kinds of PDF generators. Is that going to be a problem? Or, do they generally know their environment well enough to be able to help you define the right approach for you to take to help them build their assembly workflow?

Well, I’d say the mechanisms that we’ve built to allow people to do any one of these assembly models is straightforward. And, so we don’t tend to get very many questions about how to make that happen. It’s very simply configurable and very reliable. I would say if there is a place where people have questions, it’s usually on their I.T. infrastructure side. Deploying technology is sometimes challenging for people because, you know, there’s that interface between operations and I.T. that needs to take place. And, there’s a little bit of bootstrapping that needs to go on explaining who needs to do what and why. And, generally, I.T. needs things to be scheduled for when they work on things. And, operations just wants to get things rolling. And, so you can sometimes run into delays while the operations people wait for the I.T. people to become available to take care of some simple tasks.

Make sure that the security permissions are all set up and all the fun things that we sometimes forget about. Well, that’s right. And, a sufficient number of resources are allocated to the project. VMs or storage or whatever. Yeah.