Transforming one thing into another is the stuff of fantasy novels and magic tricks, right? Not necessarily. Once grounded in innovation, technology, process and automation, the premise of transformation is not only very real but also a proper strategy to help organizations grow and stay viable in an age when the pace of shifting needs and norms is only getting faster.
This premise is certainly true when we talk about the execution of business transactions. Think sales or human resources, for instance. More traditional, manual or paper transactional processes have been outed as overly time consuming and expensive. To address the need for speed and efficiency in transactions of this sort, digital transaction management (DTM) has emerged. DTM uses cloud-based software and services to digitally manage documents and transactions. The idea of transformation comes into play here as well. Instead of being saddled with archaic or inefficient processes based in print, DTM takes the management of transactions to the digital realm.
Generally speaking, how does content and the processes that surround it start on their path to digital? Where does a business wanting to take advantage of the efficiencies offered by DTM start? When I talk about transformation, I mean the method of taking print or another unstructured or static format, such as PDFs, to digital. I can assure you it’s not magic, but more about technology and process. Over the course of our 35 years in the business, DCL has developed both, and I can tell you that one doesn’t work as well without the other. If you have just the technology but no process in place to govern it, the end result will likely be messier and, ultimately, costlier. The tactics, tools and software we use for a conversion can range from OCR and automated processing to our Harmonizer software that identifies content redundancies. But, it’s the process I’d like to focus on here. It breaks down into five phases.
Phase 1: Ingest
Content comes in all shapes and sizes. All kinds of electronic formats, all kinds of disk and tape formats, paper, and even microfilm. The first phase involves ingesting the content into a form that that you can work with. If it’s already electronic and in a standard format such as PDF or Word, you’re already much of the way there. Other formats may need to be unwound into one of the standard formats. Paper and microfilm must first be scanned into an image formats, and images then require OCR (optical character recognition) to convert them into workable text.
Phase 2: Normalize
Once in a workable format, content from multiple sources requires normalization. Although it’s possible to work in multiple formats at once, we find the easiest approach is to get it all into one format so that a single set of tools can work on the whole batch. Depending on the kind of material, the format may be Word, HTML, text files or any of a number of other choices. The key is to identify the common format that will be easiest to obtain, will be easy to work with and won’t lose information that you will want to retain later in the process.
Phase 3: Convert
The conversion step reorganizes the normalized content, inserts additional information needed down the line, and creates either the final format or a format that can be easily converted to the final format. For example, if we’re converting to e-books, we would typically convert to the EPUB format, a general e-book format that can be easily converted to a number of the formats in common use today. Other formats we frequently convert to include a number of XML, HTML and Word versions. The process frequently requires mapping one tag or code to another, inferring information that would normally belong in the format, reorganizing the content to the needs of the new format and a variety of other modifications driven by customer-specific business rules.
Phase 4: Enhance
The conversion process is also an opportunity to enhance the content. Examples of content enhancement include identifying metadata embedded in text, segmenting the content so that it can be reused for multiple applications, adding codes to help further processing, incorporating information from correlated sources, and cross-referencing and linking information both internally and with other documents. Although we think of it as following the conversion step, that’s not always the case—content enhancement can take place in any of these steps.
Phase 5: Deliver
Today, your content will likely need to be delivered to multiple targets and possibly to multiple partners and data distributers, all with somewhat different requirements. Our practice is to create content in a form that can be easily recut for different purposes, using software that reorganizes information for the “final mile.” The example described above relates to e-books, which various distributors need in somewhat different formats. The same is true of catalog data, journal articles, financial reports, ecommerce metadata and so on. Although the final deliverables may be different for each recipient, the approach would be to create a single format that can be automatically recut in all the needed variations.
Definitely not magic.
About the Author
Tammy Bilitzky is Chief Information Officer for DCL. Tammy has been with DCL since 2013 and is responsible for managing the company’s technology department, continuing its focus on resilient, high-quality and innovative products while helping to grow the organization. She has extensive experience in using technology to deliver client value, supporting business-process transformation and managing complex, large-scale programs onshore and offshore. She holds a BS in computer science and business administration from Northeastern Illinois University and is a Project Management Professional, Six Sigma Green Belt and Certified ScrumMaster.