Distributed Output Management in 2000

With the complexity of today's heterogeneous environments, delivery of useable business-critical information is a constant challenge to organizations.

Typically, large organizations generate hundreds of thousands (frequently millions) of pages of output per day, much of it business-critical and important to the user who requested it. Output flows from a wide variety of applications, ranging from desktop-based spreadsheet and word processing programs to specialized workstation-based graphics applications to the massive UNIX and NT-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications (SAP, BAAN, Peoplesoft, Oracle, and others).

When receiving information, evaluate what is most critical: how the information is received, the medium used or the time frame it takes for delivery. According to a recent IDC output management survey, reliable delivery/management is the most critical issue, followed by security and mainframe-to-client/server integration.

Employing a successful distributed output management (DOM) strategy should be of the utmost importance to any business that wishes to optimize their complex heterogeneous environment of output devices. These devices, such as printers, faxes, e-mail, news servers, desktops, etc., must be coordinated effectively to ensure a logical distribution and organization of output data.

DOM Solutions

Ideal output management entails much more than administration and delivery of output. It ensures that the integrity and efficiency of high-volume print jobs are maintained, informative job status reports are provided, transparent access for end users to print to other output devices is provided.

In other words, a DOM output management solution is middleware that runs on a network and provides for a common means of accepting, processing, delivering and notifying of business-critical information from any application to any destination type. This solution maintains consistent output delivery, even while enterprises are migrating applications, output devices and heterogeneous operating environments. The result is a superior transitioning tool that can provide reliable delivery and management in a secure environment.

According to Ashburnham Group, up to 13 percent of a corporation’s revenue is lost to print-related problems. As an underappreciated part of the corporation’s systems, DOM solutions should (if not already) be a requisite for corporations concerned with saving money.

Future Trends

A DOM solution should be open enough to allow users to submit print jobs in a range of different formats (AFP, PCL, TIFF, Adobe Postscript, etc.) to a single system, which then manages, prints, reprints and stores the data. The solution should have the ability to accept the data after the manufacturer’s print driver (HP, Xerox, Lexmark, etc.) has run its processes and not have to convert the data into a generic driver. If this process is performed successfully, the DOM solution can maintain all of the printer manufacturer’s features, as well as offering additional advantages, such as central management, online view and control, cluster printing, redundancy, security, and more.

Visibility. The need for centralized management software is particularly compelling when the efficiencies of high-production printers are factored into the equation. In an unmanaged output environment, users and administrators have no way of checking the status of their print jobs. Centralized management tools enable administrators to view the status of all output jobs and locations. Managers can logically manage print jobs and move them, for example, if a printer goes offline. They can also request that notification be sent to users or administrators when jobs have completed.

Online/Web-Based Output. Research clearly shows that the Internet is changing the way companies do business. Over 81 percent of the companies researched in Xplor’s 1998 Technology Directions Survey offer companywide access to the Internet for business purposes, and over 55 percent of the companies take orders over the Internet.

According to IDC, corporate Internet spending will exceed $203 billion by 2002. Spending now is around $85 billion in the U.S. IDC predicts that all of this has led corporations to want to invest in Web-based technologies, expand operational efficiencies and make themselves more accessible to the consumer market by offering increased services and stronger sales efforts through the new medium.

What does this mean for output management? The publication of output online (in a user-accessible archive or to a Web page) is becoming the preferred method of output control. Advantages include a reduction in the cost and the waste of hard copy output, and giving users convenient access to reports and other corporate data. Users can manage their jobs and administrators can manage printers and their server systems internally or externally from an online/Web-based interface. This feature is becoming so popular and valuable to IT managers and staff who work on the road or from a virtual office (home) and enables users to not feel bound to their desks when monitoring business-critical printing.

Cluster Printing. With multiple laser printers on every LAN, high-speed printers in the central office and a range of other output devices scattered across the network, most large corporations have far more output capacity than they require. With cluster printing, a company can take advantage of the moderate production printing resources that a business has and combine them, in time of need, into the equivalent of a single, high-volume printing system.

Clustering refers to a grouping of printers acting as a single virtual printer. By utilizing departmental printer systems and a DOM solution, businesses can send a single print job to more than one printer. By printing a single job simultaneously on a cluster of multiple printers, businesses can complete an entire printing task more quickly and efficiently than an outside source. The move toward cluster printing shows cost reduction and minimization of printer downtimes. With cluster printing, companies can utilize every available resource; if one printer shuts down, production does not come to a halt.

Fault-Tolerant Output. Critical output jobs, such as ERP applications, must be protected against failure. Functionality is required for automatically retrying jobs, recovering failed jobs and rerouting jobs sent to output devices that have failed.

A DOM solution should provide effective failover (also termed backup) in four ways:

1. System. Automatic rerouting to an alternate system.

2. Device. Automatic or manual redirection to an alternate printer or a cluster of printers.

3. Server/Host. Automatically selects an alternate host if the first choice goes down.

4. Job. Three options to choose from if job cannot print to preferred location: hold for resubmission; automatically selects an alternate route; and send an alert notification message via pager, e-mail or preferred method of contact.

Security. For production output, administrators must be able to enforce corporate security policies limiting user access to sensitive output and enabling users to designate print jobs as secure. Output sent across the corporate intranet or Internet network should also be secured against unauthorized access through compression and encryption.

A DOM solution should enable different security privileges, which will benefit both the user and the administrator. The security feature must ensure protection from a very low level to a very high level:

• Administrator Security – ability to submit, view, requeue and kill jobs regardless of who owns the job. This is the highest level of security.

• Operator Security – can submit, view, requeue and kill jobs in a specific queue, regardless of who owns the job. Operators can exercise administrative control over specific printers and the jobs assigned to that printer.

• Advanced User Security – ability to view and print using a graphical user interface (GUI). They have no ability to enter administration panels, or the Job Control menus. This means that they are not able to change job settings, "kill" jobs, resubmit jobs or roll forward jobs to the next schedule time, even if they are the users who submitted the jobs.

• Basic User Security – ability to regulate their own jobs. They are entitled to submit jobs under their userID, to monitor their jobs through the queues and view any output produced by this job. This security option will not permit the "killing" of running jobs in a particular queue, even by their owner.

Where Do ERP Solutions Fit In?

SAP research shows that 22 percent of a project implementation is in output management. [Source: SAP Inc. R/3 Simplification Group, 1998]

Since documents play a central role in supporting business tasks, processes and in communicating with customers, companies need to plan their DOM strategies before implementing ERP applications.

Consider some of the unwanted costs and inefficiencies that can occur when companies implement ERP solutions without first planning a document output strategy:

• Relying on numerous, distributed low-end printers, in conjunction with ERP implementation in the belief that this approach will improve productivity and reduce costs.

• In an effort to maintain the look and feel of legacy document applications during ERP implementation, a company pays ERP expert programmers to convert existing legacy document formats to the ERP world.

Why Choose a DOM?

Sending a print command is rarely considered an arduous task. There are three easy steps: click file, click print, click OK. The procedure is simple, basic and standard. In fact, to configure a client to use the printers has also become quite simple over the years. But this simplicity leads to clients having few options when they arrive at the print screen.

An efficient output management solution offers value in three ways:

1. Business Benefits. More timely information distribution, faster access to information, tailoring to individual or corporate needs, enabling users to make intelligent print decisions (printer status information on the user’s desktop), and assurance of business-critical information delivery.

2. Cost reductions within IT operations. Such as: device sharing, paper and forms, maintenance, shipping and mailing, training and help desk costs.

3. Competitive advantages. By emphasizing the business process, incorporate business policy rules, providing a higher degree of flexibility and security, and ensuring reliability of delivery.

About the Author: Shellie Davies is Marketing Coordinator for QMASTER Software Solutions Inc. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada). She can be reached at shellie@qmaster.com.