The information technology world is filled with “buzzwords” that businesses, vendors, and analysts often use to support their arguments or promote their ideas. Like fashion trends or the “flavor of the month” at your local ice cream store, these special words, phrases, and acronyms change over time. Though buzzwords can be (and frequently are) abused, they often refer to very important concepts that shape the long-term direction of the IT industry. In short, the concepts behind them have real value to your business.
For example, consider the word middleware, which Wikipedia describes as “the software that connects software components or enterprise applications. Middleware is the software layer that lies between the operating system and the applications on each side of a distributed computer network.” Sounds right to me.
Another buzzword that relates to middleware is decouple, meaning “to separate, disengage, or dissociate something from something else.” Now, let’s weave these two words into something meaningful for a key element of your strategic digital platform; one that is unfortunately often overlooked – an output management system.
An output management system is often considered middleware because it captures documents from applications running on various platforms and delivers them to a variety of hardcopy and softcopy destinations. In terms of the overall logic flow, it sits “in the middle” and insulates upstream applications from the complexities of downstream document distribution. This simplifies and expedites the delivery of new services without application changes. In essence, it decouples many functions from the application and moves them into a device- and platform-independent service layer (“printing as a service”). This lets applications focus on content creation and enables you to choose/change the appropriate delivery format and destination at any time.
You can logically view this service layer as an extension of your organization’s existing IT service catalog or a key building block in your future “everything as a service” digital platform. This single middleware architecture also:
- Eliminates redundant print servers and multiple application-to-destination connections
- Simplifies administration through centralized management and control
- Reduces cost
- Provides end-to-end visibility of print/document-related business processes to help IT staff easily identify and resolve problems with applications, systems, networks, or devices.
Because an output management system connects disparate applications and processes to hardcopy and softcopy destinations, it is a key enabler in automating and optimizing document-intensive business workflows.
Another word that’s getting more traction these days (and one I really like) is holistic. In terms of information technology usage, this buzzword refers to consistent solutions, procedures, policies, and service levels across the entire enterprise. Nice concept, don’t you agree?
When you mix “holistic” with “output management,” you get a standardized solution that offers consistent functionality and user experience from platform to platform. That’s something you cannot achieve with a disparate group of tactical point solutions. The net result of deploying a holistic output management solution is lower cost and improved business agility, employee productivity and competitiveness in a fast-moving, ever-changing global economy.
That’s two more buzzwords to add to our list: “IT standardization” and “agility.” Sorry for that, but they really are relevant to our discussion. Let me explain. IT standardization is a strategy for minimizing IT costs within an organization by keeping hardware and software as consistent as possible and reducing the number of tools you have that address the same basic need. Today, IT organizations are standardizing on many software and hardware components, but output management is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be.
By nature, standardization drives down cost and increases employee productivity. It also leads to greater simplification of your IT infrastructure, which leads to…? You got it – improved agility. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this online article called “How to Define IT Agility?” Of special note is the following paragraph:
It's also worth pointing out that agility is closely related to simplicity. The simpler the business processes, the more agile the business is. And the simpler the IT systems, the more agile (in general) the IT systems are. In an architectural context, it effectively reflects the functional coverage of IT architecture. Re-purposing well-designed components and systems for changed purposes and conditions can be accomplished quickly and consistently, if the underlying structures (both physical and logical) properly cover the various problem spaces.
Makes sense. Said another way, complex systems/processes are more prone to failure and difficult to change, taking you in the opposite direction of agility. So, please take some advice from the famous educator, author, and businessman, Stephen Covey, who encouraged us to “begin with the end in mind.” Then, work backwards to figure out what you need to do. Here’s a hint – don’t overlook the far-reaching benefits of a holistic output management system. And keep these buzzwords handy for future discussions with managers, colleagues and vendors.