Printing Investments In The Digital Age
April 5, 2017 Dan Burger
How does a company that’s invested in AFP and IPDS printing processes modernize to keep pace with increasing demand? There are certainly options. Some are better than others, with strengths varying depending on the ultimate goals. Some are more expensive than others, and that depends on whether the comparison is strictly upfront costs or considers total cost of ownership.
For many companies, print volumes are increasing and weak performance becomes a hot button issue. Slow printer speeds, limited printer availability, and perhaps the worst of all, printer downtime, all need to be addressed. But don’t overlook workflow processes, management of multiple data streams, and cost of upgrading.
IBM i shops also need to consider that the newest version of the operating system, i 7.3, will not support AFP (Advanced Function Printing) utilities. That turns up the pressure a bit. The ramifications? You can print existing forms, but you won’t be making changes to those forms or creating new forms without making some new investments. That means it’s decision time.
Replacement design tools will allow you to continue making changes to existing forms and create new forms. However, you may also have printer investments to make.
You can buy a print stream converter that removes the AFP and IPDS attachment to expensive proprietary printers, but it will require the purchase of a new design tool that works with the PCL print stream. PCL is the industry standard and is used by approximately 75 percent of organizations with in-house printing requirements. The cost of the printing and the cost of the printers is significantly less than the AFP and IPDS combination. Another possible consideration is that IPDS is known as a processor hog. If you’ve been feeling that, it’s another factor in choosing an alternative print stream.
“About 80 percent of the people we run into are using PCL and we regularly see AFP users converting to PCL,” says Orlando Ferrer, an operations executive at inFORM Decisions (iFD), a document automation vendor in the IBM i, iSeries, and AS/400 arena since 1994. “We say look at the advantages of going straight PCL. It’s the common platform and it makes integration with other software pieces easier.”
Of course, Ferrer has a dog in this hunt. IFD has a replacement for AFP called iDocs, which includes a forms designer and spool file data mapper. It features the capability to set up business rules for manual or automatic processing and distribution of merged, formatted reports, forms and security MICR checks.
iDocs integrates with IBM i-based accounting and ERP solutions including SAP, Oracle/JD Edwards, Infor’s MAPICS, Lawson, PRMS, and Infinium and other software applications that generate spool file or XML file output.
“People come to us because they have a problem. Something is broken or users are finding it difficult to work with existing equipment. The quality of the forms and the cost of managing the forms is being questioned and the enhancement of their printing capabilities can’t be done with AFP,” Ferrer says. “When forms evolved to include signatures and logos and output to PDF and into a variety of directories, that’s when PCL became easier to work with than the old system. It’s made forms easier to create, aggregate, and manage.”
Alternative methods of distribution factor into the printed forms decision making process. Some industries prefer to continue with printed paper forms and reports. Others use this decision point to consider a move to electronic forms where benefits such as portability, tracking, and archiving significantly increase business process efficiency. The distribution method of choice is email with PDF attachments.
Search and retrieval capabilities are luring some organizations from traditional printed forms. And the capability to capture and digitize physical pieces of paper (faxes are a big item) along with emails and PDF documents starts to make sense. All that data can be extracted, confirmed, indexed and placed in a database.
“People are comparing their current printing solutions and comparing it to a larger workflow process. Then they consider whether they want to continue printing,” Ferrer says. Will it be a driver for electronic document management? Maybe not, but people are being forced to make some changes and consider the options.”