Artistic Background

Ricoh Canada Uses AutoMateTM Software for Document and Printing Automation

Ricoh Canada Ricoh Canada
Lew Jacobs, Manager, Software Solutions Architecture

Background

Ricoh is the leading international provider of the highest quality document and content management solutions for the 21st century workplace. With its head office located in Japan, Ricoh employs over 75,000 people worldwide and has realized a steady growth in revenue and profits for almost a decade, generating sales in excess of $17 billion (U.S.) this past fiscal year. Ricoh's history is 70 years old as the leading supplier of office automation equipment.

Ricoh Canada Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ricoh Corporation with its head office located in Toronto, employing over 700 employees nation-wide. The Canadian division has a reputation as a pioneer in the development of computer-networked and digital multifunctional document systems and market leaders in color and black & white digital imaging systems, facsimile products, printers, scanners, digital duplicators, document management and wide format engineering systems.

The Challenge

Ricoh runs a network of 'just-in-time', print-on-demand production facilities, distributed across the globe. These facilities produce and disseminate all sorts of documents (e.g., real-estate sales sheets, courseware for educational institutions, invoices, and account statements) for large corporate customers.

While Ricoh consistently rates highly for overall customer satisfaction, it became apparent through a global performance assessment that there was an international duplication of efforts which was not visible at the regional level. These redundancies most often occurred where the same parent organization drove the regional requirements. Consequently, Ricoh began to search for ways to expand its offerings so it could negotiate globally outsourced document processing contracts, increase effectiveness of its regional facilities, and provide consistent pricing & Service Level Agreements (SLA's) to its customers.

However, upon examination of the varied jobs, unique subsidiaries, applications, and fulfillment expectations, a solution seemed virtually impossible. Some jobs came from old mainframes as simple EBCDIC text streams. Others could not be easily managed at the source, and so could only be redirected across their networks as IPDS print runs. Some jobs were partially merged AFP bitmaps and variable data, while others might be a single 12,000 page PDF file containing thousands of variably paged documents, missing any consistent paper background form image. Some jobs were sequenced according to customer or invoice numbers, while others took advantage of postal coding, and others still wanted documents meeting dynamic conditions to be emailed. Some regions provided document sets that were aggregate streams representative of all their local subsidiaries. Some regions document output was not even 'print-ready' - they required on-demand SQL 'selects' from their databases to extract the data that should be used for the print runs. Compounding these extremes of complexity was the fact that many of the countries could only provide a portion of their job run at a time - the remaining documents might follow 30 minutes to 48 hours later, all jobs mixed together.

To leverage its facilities around the globe, Ricoh needed to move the data according to the required processes. But every aspect of this solution had to be completed within just a few hours of a given job being deposited in its entirety - with the only allowable time measurement being that of the originating host country, no matter what time it was where the global web portal was hosted, or where a document traversed during its workflow. Each customer expected the tightest security possible - such that only certain content could leave a given country, and even then, had to be securely locked down from access wherever it might be. All the steps for every country and its subsidiaries within, and for each subsidiary's different documents, had to be presentable as a virtual dashboard, which each location and organizations could log into, and watch every step through completion. Every count & check needed to be verified such that not one document was lost, or failed to meet the new SLA.

The Solution

Ricoh's solution consists of existing regional Windows 2003 print and web servers, SQL2005 servers, Windows XP workstations, a production scheduling application server, tightly integrated with in-house VB applications, and software from its partners: Network Automation (AutoMate), ObjectifLune (PlanetPress), and PJLM Software (PrintAudit). AutoMate facilitates much of the middleware, while PlanetPress analyzes and processes the raw content for output. PrintAudit tracks & reports all forms of output.

As soon as a document is submitted for processing, Ricoh's solution engages PlanetPress to extract the number of files and/or documents, the expected number of pages it will output, and where it came from. A globally-unique job-ID is assigned, and all data is entered into a SQL2005 database. PlanetPress sees further use downstream, combining the different data streams into consistent content. The job data, stripped of its sensitive content, is securely transferred up to the main data center, located in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Transactional status can be pulled from any client remotely logging into their own portal web page, giving authenticated users a bird's-eye view of the process, as well as the level of completion of each of their jobs.

AutoMate augments Ricoh's processes for keeping tabs of job transfers, file naming and look-ups, monitoring both Windows low-level services and processes, and the document integrity itself. It employs built-in logic to handle workflow decision-making, and where unusually conditional logic is needed, it routinely calls Ricoh's custom VB scripts so that no situation remains unaddressed. Ricoh employs AutoMate to better support truly dynamic operations, as servers and workstations running these tasks can all have their logic and supporting code readily updated remotely, supporting new functionality at the drop of a hat - all while maintaining logging and notification to the appropriate contacts, by the appropriate medium.

Once print jobs have been allocated and coordinated through the central datacenter, the content is ready for output at the regional Ricoh printing facility. Here, all jobs are finally sorted, queued and output according to their unique job-ID, having the appropriate background form images overlaid as required. The solution then extends its strengths through PrintAudit software to track exactly how many pages are printed, whether they are single or double sided, color or black and white, paper size and source materials used (card-stock, bond, colored separator sheets), caching and then uploading the results back to the central SQL2005 database according to the unique job-ID. Meanwhile, every step (i.e., receiving upload files, converting jobs into 'documents', sorting, actual output, and any subsequent stuffing and mailing) is immediately presentable to the client for a dynamic level of operational awareness.

The Benefits

Ricoh benefits from the detailed global auditing of every procedure and transaction. In addition, the solution automatically feeds into the client billing system for accurate, programmatic invoicing. The customer understands the amounts they will be invoiced, and now has up-to-the-minute feedback of their job's volumes and progress. With every step tracked by the central database, Ricoh can further fine-tune these procedures, ensuring that this production process is always running at peak performance. Ricoh's ability to meet SLA's has changed from a mission-critical objective, into a predictable, easily-managed automated process. Ricoh also saves countless hours of manual human-resource efforts in accomplishing duplicated tasks: its output volume and agreements from this solution have increased several-fold worldwide, without a single increase in related headcount. Ricoh's customers enjoy the benefits of a globally consistent SLA, while permitting all levels of subsidiary, regardless of location, to reap the massive cost savings of their enormous combined scale.

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