Automated Publishing

Steps to Start a Project

1. Assessment

  • Will the project serve internal or external customers?
  • What do you want the project to accomplish for your business?1
          — increase sales
          — speed to market
          — reduce labor
          — technology advantage over competition
          — communication for relationship-building
          — enable flexibility in pricing and/or service specifications
  • What do you want the project to accomplish for your customers?
          — better knowledge about your company products (e.g. product catalog)
          — more timely information (e.g. financial or data reporting)
          — opportunity to save money (e.g. direct mail circular)
          — aggregation of manuals & data (e.g. process, regulatory
                documentation, and/or compliance manuals)
  • What should the end product look like in order to fulfill the needs of both
    your business and your customers?
          — what media is best suited to the objective?
               (printed matter or digital document; pdf, xml or html)
          — how much information will you present
               (e.g. 20 pages, 100 pages, 1400 pages, 6 volumes of 400 pages each)
          — how often will you reproduce the project?
               (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually)
          — what content will be included for each audience addressed by this project?
          — how do you want content to be managed?
          — how do you want content to be repurposed for different print
               and web publications?
          — what layout and file format will the presentation to each audience have?
  • What is the target date for the new variable data production method to be in place?
          — start from that date and work backwards
  • How will the design and layout change for different versions?
  • What are the inputs and outputs of the process?
  • Consider ways to standardize the information updates, quality control (data),
    and requests for outputs
  • Consider the roles and responsibilities of people and/or departments that
    feed into the system of making the automated process function smoothly
  • Consult with your preferred printer (if applicable) regarding your objective, 
    to do variable data printing via pdf on a digital press, standardization of process
    color definitions, technical preferences, pricing, and turnaround.

2. Make a diagram of the whole automation process

  • A person, system, department, or webpage can be an actor in the system.
    Who are the actors?
  • Show each location where data or processing happens
  • Show the workflow as data and graphics move through the system to
    the finished documents

3. Define the project goals and objective

  • Identify the following regarding design and content:
          — the design and layout
          — static content
          — graphic images to be used across the entire project
          — the part of the design and content that repeats with variation
               (i.e. the primary pattern)
  • Consider status of graphics and other object files.
          — who will provide them?
          — does a photographer need to be involved?
          — do images need to be standardized for height/width ratio?
          — do images need to be standardized for resolution? (need 300 dpi for print)
  • Identify the source locations for the variable data:
          — which databases or spreadsheets
          — which tables and fields
  • Consider status of the database. The databse must be clean and up-to-date in order to properly drive the automation process.
          — is all necessary data available?
          — is the data clean: correct values, no typos, up-to-date?
          — does content need to be written and/or entered?
  • Identify which PC workstation will be used to do the variable data publishing
  • Identify who will have the responsibility to execute the automation?

4. Specify project definition

  • Identify the data source or sources for the project. Create a list. [It may be useful to link the target Excel spreadsheets and database tables into an Access database via ODBC. This provides a kind of data source prototype.]
  • Get a hardcopy printout of the document design. Circle each element that is affected by variable data; label each one: A, B, C,… etc. On a separate page, set up a table
col 1: each label
col 2: the location (table, field) of the data that affects this labeled element
col 3: how the variable data affects this element: content-wise or formatting

5. Create project plan

  • Outline timeframe, milestones, and available resources. If design of publication(s) is determined, and test data is available in the requisite databases, then allow the the following approximate times for Active Lightning development:
          — 1-2 days finalizing the project specification with Active Lightning
          — 1 weeks for development of automation
          — 2 days for testing, trial run, edits and signoff
    If your project needs faster turnaround, it may be possible, perhaps days instead of weeks depending on the project and Active Lightning's schedule
  • Plan for purchase and installation of the software engine needed to run your custom variable data application [$6,5002—it is a one-time purchase for the first and any other variable data publishing solutions from Active Lightning]
  • Calculate cost of custom variable data solution

6. Contact Active Lightning

  • Call Sally at Active Lightning: 781-272-7933 to get a quote
    If Sally needs to work with you to accomplish the tasks above or develop a well-defined functional specification document for the project, then there may be a cost associated with this step.
  • Deliver:
    a) signed page from quote
    c) payment for half of development fee
  • Active Lightning developer goes to work

7. While waiting for your custom variable data publishing application

  • Set expectations within your organization for the change to the new automated system.
    For example, changes will be made to the database, not the desktop-publishing documents
  • Set up a system for assuring that data updates are accurate and clean
  • Get host computer ready; install the variable data publishing software engine
    on the designated workstation
  • Negotiate the print buy with your preferred print vendor

8. Acceptance testing

  • Copy the files delivered by Active Lightning into designated folders on the host PC
  • Run the automation
  • Proof the results and provide feedback to Active Lightning
  • Repeat these three steps until results are accepted
  • Final approval granted; signoff

9. Means of production achieved

Reasons for justifying variable data publishing projects include: return on investment (ROI), return on opportunity (ROO), manhour savings, better service: improved accuracy, shorter lead times, control over intellectual property or proprietary information, and better distribution: multiple media published at same time, pdf files via web, CD-ROM.

The steps above assume that your company will set up a PC workstation with the $6,500 software that is needed to run the solution. This cost assumes that your organization does not want to purchase the means to create or edit variable data publishing machines itself, just run it. The seat license that allows full creation and editing capability is closer to three times this price.