Read the Playbook on How to Upgrade Your Company to Quadient Inspire—and Stay Up to Date
Human beings are naturally averse to change, and it's easy to see why. Uncertainty is scary because we don't understand it. That which we don't understand gives us anxiety. It's an unfortunate evolutionary response that causes people to cling to what they know—even if what they know is holding them back instead of propelling them forward.
I’ve seen this phenomenon time and again over the last 14 years I've spent working with Quadient Inspire.
When I started my current role at Impact, they were still using a version of Quadient Inspire they'd purchased six years prior. In those early days, everything was perfect. They got the product, participated in training, and had some applications developed. Everyone was excited and life was good.
As time passed, the outdated product began to hold them back. But when they’d call support, they would discover that the issues had less to do with Inspire and more to do with the fact Impact had never upgraded. But with Quadient's phenomenal support, Quadient would go ahead and provide a hotfix. Impact applied the hotfix and once again, life was good.
As the years went by, this happened more often. But, at some point, the next fix will only come with the next version of Quadient, because the old versions are at their end of life. The reality is it is easy for customers to fall three or even four versions behind. We have to upgrade, but we can't. Even if we do decide to make that jump, the process is now more complicated than had we kept up all along. How are we going to run two versions in parallel? How are we going to do our regression testing? How are we going to get this done and still run a business?
This scenario is not unique to Inspire, this is common place for major pieces of software a company uses on a daily basis. There are numerous reasons for why companies fail to upgrade. There can be legitimate business or regulatory constraints blocking updates to systems as well as not knowing how or thinking the process is insurmountable, which leads to a failure to take action.
The latter was the reality of the situation when I joined Impact. But I knew something had to change because of how important Inspire would be to Impact's mission.
Impact is a print service provider that does critical documents communications, direct mail, digital delivery, and pick/pack fulfillment. But more than providing a commodity to our customers, we want to be their marketing partners. Our business won’t survive in a race to the bottom on cost per thousand units. To get us to the next level, a solution that combines marketing science with omnichannel delivery is our ultimate goal.
Stuck in the Past
Impact is my fourth company where I've used Quadient Inspire. I know what it can do, and I know how helpful it can be for us. Sadly, it couldn't be any of that if we were still using a version that was created for different users in a different era.
For Impact in particular, the cost of staying so far behind was bleeding into nearly all areas of our business. Think about the ways in which marketing has changed—even in the last five years—and you get an idea of the situation we were in. Our customers started coming to us and asking to use feedback on social media to better drive their messaging and communications. Our developers would acknowledge this was important and they knew Inspire could handle that, but we were many versions behind. They were using Inspire from a time before people checked social media in the first five minutes of every morning.
Because social media is such a big part of everyone's lives now, the customer journey has changed dramatically. Since we didn't have access to those features, our own customer journey mapping started to suffer. Our developers knew what they needed to do, but they didn't have the tools to do it. They were still confined to a box that other companies had broken free from years ago.
You can spend time coming up with hotfixes and workarounds, but that will only carry you so far. When people have to spend an hour coming up with a workaround, that's an hour they're not able to innovate. In an industry that gets disrupted every day, that's worse than a disadvantage. That's death.
As a print service provider, you're only as good as your last mistake. If excellence in execution becomes the standard, it opens the door up to have other conversations with your customers.
Over the years, I developed a plan to get our company up to date with Inspire—and keep it there. If it can work for an organization that was once as change-shy as Impact, it can work for anyone. It's also a lot more straightforward than you're probably expecting.
How to Update to the Newest Version of Inspire
The way we began our project at Impact is a step I would recommend everyone take: We figured out our test suite. At Impact, we work with hundreds of programs. We have roughly 200 WFDs actively in production at any given point. Based on that, we went through and found the 25 programs that we thought encompass all of the features of the Quadient platform that we used. We looked at the most complex WFDs we created as well as basic letter setups. We identified the feature overlap and corner cases, all of which became our test suite.
Next, we went through a process of obtaining data to drive the regression testing process. In some cases we acquired permission from customers to obfuscate PII data from a production data set. In other cases we created our own fictitious test data set. In the end we had a normalized test set of data, stripped of personal information while retaining the critical data elements triggering features within Inspire identified in our test suite.
The test suite WFDs and data were stored in a segregated, secure location allowing us to remain compliant with customer's data security and retention service level agreements. At that point, it's a matter of running programs and creating output. The output is saved and becomes the baseline for that particular version of Quadient Inspire.
When a new version (or hotfix) of Inspire comes out, we run it in parallel with our current version. We run all of our test suites again, comparing the output for the new version against the baseline. Identification of output anomalies can be done many ways. It can be as simple as visual inspection, done either by printing the output or viewing the output in a viewer on your monitor. It can be as complex as utilizing a software package with the ability to identify textual, bitmap or structural differences between the outputs. You can remove the human elements of executing the process with version control and process automation. Regardless of which method you use, you cannot assume because a WFD runs in the newest version without error, that no defects have been introduced into the output.
In our business, we can't afford to have a defect that results in a compliance issue or negatively impacts response performance. Often Inspire is not a stand-alone system within an organization, but interacts with internal and external workflow, asset management, data processing and client hosted systems. Running these test cases—which also acts as our regression testing—gives us the comfort level that an upgrade to Inspire (or to a secondary application) doesn't negatively impact the totality of our platform.
At another organization I worked for, we went through this process monthly—even if there wasn't an upgrade to Inspire. For most people, going through this prior to implementing an update is fine. In either case, the end result is the same: You're now up to date and you can finally take advantage of all of the features that come with it.
You’re Up to Date—Now Stay There
Getting up to date involves the technology side of a business, and that part is by far the easiest. Staying up to date brings in the human side of the conversation. That’s always more of a challenge.
What makes this easier is that Quadient always releases their newest version during the mid-summer period, between July and September. At Impact, we install the new version on everyone's machine as soon as it comes out and allow people to use it for six months. We give people some time to play around with it, look at the release notes, and dive in for a time before we begin using it for production.
Our cadence for upgrades is centered around what historically has been a slower time of the year. Around December and January, we start updating our test suite to the newest version. During this process we also add additional WFDs and data to the test suite as the use of Inspire is always evolving. This process can take 30 to 60 days, during which time the composition team meets regularly to discuss lessons learned or new features, updates standard work documentation, and hosts training lead by our senior developers. Once everyone is comfortable with the new version, we begin our final regression testing. If all tests pass, we set a date for implementation. After that date all new jobs must be setup in the new version and a schedule developed to convert WFDs that are part of a reoccurring program. The updated WFDs and output in the test suite now become the new baseline.
Start with breaking the complex topic of testing and upgrades into small achievable tasks based on the resources you have available. The small tasks when completed, represent your testing and upgrade strategy. There is no single strategy that is one size fits all. You need to develop a plan that works for your company, which can vary from one person doing all the testing and conversion off-hours to a multi-phase plan utilizing automation spanning weeks or months. You need to be proactive about regression testing to avoid unforeseen conflict. As with any change management process, clear lines of communication with users of Inspire and the consumers of the Inspire output is critical to a successful upgrade. More than anything, you have to let people know change is coming.
If you give people the information they need to understand and prepare for the change, have a measurable testing plan, it won't be nearly as scary as it would be if it happened suddenly. By warming people up to the idea, they will warm up to the software. At that point, people start to look forward to upgrades.
The Impact on Impact
The most immediate change that these new processes brought to Impact is that we're no longer dealing with hidden factories like we once were. Workarounds, reworkings, and operational waste are all hidden factories—things that can be a substantial drain on the bottom line, the customer, and everything in between. Thanks to our upgrades, these are things of the past.
The biggest advantage we've seen is that staying with the current version has normalized all of our output down to the production floor. It gives us a much higher quality product because people on the production floor don't need to try to remember all of these special workarounds. The fingers-on-the-keyboard users are excited to see all of these new features coming out and the users are much more engaged and enthused about the product.
Because we're making an effort to stay current, our future at Impact is brighter than ever. Soon, we're going to be able to seamlessly integrate to omnichannel communications. We can offer communications that our customers need—the kind that recipients respond to on their preferred channel. Using analytics, we can show the metrics to prove a marketing strategy is working. Our customers will be better equipped to track the customer journey, see responses to a call-to-action, and then map that back to the customer's return on marketing investment.
All of that is possible because we're using Quadient as a central point for communications creation. The only reason that is practical is that we're no longer six years behind the curve.
Change is scary. Believe me, I get it. But if I've learned anything throughout this process, it's that it certainly doesn't have to be with the right perspective. People are afraid of disruption because they see it as one big move—something that happens suddenly and without warning. If you take the core outcome you're trying to achieve and break it down into a series of smaller, more manageable steps, you're no longer talking about a disturbance in your workflows. It’s a disturbance to inefficiency.