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TAKING MATTERS PERSONALLY

Sep 1, 1998 12:00 AM


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Fidelity Investments was founded 52 years ago on the simple premise: "Work harder and smarter every day to help a small group of investors meet their goals."

Today, as the largest mutual fund provider in the world, Fidelity aims to maintain this same "small" scale attentiveness with technology that provides customized and personalized, up-to-the minute information to help investors around the globe make financial decisions tailored for their specific needs.

This is where Fidelity's potential use of Varis Corp.'s VariScript variable imaging system offers the capability to print millions of customized materials with individualized messages, images, graphics and formats that communicate pertinent information to targeted recipients.

"When a customer calls Fidelity for information, we package that information based on their requests--it could be about particular funds, a prospectus or how to open an IRA account," explains Ted Ham, director of technology for the Boston-based company with 12 million investors worldwide. "But those materials tend to be more generic because we really can't anticipate all the different variations in requests. What we would like to do is print a package that's geared specifically to that individual's request."

As a beta test site for VariScript print-on-demand system, Fidelity is considering the software for its ability to produce high-volume, variable PostScript pages directly from platform independent data, converting it into bitmaps at full printer speed and sending data straight to the printer. The system can RIP variable data at run speeds and flow text, graphics and images at any orientation to an arbitrarily defined path. The degree of variability is limited only by the scope of the information contained in the database.

"If you really look into the state of the industry today, PostScript appears to be the format of choice with these types of documents," says Ham. "Currently, though, to print variable data in a PostScript environment is not a very efficient process. What VariScript appears to provide is the capability to print high-speed variable PostScript, which is critical when you're printing tens of thousands of documents a day."

Utilizing existing prepress and digital printing systems for cost-efficiency, VariScript allows for the complete separation of the data and page format. This means unlimited variability of text, graphics, format, typography, page counts and text wrapping. Documents can be designed with automatic bar graph and pie chart creation. Meanwhile, the company's information technology department maintains complete control of data processing and data integrity.

VariScript's flexibility further opens the door for companies like Fidelity to realize several key on-demand advantages. Costs associated with obsolete materials are eliminated--rather than printing and warehousing bulk quantities of forms, forms can be quickly revised and printed as needed. It's easier to maintain a common "look and feel" among various communication pieces, too, since there are no time lapses between printings. Storage, transportation, machinery, picking and waste costs also are drastically reduced.

On the marketing side, the variable imaging system facilitates a higher level of personalization. A customized letter, for example, can be included with each piece of mail generated as a result of an information request. And application forms can be partially filled out in advance, accelerating the completion process.

Communication with the system is done through an operator display terminal (ODT). The system is connected to either a Local Area Network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN) utilizing industry standard TCP/IP and SNMP protocols. The system's high-volume page output controller, which is the physical interface to the print engines and finishing equipment, features a multi-engine manager that synchronizes multiple printer for duplexing and spot color.

The system RIPs on-the-fly while printing pages. No pre-RIPing is required, eliminating pre-processing of data. It also eliminates network bottlenecks by removing the need to compute data and store it in an intermediate file prior to printing.

A data collection software utilizes a data pull model to obtain the data needed directly off the customers' networks during printing. Customers need only generate a database report; the actual data is remotely accessed and need not be released, ensuring that the customer's data remains secure.

"As the largest mutual fund company, we manage funds and assets worth billions of dollars," says Ham. "But no two Fidelity customers are entirely alike." So whether it's providing services to corporations, banks, financial planners or individual investors, variable print-on-demand technology becomes a crucial component to staying closely aligned with the needs and expectations of customers.