According to a recent study on best practices that was completed by the respected analysts at Madison Advisors, there is a large portion of the document industry that is getting by without the benefit of some of the basic components of a production workflow. This information confirms our own observations and conversations we've had with clients, prospective clients, and others in the document business.

Regular readers of my articles, or my book, Take This Job and Stuff It! - A Practical Guide for Document Operations Managers know that I'm not an advocate of spending tons of money to develop full-blown automated document factories. Every shop doesn't need to have a fully integrated and automated production facility to adequately meet the needs of their customers.

But that doesn't mean that you can continue to run a document center without some systematic or automatic controls. This becomes crucial as the documents you process become more personalized, more targeted, and therefore more valuable. I think it's inevitable that a good portion of the post-recession documents that get produced are going to be more complex. Document processing organizations that can't create and distribute these critical documents with the accuracy, integrity, and security that is required will see their work sent to some other shop that can meet those requirements. You could find yourself outsourced or out of business.

Are You Preparing for the Future? Or Just "Hunkered Down"?
The real tragedy is that even though right now is an ideal time to be making plans, testing processes, or comparing products, there aren't a lot of companies doing it. Sure, you might not get approval for making large capital investments today, but do you really want to wait until the recovery starts before you begin worrying that your document production workflow might not meet the needs of your internal or external customers?

An economic upturn in whatever industry in which your company is engaged is going to trigger a flurry of marketing, new product introductions, and customer acquisition efforts. The documents your company produces will still be the main communication channel to your customers, but the marketing people will have some high expectations about how they want those messages presented and integrated into the documents. Furthermore, the messages will be expected to be delivered in short order - before your competitors fire up their marketing machines and start grabbing market share.

This isn't going to be the time to find out that your clipboard-based quality control system doesn't support the 100% integrity that is required for the new documents. Expecting decades-old processes to continue to provide new flexibility and functionality is not recommended.

Everyone Can Do Something!
The best strategy is different for everyone. We're urging our clients to start by talking to the rest of their organization about their document requirement predictions for the next few years. Then they should evaluate their current environment and see where there are gaps in the workflow that would prevent them from providing the service that is expected.

Once you've gathered the information necessary to predict what your future requirements might be, and you've identified the weak areas of your workflow where an upgrade or investment in new technology might be necessary, then you can start researching possible solutions. That's something that can be started today.

Get Your House in Order
But just as important, you'll want to streamline your processes, cut out any unnecessary workarounds that may have been developed over the years, and take a good hard look at the documents you produce. Relevancy and accuracy can frequently be improved. Most companies find this task difficult to do on their own. There are too many political issues, they don't feel empowered to make changes, or they've become so accustomed to the way things are that they can't see them any other way. In every case where we've been asked to help, we've overcome all those obstacles and helped our clients achieve real changes. It can be done. The manual, semi-manual, or unconnected production workflow methods that may have been sufficient in the past could be a source of frustration, delay, or errors in the future. If you're planning on delivering topnotch service past 2010, you will likely have to make some changes.

There will never be a better time to initiate those changes than right now. Before you go on to your next task for the day I encourage you to take some action; pick up the phone, write an email, or schedule a meeting, but do something to get started right away.
Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on training, coaching, or analysis, visit or email Mike directly at