Related to:
Aug. 21 2013 05:02 PM

I have long been an advocate for Automated Document Factory (ADF) technologies in print and mail service provider operations. Ten years ago, the only organizations that could justify an investment in ADF were high-volume transactional document producers. Companies serving financial, healthcare, or insurance companies needed the document integrity and tracking capabilities an ADF provides.

A lot has changed in recent times - including the types of organizations that would benefit from ADF functionality. Modern customer acquisition campaigns, for instance, are utilizing multiple data sources to develop highly personalized multi-channel messages. The integrity of the direct mail portion of these campaigns is much more important than in the days of "spray and pray." A greater investment has been made in the development of the data stream and there may be connections between the mail and triggered electronic messages. Incomplete or error-strewn mailings can dampen the performance of the entire campaign. The ability to ensure mailpiece integrity and distribution is just as important in many direct mail applications today as it has been for transactional mailpieces in the past.

Marketing Service Providers Need Different Tools
The ADF products themselves are still mainly directed towards high volume transactional mailers. These companies have always been focused on the integrity and efficiency of their document production workflows; areas strongly supported by traditional ADF solutions. Contrarily, the small to medium size print service providers that might be handling direct mail jobs are used to spending most of their time managing the work that happens before printing. An ADF that could address those front office needs in addition to providing production floor monitoring and document integrity would have more value for these types of service providers. Recently, capabilities like these have begun to appear.

I became aware of a new approach, a collaboration between leading vendors in ADF and front-end management software, which makes a lot of sense for small to medium sized print service providers. These companies have to manage a different workflow than the transactional mailer. They need a different tool, and they need to work with vendors that understand their businesses.

ADF Not a Priority in the Past
Up until now, ADF solutions haven't included the front office operations as an integrated portion of the total workflow. And until recently, the capital investment required to purchase and install an ADF has been out of reach for smaller companies. They just couldn't justify spending the money.

Ironically, these same direct mail print service providers have been migrating towards more complex service offerings and re-branding themselves as marketing service providers. Inserting and mailing personalized content may be recent additions to their operations. Their exposure to risk has increased. At the same time, competition for business in a price-driven industry has gotten fierce. A successful marketing service provider must differentiate themselves from the crowd to attract new customers and simultaneously run super-efficient operations to make an acceptable profit.

An Automated Document Factory that is designed for these types of companies can be helpful in both regards.

Advantages in Connecting All Parts of the Business
By linking the front-end workflows with the back office production environment, both areas are improved. Information about job characteristics, SLAs, and work in progress can help improve productivity in finishing operations. So, too, can production statistics aid in accurate quoting and billing. By analyzing actual production results for instance, estimators may be alerted to jobs that consume more time or resources than were originally budgeted, allowing them to make adjustments in the future.

I had an opportunity to speak with a well-established document services provider that produces First Class and Certified Mail. They have separate facilities in two different states.

As their document processing business changed, so did their requirements for controlling integrity, security, and compliance. In today's competitive market it became clear that migrating their system from a traditional process flow to an ADF system was imperative. By implementing an ADF costs could be monitored more effectively and the business run more efficiently.

With a new hybrid system that merged aspects of back-end ADF functionality with front office workflows into a single dashboard, this company can access real-time reporting on job status. The automation process has cut down on the amount of calls to document operations inquiring about job status and increased the time available for account managers to work on new projects. Efficiencies have been gained through all aspects of the company from customer service down through production and warehousing, simply through the availability of information provided by the specialized ADF system.

A service provider that adopts this type of solution is able to increase their business without adding staff. With better systems to manage all aspects of their customers work, it will be possible to grow the business while maintaining the necessary level of quality and customer satisfaction.

Automated Document Factory technology in some form is a worthwhile investment for smaller document service providers. Integrity and tracking, along with improved efficiency and overall business management capabilities from a familiar provider make this new breed of product an attractive investment.


Catch errors as soon as they occur, when it is easiest to correct them

Identify less profitable work

Produce accurate estimates, avoiding money-losing projects due to underpriced quotes

Automate reprints

Eliminate labor costs associated with manual production reporting and reconciliation processes

Answer job status questions without interrupting production

Optimize capacity by spreading jobs across multiple devices without worrying about duplication or missing batches

Eliminate production delays which result in late delivery fees

Locate/verify status of individual items, allowing customer service to provide clients with definitive answers regarding individual mail pieces

Enter new markets where piece integrity allows the pursuit of more complex, and profitable, document applications

Shorten machine idle time by automatically balancing at the end of the job, allowing the next job to start sooner

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide lower costs and integrate new technologies in their document production workflows. For more of his thoughts and ideas visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations. Your questions on this topic are welcome. Send them to