Editor's Note: This is the third and final installment in a series on implementing an Automated Document Factory (ADF) strategy. The first two installments explored the origins of the ADF concept and major benefits of implementing an ADF solution.


A number of market and industry conditions drive the revitalized demand for Automated Document Factory solutions and techniques.


Cost of Operations

The cost of day-to-day operations must be a primary concern for any profitable organization. An ADF can lower the ongoing expense of printing and mailing by automating manual processes and instituting automated production tracking and monitoring. As in the manufacturing industry, the notion of "super-efficient" document processing allows for an internal workflow to proceed with very few interruptions or errors: manual processing is minimized, and shop supervisors track and adjust workloads in real time. When errors do occur, an ADF allows organizations to quickly recover without the need for exhaustive human intervention or rework. Organizations look to an ADF solution to lower costs by optimizing performance and managing diversity within the various components while applying manufacturing-like precision across the entire document production process. Organizations benefit from the ability to track operator efficiencies and examine how well hardware and applications perform in the flow of production.


Postage Optimization

The cost of postage has risen 24% in just the past eight years, and organizations stand to lose millions if they fail to comply with ever-changing USPS regulations. An ADF helps organizations work within the changing post office guidelines and employ advanced postal techniques  to mitigate these rising expenses, as they forward to the days of seamless acceptance and connectivity with the USPS.


An ADF can help companies avoid hidden inefficiencies that could result in additional significant postage overruns. The USPS reports that nearly one-fourth of all mail that goes through its system contains errors that result in being returned to sender. The expense of undeliverable mail can be considerable, with additional costs including a returned mail fee plus the postage to re-mail the corrected piece. An ADF minimizes the impact of these hidden costs by automatically cleansing addresses and updating pieces before they are printed and mailed.


Regulatory Compliance

Mailpiece integrity and security are at the heart of regulatory compliance for any organization responsible for printing and mailing corporate documents. The implications across major industry markets have been noteworthy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in health care, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in public accounting and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in the financial sector are just a few of the now-iconic regulations placing documents squarely in the crosshairs of compliance officers and legal counsel. Common among these statutes is the requirement to protect sensitive customer data and demonstrate dutiful custodianship of the information.


The increasing need for information security and mailpiece tracking is driving the demand for more elaborate ADF verification and quality control systems, and specifically for recently developed camera or "vision" systems that literally read data from individual pages and envelopes to insure quality, integrity and security. Piece tracking, long valued among mailers for its ability to verify that the correct mailpieces with the correct contents are being successfully processed, is now a capability of interest to the printing industry, as data-driven documents demand increased levels of verification and control. Integrity and quality checks in printing can save time and money by stopping a job as soon as an error occurs. Recent developments in ADF technology now allow "host to post" monitoring of document integrity and security throughout a production operation across some or all processes.


Productivity and Optimization

As companies look for new ways to maximize their existing mailing and printing infrastructure investments, they increasingly seek to extend the functional lifespan of their owned equipment instead of acquiring replacement machinery. Similarly, efforts to optimize productivity within current staffing levels have gained favor in lieu of hiring additional workers or running additional shifts to increase output.


An ADF is an attractive approach in both of these areas. By virtue of print-job and mailpiece tracking, supervisors gain the ability to visualize and analyze production workflow in real time and plan workloads according to immediate processing demands. They can also analyze the efficiency of every employee and system and identifying areas for improvement. As a result, organizations make more pointed and profitable decisions regarding productivity, staffing and equipment.


Flexibility and Interoperability

Making the most of existing investments, important for any organization, is often crucial for companies that have recently been through mergers, acquisitions or industry affiliations. Several vertical markets are experiencing broad consolidations of players with restructuring efforts often sparking significant concerns over redundant functions, incompatible systems and outdated equipment. Indeed, one leading objective of any merger or acquisition is to simplify and streamline how acquired organizations process information. As a result, printing and mailing operations often work with a range of applications and equipment, with mixed shops and specialized document attributes interfering with factory-like integration efforts. Companies faced with this situation should consider moving toward an ADF model as a way to gain flexibility and interoperability and for facilities to repurpose documents and equipment to meet the changing needs of the organization.


Personalized Communications

Despite the predicted demise of printed documents, surveys indicate that a majority of consumers still prefer direct mail over other types of customer marketing. According to Infotrends: The Future of Direct Mail, Transaction and Transpromotional Documents, printing and mailing continue to be cornerstones of customer communication, but info-age consumers are typically no longer seduced by campaigns relying on simple mass communications. Personalized one-to-one documents are required to effectively target customers.


Increasingly, companies find that ADFs can help them communicate with customers in highly personalized ways. Automated and customized documents decrease the amount of time and money required to attract new clients, while deepening the profitability of established customers. With the advent of digital printers and advanced database systems, formerly static documents are transformed into transpromotional documents with significantly greater abilities to cross-sell and up-sell, dramatically improving customer response. And the use of electronic communication channels are also enabling a document to satisfy additional delivery preferences as well as leveraging the power and flexibility that the Internet has to offer.


Critical ADF Considerations

The time is right for organizations to revisit the advantages and benefits of an ADF. Pressures associated with cost containment and regulatory compliance, combined with the bottom-line need to sustain and improve mission-critical documents, make a next-generation ADF solution more appealing, and more practical, than ever. However, several factors should be considered before moving toward an ADF model:

1.                   Protect Your Investment An ADF solution must be able to work seamlessly with a variety of systems. Many organizations operate with long-tenured mailing equipment and legacy printing systems, sometimes long after they have fully depreciated. A viable ADF solution must be able to bridge the gap between disparate systems and provide new value to existing technology investments.

2.                   Be Open and Flexible An ADF solution must not be hindered by differences in print platforms, barcode technologies or data formats. Most enterprise organizations own multiple document composition tools, operate using several computing platforms and support a variety of native programming languages and print protocols. Service bureaus are particularly challenged by the varieties of graphic formats that they must handle in order to accommodate customer demand. An ADF must therefore thrive in a mixed environment, bringing unity to the complex pockets of capability that would otherwise run in isolation from each other.

3.                   Modular and Cost-Effective Many organizations were reluctant to adopt the monolithic and expensive early ADF solutions. The strength of next-generation ADF technology is in the cost-effective modular design approach. Companies evaluating an ADF should do so as a modular implementation adopting pieces and capabilities that make sense and are affordable and setting the stage for expansion and growth into a more fully integrated ADF strategy at their own pace.

4.                   Moving Forward with an ADF Companies can no longer afford to build strategies in isolation from their documents and the systems that create, produce and deliver them. By delivering the power of personalized documents and the ability to provide superior levels of customer service, an ADF model can transform document production from an expensive corporate liability to a vital and profitable enterprise.


The vision may have been ahead of its time, but with the recent maturation of ADF technologies, the dream of a truly integrated ADF has become reality. The modular structure of next-generation solutions has opened the door to small- and medium-sized organizations and bridged the gap between proprietary third-party systems. An ADF can provide the structure and capability needed to optimize the performance of your documents and the systems used to create, produce and distribute them.


Mike Maselli is Executive Director of Business Management for BÖWE BELL + HOWELL. Contact him at Mike.Maselli@bowebellhowell.com, or visit www.bowebellhowell.com.