Does the future of transactional documents include actually printing them? Maybe not, according to some companies I heard from recently. An in-house document operation and a service provider both shared their strategies for concentrating on digital delivery rather than traditional print and mail. For them, printed statements, bills, notices, or other transactional documents are no longer receiving top billing.

It was striking that companies traditionally relying on revenue from printing had consciously pushed physical production to the background. They are not waiting for print volumes to drop further or for new market demands to force the issue. Their sales presentations are now focused on digital and mobile documents first. Printing is only discussed as a secondary channel.

Change is Coming
Though such an approach would seem pretty drastic to most of the companies with whom I have worked over the years, I can't say it's a bad idea. Mobile migration, generational shifts, and expanding broadband internet access are just some of the factors responsible for what seems to be a predictable and continuous loss of print volumes for transactional documents.

Consumer interest in printed documents could gradually decline, which isn't so bad. However, unforeseen developments or events could trigger a sudden paperless migration, leaving print and mail operations with little time to react. Beginning a transition now from print-centric delivery to digital could be a sound strategy as a hedge against an uncertain future.

Not a Print Replacement - Mobile First
The next generations of electronic bills and statements have the potential to provide more value to customers while at the same time increasing benefits for the billers. Built in personalization and interactivity can make digital documents easier to understand, lowering the volume of expensive customer service calls. They can be effective in collecting payments quicker thereby improving cash flow. Interactive documents can even deliver more engaging content increasing upsell/cross-sell conversions, referrals, and customer retention. The benefits of interactive documents could extend far beyond the cost reductions related to physical production and delivery that have been the main focus in the past.

Mobile is a huge factor in the appeal of interactive documents. Mobile devices are perfect platforms for delivering video, animated charts, summary statements with tabbed interfaces for details, etc. Designing the output from the beginning to be consumed in a mobile environment makes a lot of sense. Today, many organizations merely replicate paper documents on mobile devices. They don't really leverage the capabilities of mobile platforms. Often these documents are actually more difficult to read on mobile screens, requiring excessive zooming, pinching, and scrolling.

The companies I met build notices, statements, and bills for interaction from the ground up. The documents sometimes don't even exist until the customer requests them! Up to that point, it is just data. The generated documents take the characteristics of the viewing device into consideration as the documents are rendered. Static PDF's might be created as part of the workflow, but only for archive purposes.

Don't Wait Too Long
Departure from batch-oriented generation would be a radical change for most document production centers. The traditional print/mail business model is based on efficiently producing high volumes of physical output at low cost. If there is no volume (or very little), what then? Some companies will be able to make such a transition, and some will not.

If the scales start tipping towards a preference for electronic presentation, the transition could be rapid. While those companies unprepared to serve the majority are scrambling to adjust, some of their work may pass to competitors who were better at reading the writing on the wall. The big winners might be those companies who are today envisioning their future transactional document business as one in which print plays a less-dominant role.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He writes about topics of interest to the communications industry. To keep up with Mike's tips, trends, and commentary visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - a free newsletter for customer communication professionals or follow him @PMCmike on Twitter.