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June 30 2009 08:38 AM

There are a lot of horrible aspects of our current economic condition ââ¬â¬Å" layoffs, cuts in employee benefits, tightening of credit, scams, and unprecedented government intervention in private businessesâ⬦ youââ¬â¢ve heard about it all. Every day there seems to be more bad news.

The trouble with hearing about how bad things are day after day is that it tends to make individuals, including those that run companies or departments within companies, retreat into a corner. The safest strategy seems to be doing nothing different until things get better. Or even worse, they decide to stop all ââ¬Å"unnecessaryââ¬â❠spending. Those that continue to do so will miss out on an opportunity!

The people I work with in my business are document operations managers, company executives, and vendors who provide the products and services that are critical tools for the document industry. This is a very bright and innovative group. So Iââ¬â¢m somewhat surprised that there arenââ¬â¢t more of them that are looking at this period of time as a chance to address areas of their businesses that may have needed some attention for awhile.

You Canââ¬â¢t Change the Economy
There is not a lot that we as individuals can do to make the economy turn around. Itââ¬â¢s going to take some time. But I prefer to run my business with the belief that things will get better eventually. If Iââ¬â¢m wrong, well I figure it wonââ¬â¢t matter much. But if Iââ¬â¢m right, and a recovery does start to happen, I want to be ready to take advantage of new opportunities that come my way ââ¬â¬Å" not wasting time dealing with infrastructure issues that I could have addressed when I had the chance.

In prosperous times weââ¬â¢re busy dealing with issues such as new applications or installations, marketing and sales activity, bringing on and training more staff, conversions of hardware or software, and an increase in volumes. When weââ¬â¢re busy we often donââ¬â¢t have the time to do anything more than perhaps force a quick fix onto something that is causing a problem. Digging into the source of the difficulty will have to wait.

Well, that time is here! What are you waiting for?

Iââ¬â¢m not suggesting that companies should necessarily make huge capital investments in document operations right now, although for some it might be the right thing to do. That depends a lot on your certainty about the future, so you may need to be cautious. However, this is a fantastic time to make some changes that require only modest investments of time and money but will be welcome improvements when business picks up again. Youââ¬â¢ll be glad you made the effort.

10 Low-Cost Document Workflow Improvements You Can Start Today
Here are 10 things that document professionals should consider doing now, while weââ¬â¢re waiting for a recovery. And this is just a fraction of the moves you could make:

Review and update documentation ââ¬â¬Å" Make sure the content of sample books, machine set-up instructions, and job accounting information is current and complete. This info can get seriously out of date in a hurry.

Evaluate your USPS Intelligent Mail Barcode conversion strategy ââ¬â¬Å" The postage discounts for using IMB were announced in February. The discounts are small, so companies will need to evaluate the value of intelligent mail benefits that are realized in other areas of the business - outside of the mail processing operation.

Assess the environmental impact of the documents you create ââ¬â¬Å" Look for ways to become greener. There are dozens of possibilities. Right now there is great public interest and you might end up saving money. The timing for addressing this issue couldnââ¬â¢t be better!

Find ways to add value to your product ââ¬â¬Å" If youââ¬â¢re a vendor, consider bundling some products or services together or adding some customer training or coaching to help them get the most out of their investment with you. Partner with other companies to avoid adding to your own overhead expense.

If you produce documents in-house then talk to your internal customers about how you can help them improve the documents that drive their business. For service bureaus, find out whatââ¬â¢s going on in your customerââ¬â¢s industry and develop processes to help support their challenges.

Review inventory ââ¬â¬Å" Are there obsolete materials in the warehouse? Can they be re-purposed in some way? See if you can consolidate down to fewer varieties of envelopes, forms, or stationery.

Shop for materials ââ¬â¬Å" Experiment with lighter weight paper for instance. Or compare paper and envelopes from multiple suppliers. If your volume is down right now, you probably have time to test (which is critical).

Evaluate productivity ââ¬â¬Å" Take a look at productivity measurements. They can help you identify problems with particular jobs or equipment. Or you can see where you might benefit from providing additional operator training. If you donââ¬â¢t have accurate productivity measurements, develop or enforce current manual data capture processes or investigate automated data capture solutions.

Consider mail piece integrity ââ¬â¬Å" Even if you canââ¬â¢t get budget approval for investing in mail piece tracking hardware or software right now, start comparing products from different vendors. Visit demo sites or even negotiate a trial run. It will be a lot easier now than when your operation is running at capacity on all three shifts.

Invest in your people and yourself ââ¬â¬Å" Sign up for training, implement a mentoring program, start a relationship with a knowledgeable business coach that will help you produce the results you want.

Start a PR program for your department ââ¬â¬Å" Prepare some presentations, get on the agenda of internal meetings for departments you support, hold a document center open house, write articles for internal employee communications, build a web page for the intranet. Service bureaus can do the same kind of outreach activities with their customers. You might even pick up some more work!

Weââ¬â¢ve helped businesses with many efforts such as these. Itââ¬â¢s sometimes a challenge to get clients to follow-through when they are juggling all the responsibilities that come with a growing operation. So take advantage of a little more time in the schedule now. Your efforts will pay off in the future. Items in the above list that havenââ¬â¢t been handled tend to pop up as errors, delays, or disruptions when you get busy. Donââ¬â¢t let that happen to you.

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, Green Assessments, or other services, visit or email Mike directly at