If you were to design a print and mail operation today to process transactional documents how would it look? Would you plan for a big warehouse to store pallets full of custom pre-printed shells to run through cut-sheet monochrome printers? Would you maintain a correspondingly large inventory of custom outbound or remittance envelopes? Would your quality control processes rely on paper logs and clipboards?

Probably not. Some of the methods transactional document printers have been using for decades aren’t best practices anymore. Advances in document composition and re-engineering software, shop floor management, printing, and inserting technologies have resulted in more efficient alternatives.

If you had the luxury of designing an operation from the ground up, you’d probably be looking for ways to combine small (or shrinking) jobs into larger batches. You’d want to avoid the expense and logistics of custom paper stock and envelopes while still providing your customers with the branding and individuality they demand. You’d want to offer customers benefits they can’t easily achieve on their own, such as lower postage costs or mail piece tracking.

Dreaming of a White Paper Workflow?

Someone building a transactional document center today would be focusing on a white-paper workflow. They would install inkjet printers to apply customer branded colors and features while still sorting and combining documents to achieve the greatest workflow productivity, highest quality, and the most affordable postage rates.

But hardly anyone is building a document center from the ground up these days. The companies most interested in a more modern and efficient document workflow are already doing the work. Their options are constrained by investments in equipment, employees, space, inventory, and legacy applications. Switching to totally new and modern production methods all at once is an unreasonable strategy for most service providers.

One barrier to adopting a white-paper workflow has been the printers. Many of the inkjet presses suitable for producing high volume transactional documents have been large and expensive roll-fed machines. Without plenty of volume that can be switched to a new printing platform rapidly, reasonable ROI calculations on those printers can be difficult to achieve. Switching from a cut sheet environment to rolls is a big change – particularly when introducing functionality to print two-up duplex in what has always been a one-up cut sheet shop.

Small and medium size transactional document mailers find themselves stuck with the older technology. Until recently, it hasn’t been feasible to make dramatic changes that will help them grow and compete.

Options Coming to Market

Fortunately, leaders in the vendor community have recognized these limitations. They are starting to introduce equipment that can help transactional document operations transition from the old to the new without disrupting entire workflows or requiring unrealistic financial commitments.

New narrow-web color inkjet presses include integrated cutters to trim the pages to familiar dimensions. They also feature variable perforators to add remittance stubs, coupons, or other elements currently provided by custom paper stock. The pages exiting these printers will be ready for the sheet-fed inserters, just as they were with cut sheet equipment. The difference will be longer runs and lower costs.

Assuring mail piece integrity is critical in a white-paper workflow. Manufacturers have made it possible to add cameras, controllers, and software to existing inserting equipment. Shops won’t necessarily need to make capital investments in new mailing equipment to reap the benefits a white-paper environment provides.

Soon transactional printers can begin to enjoy the advantages of a white paper workflow and reduce their reliance on many of those expensive and unproductive methods to which they’ve been chained for so long. Mail will be around for a long time. The way it’s done however, will have to change.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He helps his clients get the most from their document print and mail centers and prepare strategies for the future. Visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for his free newsletters written especially for document industry professionals.