Automated document factories (ADFs) used to be of interest primarily to high-volume transactional document producers. Today, companies of any size, mailing just about any type of documents, can benefit from the integrity, tracking, and productivity enhancements made possible by affordable ADFs.

Every mail-producing company should have at least some ADF capability. Service providers that neglect to implement basic item tracking functionality are missing opportunities to reinforce the value of mail with their customers. As businesses take advantage of personalization and refined targeting techniques to communicate on an individual level, the potential return on each piece is rising. Accounting for every item throughout the production process shows customers their mail services partners recognize this increased value.

Even companies distributing documents formerly labeled as “bulk mail” are recognizing the need to document that they have accurately processed each piece. This is becoming an entry-level requirement. Marketers are focusing on customers and prospects as individuals instead of mass audiences. Data availability and sophisticated document composition tools have made practices such as mailing identical content to every home in a zip code nearly obsolete. Marketers can pursue their customer relationship strategies by connecting each mailpiece to a recipient and tracking individual message distribution.

Multi-channel distribution makes ADF-style item tracking even more important. Many mail service providers now meet client needs by sending both printed and electronic messages as part of a single job or campaign. Clients need to know which of their customers were contacted, when the messages were sent, and how they were delivered.

Mail service providers running only simple jobs like direct mail postcards don’t have to invest in top-of-the-line ADF solutions. Single-camera systems that record the finishing date and time of each mailpiece may be sufficient. Running sophisticated applications involving matching or multi-page collation will require more comprehensive ADF functionality to support document integrity requirements. Companies running sensitive documents containing private financial or health information may use full-featured ADF technology to protect against accidental privacy violations.

Here are four reasons for document operations to add automated document factory functionality to mail production processes:

1. Mailpiece Integrity/Regulatory Compliance: Mailers can prevent common inserting errors like double-stuffed envelopes or out of sequence pages from entering the mailstream.

2. Multi-Channel Marketing: Protect client investments in multi-channel campaigns by ensuring their messages, printed or digital, are produced and distributed as designed.

3. Higher Productivity: Reduce time spent between jobs to balance batches, log statistics, or search for double-stuffed envelopes.

4. Competition: Service providers need to ensure mailing accuracy to compete against other shops that offer this capability. In-house operations without piece-tracking functionality risk losing the work to outsource vendors providing ADF safeguards.

Any company interested in long-term growth should look into ways to add ADF capabilities to their workflows. It is time to re-evaluate the value of item tracking in terms of today's business and regulatory environments.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that evaluates document operations workflows and helps clients make and implement strategic improvement decisions. For more ideas about how to prepare your organization for the future, connect with Mike directly at or follow @PMCmike on Twitter.