The owners of business communications used to be the IT department. Statements and bills, notices, policies, welcome kits, etc. were all generated by buttoned-down software applications managed and maintained by information technology professionals.

Today, some of these applications are being moved out of IT and into business units. This can cause issues for in-house or outsourced print and mail service providers as they deal with customers less skilled at creating communications for production in large-scale document operations.

Lack of Knowledge = Unworkable Solutions

In my experience, business people who take on document design duties can create challenges. I’ve run into a few who caused difficulties in processing their work through a high-volume print and mail production facility. They let their creativity take over and didn’t consider how the production department could run the jobs.

In one case, a team initiated a project to improve the readability of insurance explanation of benefits reports (EOBs). They decided customer comprehension would increase if they separated sections of the reports with page breaks. They were probably right. The reports would be easier to read with the new design. What they did not understand is the pages added to every EOB would cause the print runs to exceed our daily print capacity, and there was no budget (nor any room) for more printers. Generating 26 hours of print a day wasn’t going to work.

At a different company, a department asked me to produce a complex application that included reply pieces. They had designed a mail piece with so many separate parts it would have required days of manual labor to produce and assemble, besides risking mismatched elements. The group never considered options like window envelopes or perforated stubs. Without guidance, they created a solution that would work for 100 pieces, but there’s no way it would scale up to 14,000!

In each of these cases, the user department efforts were well-intended. They just didn’t understand production print and mail. Fortunately, we stopped the projects in time and helped the business users meet their objectives with redesigned solutions we could support.

Giving Control to Business Units

It can be beneficial to give user departments jurisdiction over documents, but only with sufficient controls. You wouldn’t want users to change the address block position, for instance, preventing it from showing through the envelope window. Software should lock sensitive areas on documents so users can’t impede automated production processes or obscure important information.

Allowing user departments to dictate the contents of statement messages or onserts is a good example of putting content decisions into the hands of the people most knowledgeable about the subjects. The IT department need not allocate resources for such tasks. Just be sure document composition applications restrict users to the messaging areas of the documents, leaving important transactional and account-level details protected from unintended alteration.

Document Operations Outreach

Reach out to user departments to explain document format guidelines and introduce them to templates or other tools to help them design documents that process smoothly through the automated workflow. Once users understand the process, they are happy to comply and future jobs will run through standard production processes. Stress the benefits of consulting with document operations at the start of their projects instead of learning about design flaws on production day.

Document production staff members can suggest changes to proposed documents that will lower costs, shorten run times, and improve quality. Business unit employees won’t necessarily understand about details like how the aspect ratio of a piece affects postage cost, why designers should anticipate sealing tab placement, or barcode clear zones. It’s up to the document print and mail center to provide such information and guidance.

As documents become more personalized, experienced document production professionals become valuable assets. Where a layperson might define dozens of document variations and segments, the experts will see opportunities for data-driven variable content. By merging proposed independent segments into large jobs, document operations can improve device throughput and lower postage costs. Show business units how the operations department can track the pieces throughout the production process to assure them the document center can account for all their items.

Mail center staff can also acquaint business units with options such as Informed Delivery, Informed Visibility, QR codes, or augmented reality to enhance campaign performance. Rather than operating as an order-taker, document operations can help the business units as advisors and consultants. The result will be better-performing mail that runs efficiently through the document production workflow.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.