With postal rates on the rise and information privacy regulations becoming increasingly strict, the business of printing and mailing has taken on new scope and importance. Striving to reduce costs and ensure compliance, organizations look to leverage existing investments in technology and connect the islands of automation that exist in their document production systems. Ensuring financial stability, operating efficiency and regulatory compliance in today's information-rich business environment requires increased intelligence and connectivity throughout the process. These benefits are gained by adopting an Automated Document Factory (ADF).


The Automated Document Factory

An Automated Document Factory is a decisive response to the pressures of cost containment and regulatory compliance and an enabling approach to improve mission-critical documents. For years, automation techniques have helped the manufacturing industry improve production quality, eliminate defects and manage workflow with increased profitability; now the ADF has emerged as a tremendous evolution in high-volume printing and mailing to accelerate efficiency, integrity and quality, while maintaining maximum operating economy.


In the decade since the Gartner Group coined the term Automated Document Factory, the concept has grown in scope and identity. Indeed, the expression has evolved in industry lexicon as a generic phrase. Despite this familiarity, however, the concept of the ADF may have been a few years ahead of its time. Early technology hinted at a number of salient benefits, but the full scope and opportunity is just now being realized with the development of next-generation systems and the realization that an Automated Document Factory can start with one machine, one department or one production process.


An ADF is generally defined as a strategy for processing high-volume documents using factory production techniques. Characteristics of a classic ADF include minimal manual intervention and the aim to bring about lower costs, higher quality, greater control, advanced levels of automation, increased visibility into processes and greater analysis across all processes that are independent of equipment vendors. Integral to the broader concept are complete mailpiece tracking, integrated data quality and integrity checks and real-time performance auditing and reporting.


Revitalized Demand for ADF

The potential for savings and efficiencies is commanding new interest in ADFs. More and more companies now see an ADF as a logical, disciplined approach to reducing document processing expenses, improving their overall production operations and communication abilities and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards.


Today, document processing technology has developed to a point where a truly integrated ADF can be achieved. Early solutions lacked the infrastructure and flexibility to support the mix of various systems at work in typical printing and mailing operations. Siloed solutions prevented the dream of an ADF from becoming a reality. But the arrival of more open and flexible standards-based systems designed to work across proprietary brands and protocols has given new life to the vision of "factory-like" printing and mailing efficiency.


The diminishing price tag of ADF equipment and solutions is another compelling reason for organizations to reassess the practicality of this strategy. Once an all-or-nothing proposition that required a multi-million-dollar investment, ADF systems now use hardware and software that has been designed to be modular and flexible and bring expanded capabilities and new life to existing hardware and systems. This approach helps keep pricing in line with expectations and helps create a greater number and variety of right-sized solutions. The resulting affordability and flexibility bring an ADF within the reach of organizations that previously could not afford the enterprise-sized investment.


As is often the case with the development of innovative strategies, the idea of an ADF preceded the practical ability to capitalize on its conceptual benefits. As the pressures of cost containment and regulatory compliance converge with more affordable advancements in ADF technology, organizations that may have rejected the concept might now benefit from reassessing an ADF model. Key benefits to consider include:

  • Automated processing efficiencies reduce operating costs  
  • Job and piece-level tracking result in increased document integrity
  • Auditable tracking data reduce exposure to legal and regulatory risk
  • Real-time production workflow monitoring enables better operations analysis
  • Automatic reprint file generation reduces the cost and time of manual reprints
  • Enhanced document personalization increases customer satisfaction and revenue
  • Optimized workflow brings increased return on hardware and software investments


The Cost of Documents

How much money does corporate America spend on document production? Industry assessments vary, but the estimates range between six and 15 percent of total annual revenues (CAP Ventures, the Gartner Group, et. al.) by any measure, a highly significant sum. With this much investment at stake, organizations of all sizes and from all industries can benefit from thoughtful assessment of their current document processing systems.

  • What opportunities exist that can mitigate document-related expenses?
  • How can current document processing equipment bring a greater return on investment?
  • How do rising postal rates, changes in mailing standards and developments in document technology impact the bottom line?
  • How can communication become more relevant and drive better responses?
  • How can operational processes become more efficient?


The Risks of Documents

Increasingly strict federal and state regulations concerning information privacy have brought document processing to the front lines in the struggle for compliance. As the threat of non-compliance consequences increases, concern over the security and integrity of mailpieces has intensified.


The stakes have never been higher: regulatory agencies look for data accuracy and system integrity, and organizations must demonstrate a clear chain of custody and the ability to preserve that chain as evidence.


Given these factors, organizations can benefit from an assessment of how their document processing systems perform in the face of regulatory and legal scrutiny. Often, new measures are needed to ensure that the risks are minimized.

  • How are documents tracked and audited during the printing and mailing process?
  • Do existing systems ensure the accuracy and security of information at each step?
  • How do changes in regulatory requirements affect corporate risk and exposure?


The Opportunity of Documents

While the expense and liability connected with corporate document processing can be significant, the opportunity to improve document performance is profound. Documents drive revenue, and how convincingly they perform can make the difference between profit and loss. Indeed, for many organizations, documents are the product, the only tangible evidence of the service provided. As fundamental touchpoints to clients, customers and consumers, the potential of documents to serve as revenue generators should not be overlooked.


Personalized documents capitalize on collected customer data to rise above the din of competitive messages. For years, the best that many organizations could hope for were mass marketing mailpieces that performed at rather disappointing response rates. Today, with thoughtful data integration and document composition, the ability to produce "one-to-one" documents that command dramatically improved customer response is within reach.


With the goal of increasing revenue and expanding market share, organizations have an obligation to assess existing resources that can optimize their customer-facing documents.

  • Do customer documents take advantage of existing customer data stores?
  • Are customer documents effective in terms of their content and message?
  • How can upstream use of customer data help optimize the downstream printing and mailing process?


In our next installment, we'll explore they key benefits of implementing an ADF solution, including a look at how integration and tracking can increase ROI.


Mike Maselli is Executive Director of Business Management for BÖWE BELL + HOWELL. Contact him at Mike.Maselli@bowebellhowell.com, or visit www.bowebellhowell.com for more information.