Plenty of mailing operations still use decades-old manual methods to ensure the integrity of the documents they produce. In a world where mailed communications are constantly challenged by less-expensive communication channels, companies that continue to rely on semi-effective and error-prone systems to ensure accuracy in document operations are finding it difficult to compete.

Any practices that lower the effectiveness of mail or add to the cost to produce the mail must be replaced. Today, mailers need more dependable solutions that can handle highly personalized and targeted communications. Already at a disadvantage from a cost perspective, mail must be highly efficient and accurate to achieve an acceptable return on investment. Errors and waste that happen before the documents even enter the mail stream cannot be tolerated.

One of the most versatile and affordable ways to give mailed communications the best chance of success is taking advantage of the many benefits provided by a vision and integrity solution.

Lower Risk, Lower Cost, More Productivity
An integrity system is the nerve center of most successful document operations. Work that is processing throughout the operation is constantly monitored. Data from individual items is collected from vision systems in real time and passed to a centralized database. Business rules can detect when items are out of sequence, missing some critical elements, or can match the collected values to the database.

Integrity software will notify the operator of any processing errors as they occur so they can be handled immediately. Integrity systems can be installed on inserters, printers, saddle stitchers, perfect binders and all kinds of finishing equipment used in document workflows. Document producers are demanding that their mail be error-free, trackable, and produced at a reasonable cost. Some document center managers believe they can achieve these objectives using their old manual methods. But we know there are significant risks in neglecting to upgrade control and tracking capabilities in document operations:

Loss of customers
Errors that result in mail pieces that are incomplete or confusing can cause big problems. Customer service call volumes increase, response rates plummet, and apologies must be made. Mail centers that continue making mistakes will see customers take their business to another service provider.

Public humiliation
There is no shortage of news stories about mismatched documents, privacy violations, or other mistakes that make it into the mail and get the attention of the media. Almost all of these errors are preventable with solutions that are on the market today.

Cost of rework
It's not uncommon for organizations to re-print and re-mail an entire job that had some errors. They have no way of identifying the mail pieces that were wrong.

In the case of personal information that is protected by law or regulation, organizations can be subject to fines and penalties for accidentally disclosing private information to unauthorized individuals. An increasingly common reaction is to provide free credit monitoring services to affected parties - at a substantial cost to the mailer.

There is an endless list of printing, finishing, and mailing mistakes that can happen. Some of the most common errors include inserting pages from multiple accounts in a single envelope, mismatching personalized pieces, missing pages, missing pieces, duplicates, out-of-sync duplexing, improper print positioning, poor print quality, and inaccurate folding.

Manual Methods Don't Address Today's Requirements
For years, document operations managers relied on batch balancing and spot-checking to ensure integrity. The main components of these methods are human eyes, meter counts, and a clipboard. There are obviously some drawbacks to this legacy approach:

Batch balancing can't catch all the errors. The meters on the inserters don't know that one account was missing and another was printed twice (due to a jam and restart in the print room). Spot-checking only validates the accuracy of the pieces that were checked. All intervening documents are simply assumed to be correct. Today's document composition engines are capable of creating documents "on the fly." Widespread use of variable images, white space management, and dynamic document composition makes spot-checking a risky proposition.

Jams and misfeeds on equipment contribute to the majority of the problems - especially in an environment where integrity controls are rudimentary or do not exist at all. To lessen the number of jams, equipment operators may reduce the processing speed. Or they may stop the machines at regular intervals to check the integrity of the material. And when an error is detected, production often stops until the source of the error is found and corrected.

Many operations utilize special crews to find and correct errors. Procedures may involve weighing individual envelopes or visually inspecting them to find one that may hold an extra page. If an error that is discovered via the batch balancing method cannot be found within a certain amount of time, the entire job may be re-printed and re-inserted. And shops that run applications featuring multiple pieces of personalized information often resort to hand-matching, resulting in excessive labor costs.

Choosing not to use available technology to assure accurate results is a weak argument when confronted with a customer who is experiencing financial or public relations fallout from a mailing gone bad. Customers expect document operations that process mail to have made the investments in the hardware and software necessary to do basic mail piece integrity. Quite simply, accurate and automatic controls are mandatory functions for any company that produces mail today. This is now an entry-level requirement.

How Integrity Systems Solve the Problems
Integrity solutions help companies overcome all the limitations of manual quality control. Vision systems with integrity software can perform multiple functions simultaneously and in real time. This capability enables higher throughput, more accurate results, and lower production costs.

By inspecting every page, piece, or parcel as it passes through a step in the document workflow, vision systems can verify the presence and the accuracy of every item - a huge advantage over spot-checking. And, unlike batch balancing solutions which can only be done at the end of the job, vision and integrity systems can notice an error, alert the operator, and stop the equipment immediately. This allows the operator to quickly locate the problem, repair it, report it and get the machine running again. Productivity and report ability is greatly improved.

Integrity-based automated controls can also enable cost reduction strategies such as merging several small jobs into larger ones. The vision system will scan and the integrity software will track each document. Even though the mail pieces may have been mixed among documents from many different applications, the integrity of each of the originating jobs is maintained.

Camera Solutions Match Requirements
Vision systems typically utilize two different types of cameras. Area-scan cameras are focused on a specific portion of document real estate, such as the location of the document control barcode or the window of the envelope. Line-scan cameras inspect the entire document. Multiple areas of interest can be defined where data can be captured, compared, and recorded. Some organizations record scanned images to their database for archival or proof of processing.

Besides mailing, vision systems are useful in other areas of a document operation. They are used to track and verify the accuracy of documents as they are stitched or folded, for instance. Book publishers use vision systems to verify that every page is present before sending the material along to the binding steps.

Producers of credit cards or fulfillment gift cards use vision systems to compare the card to the carrier sheet. This capability allows the mailers to avoid sending a card to the wrong recipient. Some marketers use cameras to scan information on documents to control ink-jet printers that place variable messages or offers on the outbound envelopes.

Many users of vision systems invest in the technology to satisfy their requirements for item tracking and control. Once installed, they find new markets and revenue streams are enabled by the same equipment.

For controlling and tracking items, vision systems can read linear and two-dimensional barcodes, use the text itself, or even rely on image or pattern recognition. Marketers and others who are sensitive about applying unsightly barcodes to their documents will be pleased to know that vision systems can read codes printed in invisible ink or utilize the data already present in the USPS intelligent mail barcode. It is not necessary to compromise document design to gain the benefits and peace of mind delivered by modern vision and integrity solutions.

Keeping Mail Relevant Requires Better Execution
Printing firms, mailing bureaus, marketing service providers, and in-plant document operations that are building for the future have embraced the value that integrity systems provide. They understand that the standards have been raised for printed documents. Formerly acceptable levels of accuracy must be exceeded if physical documents are to compete with the digital communication channels that exist today.

Traditional, manual methods of integrity control are costing companies extra money spent on excess production costs, re-work, and loss of business. An investment in an affordable, modern, and versatile integrity system enhances their ability to compete and opens up new opportunities.

Robert Ellis is President of Document Data Solutions a firm dedicated to providing unrivaled vision, printing, quality control, and integrity system solutions. For a free evaluation of how integrity systems can prepare your company for the future, contact or visit