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Jan. 6 2013 07:42 PM

There's nothing you can do to stop a hurricane or a flood from striking your business. Events like these call for disaster preparedness, not prevention. The good news is that for some natural disasters you have a little warning, allowing you to take appropriate action. Some time ago a service bureau where I was working stored forms and envelopes in a warehouse near the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. When forecasters predicted the river would overflow it's banks during an exceptionally wet spring (even for Oregon), we moved all that material to higher ground. We couldn't do anything about the amount of rain coming down but we could at least limit the damage caused by the impending flood.

There are disasters that happen to document operations that you can prevent, however. And, just like some of those natural catastrophes, there are warning signs. The disasters to which I am referring are those related to document security and privacy breaches.

Mistakes Waiting to Happen
Any document center, whether an outsource service provider or an in-house facility, has the potential to severely damage their reputation and their customer relationships by making errors that result in accidentally revealing private information. This can happen in a number of ways:

· Mixing pages from multiple account documents in a single envelope
· Jams or page overflow problems that result in the printing of data from two accounts on the same page
· Duplexing that gets out of sync
· Matching that goes bad
· Folding errors, resulting in data such as social security numbers becoming visible through envelope windows
· Print formatting mistakes, resulting in printing the wrong data fields on documents
· Improper storage or disposal of printed documents
· Employee theft
· Data file loss from stolen laptops or flash drives

You may have other vulnerabilities. Every operation and every document application they run is different.

Your Reputation at Risk
I'm sure you've read news stories about document operations that were responsible for distributing mail pieces that inadvertently compromised the privacy of individual recipients. These organizations end up re-doing the work for free, mailing an apology letter, and paying for credit monitoring. They suffer the embarrassment of negative publicity when the story is reported in the paper or on television. The ability to attract new customers or retain their current ones has got to be damaged as a result of these high-profile mistakes. They occur in operations of all sizes.

When these events happen, it turns out there may have been warning signs that went unheeded. The same conditions may be present in your own operation. Do any of these sound familiar?

· Something seems wrong to a veteran machine operator and he stops a run to investigate. A rookie would never have noticed.

· The final mail count is off for a job. Later you discover that prescribed quality control steps in print and inserting were signed off but not actually performed.

· A casual comment from an employee reveals they took their company laptop with them on vacation. The computer containing unencrypted customer data files stayed in the hotel room while the employee was at the beach.

· You notice an overflowing dumpster out back filled with live bank statements from a spoiled print run.

· An inserting job is stopped because you ran out of reply envelopes, only to discover the wrong stock was pulled from the warehouse. Had the job gone out, payments and bill stubs would have been returned to the wrong company, revealing customer information to a competitor and interrupting cash flow.

· A customer complains about your driver stacking cartons of printed documents outside their door because he got there after closing time.

· You drop by on a Saturday and observe the print operator's children in the break room drawing pictures - on the back of spoiled documents containing live customer data.

If you've had any near misses like these in your document operation it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes. Your site may not be as secure as you thought. Unlike the river that floods the warehouse, you can prevent document security disasters caused by the machines and humans under your control, instead of just preparing to deal with the negative consequences. Network firewalls, locked doors, and security cameras won't prevent an accidental privacy breach. But a regular audit of procedures, training, monitoring, and reinforcement can make a difference.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more ideas about how to secure your document operation, connect with Mike directly at Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter dedicated to document operations professionals.