When I was working in the service bureau business early in my career, I had no software that allowed me to rearrange text on documents or make other adjustments to print-image files. Such programs did not exist, but we sure could have used them. I even wrote such a system myself. It was a prototype and wildly inefficient, but it gave me an appreciation for how difficult it was to work with data that was semi-structured. I don’t recommend a do-it-yourself approach.

Like many print/mail service providers today, our service bureau had no access to the raw data many of our customers used to compose their documents. Often, even the customers lacked influence over how their documents were formatted. Several of our customers used packaged software that gave them little control over their transactional documents. They wanted to make changes to their printed documents, but they couldn’t do it. If we could have supplied that service to them, they would have gladly paid us a premium beyond our customary charges for printing, inserting, and mailing. The reformatting service would also have aided in customer retention.

Today, of course, print/mail service providers can choose document re-engineering tools from several software companies. Some companies will even set up the conversions for you as a professional services engagement. If your organization processes pre-composed documents, investments in document re-engineering may be worthwhile — for many of the same reasons present decades ago, plus some new ones.

What Document Re-Engineering Can Do

As I mentioned, changing the layout of printed pages to satisfy the desires of the customers can be a revenue stream. Beyond cosmetic changes, document re-engineering software can also help your internal or external customers save money or improve the experience of their customers. You might add text, for example, that answers common questions customers have when they call customer service. You could colorize text to make it stand out or add graphics that communicate information more effectively.

Operationally, document re-engineering software can be the step that makes a difference in how efficiently documents process through your printing and inserting workflow. The software can change barcode formats or reposition the codes to allow for consistent reading and processing by inserting machines or other finishing equipment, for example.

As print/mail service organizations switch from monochrome toner devices to inkjet, they have new reasons to use document-re-engineering software to add value and improve efficiency. Changing from pre-printed inserts to color printed onserts that are part of the document set is a good example.

Add Value and Improve Efficiency

Switching to onserts allows the marketing messages aimed at transactional document recipients to be much more targeted, which makes each promotional message more valuable. No longer will the number of insert stations on mailing machines limit the messages companies can include in transactional documents. Waste associated with obsolete inserts and jams on the inserting machines caused by difficult insert material will vanish. Eliminating inserts for most jobs might allow an operation to remove some stations and increase inserting throughput. This move also allows a print/mail operation to combine small inserting jobs, decreasing set-up time and other and administrative intra-job tasks.

To combine jobs, document operations must configure all documents to use the same outbound envelope. Again, document re-engineering software can be the solution. Use the software to re-position address blocks so they show through the window of a common envelope.

Document tracking and mail piece integrity have always been important. They become even more critical in environments where document operations merge jobs or alter the order of mail pieces. Document re-engineering software can extract data from the pages and use it to build the control files necessary for your ADF or document production platform and account for all the pages and mail pieces in each job.

In-Plants Need Document Re-Engineering Too

The benefits of document re-engineering software extend to in-plant document operations as well. Though their own organization may be responsible for the data and document composition, getting mail center development projects to the top of the priority list for IT can be a challenge. By handling the document modifications themselves, the print/mail department can reap the benefits months sooner than they could by waiting for IT resources to change the source documents.

Sometimes the source code for legacy print applications doesn’t even exist, or is in such a fragile state, IT won’t touch it. Then you are forced to re-write the applications. Instead of re-creating the documents with a new composition engine, use document re-engineering software to make necessary changes and avoid large-scale, expensive IT development projects.

New Requirements Demand New Tools

If your organization works with print-image files and has no document-re-engineering capabilities, investigate the solutions now available from several industry software vendors. We know that customer communication is changing, but it’s not always about moving from printed documents to digital. Making the documents better, regardless of the output channel, should be on your to-do list for 2022 and beyond. Re-engineering the documents is one way to accomplish this goal.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps his clients meet the challenges they encounter in document operations and creates informational content for vendors and service providers in the document industry. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, send a connection request on LinkedIn, or contact Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.