One for All
What to do about the countless preprinted forms floating around a company when the address changes? What if there's a change in the executive board or the company designs a new logo? The forms usually end up in the shredder – along with a small fortune in dollars. Especially in large firms, the value of what was once an asset can quickly climb into the tens of thousands. Policies, invoices, flyers, stationery, etc. – worthless overnight. It's not unusual for insurance companies and banks to discard 100,000 pre-printed forms every year.
One thing's for sure. Stockpiling forms is an expensive affair: capital is tied up not only in the use of warehouse space, but in resources too, considering the shelves always need filling and the documents need transporting to the right printing/finishing lines. That's where the next challenge awaits: the printer not only needs the right paper, but the appropriate data. This ensures Mr. X does not get his boss's pay slip, the late Mrs. Y isn't sent a new life insurance policy, and the Z family isn't issued a credit instead of receiving a warning notice. Data transmission is fraught with peril and complex and difficult to oversee. Companies pour a lot of time and money into correctly coordinating these data streams.
Carte blanche for document processing
Wouldn't it be better to replace costly stockage with technologies that bundle a document's content and layout data and put it all on plain white paper? That way you would not only reduce the costs to create, store and transport preprinted forms, but also avoid the risk of miscombining mailings. In fact, the cost alone of receiving, shipping and delivering preprinted paper often exceeds the actual printing costs – by a lot.
Complex paper-tray control would become a thing of the past. Instead of x number of different missives painstakingly assigned to specific trays, there are just infinite rolls of white paper for printing every document: policies, invoices, letters, GTCs, warnings, payment instructions – literally every kind of correspondence a company produces. This would also drastically cut setup time on the printing line, especially for large printing centers that deal with countless different jobs every day. Every new order means reprogramming the systems to keep the forms coming from the right tray. Not an issue with white paper production.
White paper production is hardly a new idea. What is new is how hot the topic has become. More and more companies are taking a closer look at this type of output management. And it's no wonder: the savings potential is huge. Experts estimate savings of up to 80%.
The volume of hard-copy documents is shrinking worldwide in any case. Surveys by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) cite an average of seven percent. All in all, the ratio of electronic mail to physical mail is shifting. For at least the next two generations, however, both types will be used equally.
Old hat: preprinted forms
Many companies are already sending invoices, account statements and the like as an e-mail attachment or putting them on the Web for download. Transaction documents have made the greatest advances in digitalization. Only sensitive financial documents are still printed, e.g., contracts, vehicle registrations from leasing firms, and policies. But is it really worth keeping thousands of preprinted forms on hand just for that?
White paper production certainly lends greater flexibility to the printing process. That's especially important for companies with a lot of small print jobs, where the printing lines have to go through the setup process several times a day to accommodate frequent form changes. That, too, is an argument for white paper production. Completely blank ("white") paper is used to create and output documents with individualized content and layout for every recipient. Gone are the days of reprogramming the printing line for every new form. All the data needed is stored in the IT system and is delivered specific to the customer, starting with master data such as name, address, and date of birth, advertisements that need positioning, even fonts and logos. Software completely controls all the necessary data for the given document.
In-house or outsourced – depends on the number of documents
White paper solutions greatly lower processing costs in output management, even if the up-front investment to change over is considerable. That's because full-color digital printing machines are a must, and they can cost a couple of million dollars. Black-and-white printing is another way to go, but color adds value to a document. Color attracts the eye, making it perfect for advertising messages. But it takes printing a certain number of documents before the big color systems can pay for themselves.
A company needs to give careful consideration to whether the volume of paper is high enough for in-house printing. If there are fewer than 50,000 documents a year to print, the investment would be difficult to amortize. In this case it would be better to hire a print provider, who is in a position to better utilize his equipment. There are several other criteria that play a role in choosing between in-house or external white paper production. Most importantly, what are the warehousing savings? Are they still high enough if you take into account the paper rolls needed for white paper production? (See box below).
To answer this question, we need to turn to the topic of color management, color spaces and profiles and how to provide them as a resource, i.e., manage them in the software. Technical know-how is another consideration, for instance when it comes to calibrating the machines so the logo has the exact shade desired in the document. Only then can we investigate the software needed to compile the data and send it to the printing line. No matter what the decision, the support of an output management specialist is advisable, a consultancy that is not only immersed in data streams and their optimization, but color management as well. Ideally the company also collaborates with printing systems manufacturers.
Variable data printing on envelopes
Experts believe that the breakthrough for white paper production will come within the next three years. The topic dominated the Hunkeler Innovation Days, gaining the attention of major national and international insurance companies and banks. Interestingly, the white paper principle is easy enough to apply to personalized envelopes. A color advertisement could be printed right on the blank envelope, ensuring that the recipient "gets" (in the truest sense of the word) the message. Here, creativity knows no bounds. Anything that can be converted into a print template can be applied in this way: logos, text, photographs, graphics. The industry is already talking about "white enveloping". The principle is similar. The data streams for the content and the layout are linked and output on the envelope based on an addressee-specific code, after stuffing. Hence this technology makes customized printing of every envelope possible, even for mass mailings.
Not only is there an advantage to eliminating storage of preprinted envelopes, but the addressee's interest is piqued at the same time. An envelope featuring a photograph of the reader's favorite part of the world or a reminder not to miss his favorite band's upcoming concert would certainly strike a chord. Who wouldn't feel special with this kind of "personal connection" to something on the envelope? More and more envelope manufacturers are "adding value" to their systems in precisely in this way.
The future is white
And there's more. Soon inserts will also be produced in this way. Instead of standard preprinted copies, individual advertising flyers and brochures will be generated and printed on a separate printing line and then added to the document by the inserting system, with the weight taken into account to avoid higher postage.
Or the physical insertion process will be completely done away with and the generation of inserts tied directly into the printing process. A control code can be integrated into the document that contains such information as the recipient's name, with instructions to include an advertising flyer about a new rate, addressing the recipient by name. The insert is generated and output in the same print process as the actual document and then included in the envelope. This "white enclosure" principle might still be a dream. But considering the enormous benefits, cost savings and target-group-specific advertising it is just a matter of time until we see this type of efficient output management become a reality.
White Paper Production – What it Depends On
Document volume is really the key factor in determining whether it is worth it for a company to drop its preprinted materials. Broadly speaking, the greater the number and diversity of documents, the higher the savings potential. The existing IT infrastructure also plays a role.
A detailed analysis is therefore absolutely essential:
- How many different forms are there, and how many are kept in stock?
- How much storage space could be freed up if preprinted forms were eliminated?
- Are the savings still high enough, taking into account the paper rolls needed for white paper production?
- Is the IT infrastructure already in place to generate and output documents (output management) and would "white paper" functions simply need to be added?
- How high are the costs for machines, software and services? And another important consideration: when does the return on investment (ROI) kick in? The less preprinted material used, the quicker the amortization.
- This also depends on whether you decide to pursue white paper production internally or with an external service provider.
- Additionally, what do your output management processes look like in general? A lot of small individual print jobs or frequent reprogramming of the printing/finishing line make outsourcing the better option provided the service provider can utilize the capacity of his digital printing machines more effectively or run multiple systems in parallel.
Yet another consideration: Choosing the right service provider
- You need a company with the expertise to map output management processes in the software, a company with lots of practical and project experience.
- Proven knowledge in color management
- The perfect company is also one that fully understands the print industry, including downstream processing, and that collaborates with manufacturers of printing, folding and enveloping systems (a "single-source" supplier).
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