A insurance company doing its bi-weekly check run printed one run of checks successfully. But weeks later the same checks were reprinted, with the same check numbers, but with different dollar values. The error wasn't caught until duplicate check numbers began reaching the bank.

Or consider the HMO that had its check printing and mailing provider ship some checks for back to its headquarters so a special insert could be added before mailing. Five boxes of checks are shipped using an overnight courier show up some 900 checks short. And you can't tell which ones are missing.

These are not little fictions to grab your attention. They really happened to companies that shall remain nameless. But could it happen to you?

Imagine for a moment that just 1% of your company's next critical mailing is wrong. It could be test results from an HMO going to the wrong patients. Or 401K or mutual find statements sent to the wrong customers or with incorrect amounts.

The kinds of problems vary by industry, but errors in large mailings of personalized information can result in serious financial and legal issues. What are the costs of "fixing" the problem? What level of "damage control" is needed within your enterprise? And even if you find out the cause for the error, how can you ensure it won't happen again?

Most printing and mailing customers are unaware that nearly all data-to-mail processes are rife with potential for problems that can result in significant damage and financial losses. And their print and mail supplier is not about to tell them.The fact is, any given data-to-mail job contains the potential for some kind of error. What's critical, though, is that the errors do not reach the customer.

The 100 % Solution
So how can you be sure scenarios like these won't happen in your company? The best approach begins with a critical, end-to-end look at how business-critical information is processed and mailed to customers. Whether the work is done in-house or through an outside supplier, if your present processes do not ensure 100 percent data-to-mail integrity, you may be just a minor clerical error away from a major problem.

Art Knyff, vice president for operations at Cathedral Corporation's printing and mailing facility in Lincoln, Rhode Island suggests asking the following questions about their print-to-mail processes. "Printing and mailing can be very complex," he says, "so be sure to get detailed explanations of the processes and see demonstrated examples of the answers."

1. Are all job numbers and naming conventions unique to totally eliminate any chance for human or machine error?

2. Is there an overall job description for each job? Does it include data on expected number of pieces, postage, and other information?

3. Do handoff points for both electronic data and physical documents have "handshakes" and verification processes that will stop the system if job-specific criteria are not met?

4. Is there complete written documentation for running every type of job, including "what-if" processes and procedures, sample printed materials with associated part numbers? Is this material readily available to all operational personnel to ensure all procedures are followed consistently? Are people adequately trained?

5. What are the detailed, secure procedures for damaged or missing documents, such as checks and statements? Are there sufficient steps in the check reissuing process to prevent fraud?

6. What controls are there to prevent a job from inadvertently being run twice?

7. What controls are in place to verify that all the records provided in a file are printed accurately?

8. What types of spot-checking are done to verify data integrity? How often are documents examined to ensure image quality, especially for MICR toner? Is the quality measurement arbitrary or does it meet ANSI standards?

9. When printing, is there a detailed matching of start-of-run and end-of-run job statements (with quantities, dollar amounts, etc.) with multiple person sign-offs?

10. If you are printing checks, will the procedures you use consistently meet the requirements of bank auditors?

11. Is mail insertion equipment intelligent, and programmed to look for and identify missing items?

12. What type of control system, such as Optical Mark Recognition is used to support intelligent inserting?

13. Can inserters support inclusion of specific additional items, such as targeted marketing materials, with the primary item?

14. Do processes allow for catching an error as it happens rather than at the end of the job?

15. Is there an end-of-mailing accounting that must agree with the overall job statement? That is, do you know what to expect at the end of the run?

Printing and mailing procedures that provide positive answers to these questions, combined with significant additional steps and detail, create a seamless data-to-mail process that guarantees 100 percent integrity. Only complete integration of such processes can ensure that every mailing will go out totally error-free. In an effective solution, every step is backed up by others, resulting in a series of checks and balances so that even if one fails, there are others in place to catch the error--along with specific steps for complete resolution.