By Carro Ford July 7, 2003 -- Paper has always been a constant of the printing business, but how it's managed is changing as the industry evolves. Before convergence became a buzzword, and color and personalization became the norm, many on demand operations only needed to support static black and white output. Now they need paper for highlight or full color digital production. Operations that only handled simplex now must learn about the best papers for duplex applications. Moving offset jobs to digital presses requires a new paper strategy. Katy Hess, a document specialist and analyst in the insurance industry, has made a career of smart paper strategies. Her in-house operation produces over 500,000 images a month, ranging from the ubiquitous 20 lb, no hole, letter-size white, to MICR, coated, three-hole, 24 lb legal, and brightly colored separator pages. Paper as Marketing Advantage Hess looks at paper as a marketing tool, first and foremost. "It always comes back to image, and you can't put a price on that. There are special mailings where we don't want to use just any paper. We want to catch the reader's eye and encourage people to do business with us. If that means spending more on a high quality coated paper, that's what we do." When the marketing department develops a special customer mailing, Hess has trained them to call her first. "I know how the paper will run, and I can help them get the best quality. For example, toner may not adhere to the paper they want to use. When they take my advice, projects usually go ahead with no problems." Inventory On Demand When operations specialized in a limited number of set applications, price was the governing factor in paper purchase decisions. Now, the requirements are more complicated. Manuals, statements, personalized newsletters, departmental reports-all these applications can fall to one document operation. With more varied output, the risk of ever-multiplying paper inventories becomes a real problem. Through smart resource planning, managers can avoid letting paper inventories get out of hand. Hess tries to arrange it so she's not receiving paper every month. Since she knows what her volumes will be, it's easier for her to space out her purchases. "It's too much of a hassle getting deliveries too often. My guys have too much to do to be moving paper around." She keeps enough stock for a couple of months, so no one is tripping over lots of stored material. "It depends on how much room you have. You may want to buy a year's worth and have your vendor deliver it throughout the year to lock in a price and not have too much to store properly." Partnering for Disaster Recovery Another advantage of having vendors help manage inventory is the value it adds to a disaster recovery plan. "It's a good idea to have vendors work with you on disaster planning. We are doing this now with labels for a critical application. "We have the ability to send jobs to another location in case of an emergency, and we have to make sure our paper suppliers can support us with the right stock when we need it." Multiple Vendors for Best Price Some suppliers claim that using one source for all an organization's paper needs is an advantage because it simplifies ordering, service and resource management. Hess says this approach doesn't really work for her. "I work with multiple vendors to get the best price, and I work with vendors who give me what I need." Her preference is for companies with things like good trucks and working lift gates. These are the details that win her business. One supplier who no longer has her account used to send any old truck and any old driver-literally. "We swore the poor guy must have been 92 years old, and he had to do all the lifting himself," says Hess. "My guys are restricted from doing certain things on the loading dock, so they couldn't help." She encounters varying degrees of vendor knowledge about the best papers for today's digital printers. "For systems that have been around a while, everyone knows what works. With some of the newer models, people haven't built up that knowledge base." Although some vendors promote their willingness to test paper in their labs, Hess says this isn't always as good as it sounds. "Testing on site works best for us. Labs can't always recreate the problem." One Change at a Time Print and mail operations have long recognized the role paper plays in workflow productivity, and today's accelerated pace makes this more important than ever. "Runnability is a foremost consideration," says Hess. "We don't want to be slowed down by jams." "With paper, the key is to keep it consistent. Stick with something that works. And when you have to change, only change one thing at one time. Don't try to switch labels and paper all at once. Just make one change at a time and then go on to the next." Sounds like good advice for more than just paper.