by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division Evaluate your operations to identify the bottlenecks that slow the flow of jobs through your shop November 7, 2005 -- The offers can seem irresistible. Anywhere from one to four blank checks, awaiting your signature for a lower interest rate on credit cards, access a line of credit or even put some extra cash in your bank account. They are tempting to many people--which is why they keep showing up in our mailboxes. They may or may not be a good deal for consumers, but when a crucial element is missing, they can literally be free money for the recipient and can cost the issuing institution millions of dollars. Such checks are printed digitally on pre-printed check stock that's imaged with the issuing bank's name and routing numbers on the front and some fine print on the back. The fine print usually explains any terms and conditions regarding the use of the funds, interest rates, and the obligations of the payee. Signing the check means the payee agrees with the terms set forth in the fine print and makes it a legally binding contract. If it's there. Free Money Suppose a financial institution sent out a few hundred thousand such checks in a direct mail campaign for a new loan program. The amounts offered on the checks ranged from $2,500 to $7,500. But the checks were missing one thing: the fine print. Without the agreement on the back, the face value of the check would entitle the recipients to cash the checks with no further obligation for repayment. Now suppose some percentage of the offers --this being a direct mail program, after all-- were opened, signed and cashed. It's the kind of event that would make for a few tense meetings among senior executives and data center managers. This is a particularly expensive example of what can happen when data center audit and verification procedures fail. Think it can't happen to you? Guess again because that's what several large banking firms thought – until it happened to them. When Did I Change Mutual Funds? Now consider a less dramatic but more far-reaching example. Transactional service bureaus have many different customers, each of which uses pre-printed forms for their monthly statements. Now imagine the trouble when the statements for one mutual fund go out on the pre-printed shells of another. As a service bureau owner, you would quickly bid farewell to one or both of the accounts involved; after all, your repeat business is based on how well you delivered your current jobs. Once your competitor's find out, and other customers lose confidence in your operations, it will become a major issue in a short period of time. Imagine the trouble when the statements for one mutual fund go out on the pre-printed shells of another. Customer Requirement: "Prove It" For service bureaus especially, ensuring all your processes are bulletproof is part of doing business. In fact, a one of the first questions prospective customers now ask is whether a shop has been audited to ensure procedures are in place to avoid errors. More and more customers are requiring formal reports – by job - that include total quantity printed and mailed, verification of accurate critical data within the printed document and date mailed. In a time when SLAs are becoming more demanding, federal regulations such as HIPPA and Sarbanes Oxley appear, and stringent quality requirements are the norm-- any service bureau without ironclad verification processes can well be one error away from a major business disaster. Any service bureau without ironclad verification processes can well be one error away from a major business disaster. Verification Critical to Business Continuity and Success The best verification strategies require both hardware and software solutions that can be customized for specific applications. Depending on the document production process, this can involve reporting, tracking, monitoring and quality verification functions. For example, print content and quality can be verified through optical readings of logos, 1D and 2D barcodes, incrementing check numbers, edge definition, and more as defined by operator and pre-determined job rules. In the examples above, reading an identifying code on a pre-printed form could have alerted the operator to the use of the incorrect stock; and automated inspection of the checks would have detected the missing terms and conditions. Other successful approaches to apply quality processes to manufacturing techniques to address all aspects of the audit and verification process include: Communication among all print engines, regardless of manufacturer. Monitoring, tracking and reporting each step of a process via an electronic job ticket. Full error recovery, restart and reprint capabilities of missing, damaged or orphaned documents by comparing printed output with electronic print data files. Optimum utilization of equipment through early warning mechanisms (device messages and alerts) and productivity reports. Modular designs that allows configuration to meet your individual requirements of space and functionality. Adding visible and invisible barcodes to provide tracking information on printed documents. Intelligent problem resolution which can automatically alert--and even solve--a pre-determined range of errors and provide reporting to help avoid repetition of the problem. Your Reputation is on the Line: What this ultimately delivers is a reputation for excellence that drives repeat business and new-new business. Increased efficiency via intuitive, centralized control of the entire print and mail operation results in increased equipment utilization and document integrity, ensures image verification, and supports and maintains audit trails. If you can't deliver this, your competition will --and soon. Will you be a market leader, or be acquired by someone who is? Will you be a market leader, or be acquired by someone who is? The potential for costly errors means that accuracy in document processing has never been more critical to the growth and eventually --business survival. Whether you are in a service bureau or a corporate data center, take a hard look at all your document processes and think of the things that can go wrong without preventative measures in place. When errors are not an option, verification is essential. Need help? Contact me to learn how Océ Professional Services can help you evaluate your current processes and recommend improvements.