Jan. 26 2010 12:00 AM

As we turn the 2010 corner, most organizations are cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery. The majority of the firms Madison Advisors has worked with in the past year have identified that cutting cost is still a major area of focus in their new strategies for 2010.

It's not surprising that production print is being scrutinized as a major opportunity for cutting costs. Our "2009 Print Suppression Market Study," released in November 2009, focused on exactly this topic. In the study, we surveyed 27 key Fortune 500 firms on their print suppression strategies. While the majority of firms surveyed identified print suppression as an area of focus - mainly in effort to reduce postal spend - based on our analysis, few have fully developed the long-term strategies, initiatives and plans required to support print suppression over the long term. This is not to say that organizations haven't implemented some great print suppression initiatives, nor that they haven't seen results. In both cases, many have demonstrated success, but we also believe that some key factors must be addressed to maintain long-term results.

One potential barrier to reaching print suppression goals is the low level of involvement by senior management. In our survey, we asked about the existence of a Chief Document Officer, or other key executive, to determine whether e-delivery and print suppression have visibility at the top levels of organizations. Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. Only 14% of companies surveyed have a C-level officer who has direct responsibility for documents, customer messaging and e-delivery - and that the 14% of companies with such an officer are among the top performers in suppression rates.

Another key area of consideration is budget allocation. While electronic delivery is a priority for most companies surveyed, their budget processes vary. Sixty-three percent of companies have some level of budget allocated specifically to e-delivery or paperless initiatives. The remaining 37% do not budget specifically for e-delivery. Instead, e-delivery or paperless projects or programs are monitored and funded as part of other, existing initiatives.

This variance in budgeting was also reflected in the ability of surveyed organizations to track savings associated with paperless initiatives. A number of companies are tracking response and user rates, but do not yet have the robust mechanisms needed to give visibility to savings associated with e-delivery efforts. For long-term funding of an enterprise initiative, it's critical to be able to demonstrate hard-dollar savings and identify specifically where these savings are coming from.

Another key success factor is the online availability of customer communications. The vast majority of companies surveyed (78%) report that more than 26% of documents are online and available for consumers. Fifty-nine percent report that more than half of their documents are online. Fewer than 20% of companies report 15% or less. Clearly, organizations must create an online environment that fosters confidence among the end consumer that they will be able to access a reasonable history of documents - which varies by vertical market - of their documents when they need them.

I've only touched on a few success factors here, but the reality is that organizations need fully developed strategies with executive support, metrics for measuring success and the right practices in place to ensure a permanent shift to paperless communications. Without these things in place, organizations are likely to see early successes with their print suppression initiatives, but they will then see customers revert back to paper once the initial thrust has passed.

KEMAL CARR is the president and principal analyst of Madison Advisors, an advisory firm that provides thought leadership, strategic consulting and market research in the print and electronic communications space.