A true transactional Automated Document Factory (ADF) integrates all elements of an ADF (Input; Transformation and Integrated Output; Delivery Preparation; Control and Reporting; Document Design and Content Integration; and Response Management), but most importantly, it integrates the physical and virtual elements. Physical ADF elements draw much less attention but present significant opportunities - and now significant risks, if not addressed.

Traditional ADF thinking heavily focuses on virtual (IT) elements, ignoring significant gaps in the Delivery Preparation physical element (i.e. documents prepared and delivered to recipient), where extensive manual resources and redundant quality checks are performed at human interfaces. With the advent of the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB), organizations operating under current production floor processes will, ironically, require additional human interface to ensure an error-proof value stream. Conversely, IMB presents an opportunity for innovation to adapt to a more uninterrupted physical workflow without manual "touches" that add no real value to drive cost per unit down and actually reduce risk for costly human errors. These physical solutions also allow digital handshakes between physical and virtual interfaces inside the ADF elements to create a true transactional ADF.

Key is an optimal physical workflow providing efficiency and tangible metrics while also encompassing the entire ADF and especially the Delivery Preparation physical element. Transactional organizations have struggled to identify the best unit of work to achieve this. The unit of work must be standardized, easily understood in terms of Control and Reporting metrics and value-add as seen by the customer. At the individual transaction or piece level, value-add time is measured in microseconds, which is not a meaningful metric. At the job level, wildly varying transactional piece counts does not allow a standardized unit. The USPS tray is a standardized unit with similar piece counts, value-add to customers and with an IMB tray tag that is very traceable through the ADF, the USPS and to the recipient.

As tray-based physical workflow is examined in Delivery Preparation, it becomes evident that movement of trays through the factory can become truly automated. From print to inserting, placing documents into trays, sorting, tray sleeving, palletizing, storage and shipping, each point in the physical workflow creates a manual touch elimination and/or audit trail opportunity. An automated unbroken physical chain of single unit (tray) flow enables increased efficiency and cost-per-unit reduction simultaneously, and it's not all theoretical.

It's already happening at a premier ADF that mails millions of pieces daily. By combining physical Delivery Preparation solutions in automation and robotics with virtual IT solutions up and downstream in the ADF, this organization has closed the ADF physical/virtual loop. Now with nearly two years of successful live production, they took a four-day process with over a dozen manual touches per piece down to a four-hour process with virtually zero human touches and a fraction of the staff. This company has brought the virtual and physical worlds together to create a true ADF.

When organizations consider the risks of higher quality standards from the USPS, additional fee assessments for noncompliance and the tool (IMB) to police it, a true ADF implementation is not only justifiable, it's necessary, now more than ever.

Fritz Buglewicz [fritzb@captechno.com] is EVP of business development for CapStone Technologies, LLC, a vendor-neutral business engineering firm specializing in process efficiency improvement implementations in the print-to-mail industry. You can see Mr. Buglewicz present at the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum on October 6 in Chicago. Visit www.DOCUMENTstrategyForum.com to sign up now!

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