In the 1990s, high-value transactional customer communications, such as account statements, bills and invoices, were managed by highly skilled IT teams in data centers that connected million-dollar production printers to IBM mainframe computers and AS/400 systems.
Over the years, these production print operations have become smaller, the IT staff has focused on “Bring Your Own Device” policies and transactional printing has moved to print centers, PSPs and POD departments. Many organizations thought nothing of redeploying valuable IT resources and utilizing copy center staff to manage the printing of high-value customer communications.
In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. Suddenly, we were faced with a new reality when it came to how we work. Reduced staffs were allowed in production print facilities or offices, but print operators had to socially distance from each other. Manual processes were considered risky because of reduced staff, albeit with the same volumes and SLAs.
We have heard horror stories about organizations trying to execute their disaster recovery (DR) plans. They moved work to DR locations that caused critical communications to be delivered often without correct logos or pre-printed stock—all to be compliant with regulatory requirements. Many organizations had never tested their DR plans. They weren’t able to move jobs and printing operations to other facilities. Large companies were challenged to get their mandated legal and corporate communications printed and delivered to customers.
Much of this was preventable if the automation principles introduced approximately 20 years ago were in place. Process automation, multi-site management, document level tracking and 100% integrity systems would have supported the challenges that COVID-19 stay at home orders revealed.
New business realities
Today, because businesses must adapt their operations to support “Anywhere Operations,” they must ask these critical questions:
• Can we, as a business, successfully do our job independent of location?
• Can employees and staff do their job efficiently while working remotely?
• Can we move or re-route customer communications in minutes to another site or outsource provider?
• Do we have piece level tracking, regulatory audit trails and complete job visibility?
It’s also a problem if you are still using spreadsheets and face-to-face communications to track and manage operations, in an age when an Amazon app can let you know your package delivery driver is 5 deliveries away.
Key imperatives print operators must adopt:
Anywhere Operations – This is not just about managing dashboards and reporting. Can your staff create legal correspondence, ad hoc letters and physical communications from a laptop and have a production department or outsourcer print and mail those communications? Tracking, archiving and even postage is still necessary for one-offs from the kitchen table.
Cloud – Whether public or private, your operation can no longer be tied to physical hardware and software that requires on-site management. Organizations have overcome the security concerns, and you can too. Take advantage of the cloud to capture savings from reduced capital expenditures, staff, real estate and energy consumption. Make it part of your business continuity plan.
Hyperautomation – Move beyond automation of a simple task to focus on automation of complete processes. Support low-code or no-code interfaces, RPA, ML and AI, so employees and managers can automate their processes between enterprise silos and applications. Such a move will create more value and have a positive effect on customer experience.
Change management – Is your staff on the same page and moving in the same direction? As an organization grows, processes and opinions develop that can help or hinder growth. COVID-19 has allowed many organizations to reset their corporate vision and strategy. Work with your peers and staff to align roles and responsibilities. You owe it to yourself and the company to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
COVID-19 tested the resiliency of a plethora of things—including delivering customer communications. It drove home the need to test DR plans, deploy integrated digital and physical communication platforms and maintain business continuity plans. The upside to this tumultuous year is that with the proper planning and lessons learned, hopefully everyone will see the importance of being better prepared for the next big challenge.