Part two of three
High-speed production inkjet devices are essential to transactional documents. Continued advancements in speed, color, and connectivity help to automate and reduce errors, while the addition of color and personalized marketing add value.
“We have talked for years about the transition of standard transactional documents such as a bill or statement to more of a transpromotional document,” say Andrew Gunn, global director production value proposition and product lifecycle; Billy Stojanovski, global product marketing manager, global brand, and strategy; and Moisha Clark, production lifecycle, iGen and Baltoro HF Inkjet presses; Xerox. For example, a power company does more than offer you electricity. “Some offer more efficient light bulbs or thermostats. In some cases, they partner with companies that help with insulation and more energy-efficient appliances. Whatever the case, this simple bill or statement is also a vehicle to promote those products or services,” they note.
Ernie Crawford, president/CEO, Crawford Technologies, notices an overlap in the trends for electronically distributed and printed transactional communications. “Personalization and cloud solutions extend to printed communications,” he notes.
Automating Production Workflows
Automation is increasingly important in the transactional document workflow, from document creation and re-engineering to distribution and archiving. Staffing challenges have become a significant issue for the entire print industry. Increasingly, organizations adopt automation solutions that reduce or eliminate manual processes. They need solutions that drive greater productivity and efficiencies, whether that is with hardware systems that incorporate automated setup capabilities or workflow automation solutions that improve overall production efficiencies,” says Crawford.
The advancement of inkjet plays a large role here. “Inkjet can now produce documents more economically. “No more need for custom forms inventory; print on demand from white paper is the new norm. In the finishing area, it is the demand for automation, having the ability to take a roll off the printer right to the finishing equipment, skipping that step of slitting and cutting and stacking.”
The most recent print industry events have brought innovations in finishing to support printers who must optimize their paper use. Mary Ann Rowan, chief experience officer, Solimar Systems, says it takes pairing to smart workflows to get the best finishing results, especially in mixed print and finishing shops. “For every printer, the goal should be to build flexible workflows that allow late-binding decisions about which printer and which finishing will do the best job. The challenge is that the equipment has requirements for bar codes, marks, and clear areas that vary.”
Gunn, Stojanovski, and Clark see a migration from B&W to color. “The migration often starts with something simple like printing a logo in color. Over the past four years, we have seen high-volume B&W users transition to color inkjet. Customers often don’t think color is within their reach, thinking it is too expensive and too complex.”
Bryan Ten Broek, VP, business development, Nordis Technologies, agrees, noting that dynamic, high-speed printers make it cost-competitive and color can increase consumer engagement and make calls-to-action more effective while reinforcing company brand standards and messaging.
“We are seeing more mid-size and small shops make the switch from offset printed shells to digital full color print as more cost-effective printers come on the market for that segment,” shares Johan Laurent, director of business operations, Standard Finishing Systems.
Additionally, the transition from cutsheet to continuous-feed printers continues as advancements on both printing and finishing sides, a move that can make it easier to produce transactional output in-line or nearline with limited operator intervention. “This market continues to put pressure on printers to increase press speeds, which in turn puts pressure on the finishing segment to keep pace. Lower-volume shops that keep their cutsheet printers, as well as larger shops that use cutsheet as a backup to their continuous-feed systems are also putting more pressure on printers and finishing providers to provide more automation and flexibility,” adds Laurent.
The industry continues to also move towards a white paper factory approach to statement production. Kemal Carr, president, Madison Advisors, says this allows organizations to gang work to generate operational efficiencies and lower unit costs. “Swapping out multiple device for single device—printers/inserters—is no longer the cost saving bonanza it once was as technology advancements have slowed.”
Printing companies often support many workflow elements in pursuit of optimizing print and edelivery. “More companies are adding dashboards and adding more analytics to their business workflows to ensure that work continues to move through production, even if there are issues on the production floor. Analytics add to optimizing their processes,” says Rowan.
Beyond automation, inkjet, and color, several other notable trends exist in the printed transactional space.
The rising cost of mail is one consideration. Electronic co-mingling by large bureaus is happening to help save on postage, shares Matt Mahoney, EVP sales and marketing, Racami.
He also sees service bureaus are productizing, which forces their customers into a few number of package types to mail. “This standardization brings more efficiencies and lower pricing.”
Mahoney also sees hybrid mail models evolving, where a single processor handles data prep and document composition and outsources print and mail to service providers across the country.
Another major trend is insourcing. “We are seeing some companies that previously outsourced for many years bring printing back in-house. This is being driven by concerns over losing control of their data and turnaround times not necessarily color quality. With insourcing, they are back in control,” note Gunn, Stojanovski, and Clark.
Avi Greenfield, VP, of product management, CXM, Quadeint, also sees companies moving to insourcing smaller volume print runs to improve customization and timeliness of communications. “We are also seeing non-window envelopes and direct print on envelopes for improved security. Windowed envelopes have caused privacy violations, but American customers associate windowed envelopes with messages that require action. Moving to direct print on envelopes eliminates tap-related privacy breaches. When you combine privacy trends with smaller print runs, direct print of addresses and logos on envelopes fits in with the smaller post-transformation production facility.”
Laurent admits that the paper shortage has put pressure on this market. “In an effort to manage costs, we have seen this market eschew purchasing pre-printed, pre-perforated, and pre-punched rolls to reduce their reliance on third-party paper converters. Instead, transactional printers are turning to inline and near-line solutions like dynamic perforators and multi-functional sheet processing systems to process their paper instead of outsourcing.”
With all the talk of insourcing, Ten Broek calls for strengthening the business case for outsourcing. “Moving from inhouse production and printing to an outside printing expert delivers many benefits including the ability to scale up or down as needed, no capital investments in increasingly costly printing equipment, a shift from fixed to variable costs, access to latest production and printing technology, access to advanced mailing services and integration with U.S. Postal Service, including automated return mail processing and tracking with address corrections, as well as skip tracing, delivered in one seamless automated data workflow, access to redundant facilities, ensuring no disruptions to sending out timely revenue generating communications; and finally no struggle to recruit and retain skilled workforce.”
Compliance considerations force new trends in the transactional space. Crawford sees a focus on auditing, piece-level tracking and white paper factory, as low code and hyper-automation technology has expanded and cloud solutions have become more prevalent. Small- to medium-size operations can now have systems that were previously price prohibitive.
“All organizations need to have a workflow that can track and account for every piece of communication. While we still see and hear of organizations that are investing in B&W devices, most continue the migration to inkjet and use visual dashboards to present and track their transactional communications through the manufacturing and mailing process,” shares Crawford.
“Printers are working to improve their productivity and efficiency, and leading printers are using technology to track post-production metrics 24/7 in the lettershop so workers have up-to-the-minute information,” comments Ten Broek.
When the trends of shorter runs, more channels, and communication consistency collide, Greenfield says transactional documents have to be produced, designed, and delivered with great variety in shorter times. “This moves the emphasis to job switching on the production floor. Letting operators change from number ten envelopes to 6x9s to flats with different inserts in less than a minute makes a huge impact on cost savings. Shorter runs in general move the cost-savings opportunities to reducing changeover times.”
The transactional print industry continues to evolve. Many organizations understand the potential value these communications bring, however compliance concerns, postage increases, staff and paper shortages, and customer demands make it a difficult area to navigate successfully. Most find success with an optimized workflow that supports both printed and electronic versions of transactional output.
In part three we highlight specific tools that help support a modern transactional environment.
Read part one of this series, E-Delivery Considerations.
Jun2023, DPS Magazine