Once-a-year print jobs can be a pain. If you’re in document operations, it’s not unusual to find out (on production day) that something changed since last year and no one told you. You might discover the data structure isn’t as expected or documents aren’t formatted properly for finishing equipment you upgraded since you last ran the jobs. Annual print jobs can be a problem for both in-plant print centers and outsource print service providers, and issues always seem to pop up at the worst possible time.
The good news is that you can overcome many of those common year-end challenges with software like Operations Express from Crawford Technologies. Operations Express allows print service providers to extract data from print files, rearrange document layouts, or convert barcodes without accessing the original source code that created the documents. Service providers find many uses for such software, but they may not need it every day. Until now, companies who required the document re-engineering capabilities of tools like Operations Express had to maintain a license for on-premise software-even if they only needed it on occasion.
Crawford Technologies now offers access to the same great software used by on-premise software customers to organizations wishing to access cloud-based, pay-as-you-go solutions. Companies can now get problem job files corrected and optimized through Crawford’s cloud services. Print service providers or in-plant print centers can pay for only the work they need done, not for licensed software that sits idle most of the time.
What Can Go Wrong?
Annual print jobs cause havoc in the document center because they are often forgotten. When the client or the print/mail service providers change how they run jobs, they concentrate on implementing the changes via the repetitive work they do every month. These are the jobs they use for testing the effects on documents when they migrate to new document composition systems, respond to re-branding initiatives, react to changing regulations, or encounter dozens of other conditions that can come up throughout the year. The once-a-year jobs are the last to be tested and may be skipped entirely.
Another factor that makes annual print jobs challenging is employee turnover. The experienced people that ran the jobs last time may have retired or left the company. The new crew doesn’t know what to expect, especially if the documentation isn’t complete and up to date (a frequent occurrence).
Annual print jobs that come at the end of the calendar year arrive at especially busy times for print/mail service providers. At year end, people work longer hours under pressure to get the jobs done on time. Details may be overlooked, and mistakes can be made.
The source of problems for annual jobs can lie in many areas. Here are a few examples:
Data File Structure Changes
The dynamic nature of business leads to changes in data file structures. Departments realign, merge, split, or adopt new information systems leading to nuanced changes in file structures. Sometimes outside entities like government agencies force companies to change data files from year to year. By the end of the year, clients may not remember the modifications they made months ago and fail to alert the document center in advance. Outdated files can lead to processing errors, inaccurate documents, and bungled communications.
As the print and mail processor, you may not discover the alterations until the annual job fails to run, or worse, runs, but produces inaccurate results. Some altered data items will be easy to discover. Others will not. If the location of the mailing address is different than expected, the postal address correction software will issue a slew of errors, highlighting the issue and prompting corrective action. A missing date or account number, on the other hand, may not set off warning bells. Unless caught by automated or manual quality control processes, you could print and mail large volumes of documents that will eventually need to be re-run under emergency conditions.
Compatibility with New Software or Equipment
Sometimes difficulties with annual print jobs are self-inflicted. Have you upgraded your inserters or other finishing equipment lately? Changed printing platforms? Added color? Migrated to a new production control system? Hardware or software upgrades may have altered the design or location of mail machine control marks that must be present on the documents. MRDF inserter control file formats may have changed since last year. You may have colorized logos or other elements of the pages you print.
You probably updated all the repetitive jobs, but it wouldn’t be unusual to have neglected to change the characteristics of a once-a-year task. New finishing equipment with enhanced capabilities can bring about compatibility issues with pre-existing documents. The documents may not run as-is on the new equipment, causing downtime and delays.
Mis-aligned Page Elements
Many print service providers accept composed pages as input. This means the client’s document composition software specified the location and format of page elements, such as text, charts, or graphics. Problems occur when the client redesigns the documents, or they migrate to a new version of their document composition software. If an item, such as the mailing address, moves, it may no longer be positioned according to postal regulations when viewed through an envelope window. Conversely, privacy can be compromised when sensitive information, previously hidden from view, is accidentally positioned to be visible through the window.
In other instances, an altered font can affect alignment with a form overlay or cause page overflow issues. A client might re-design a document for viewing via PDF and not consider the impact on printed documents. When the document layout changes, time-critical document generation and distribution demands can force the print service provider to make last-minute modifications. These rushed changes increase the chances of error and put mailing deadlines at risk.
Increased Page Counts
Unexpectedly high page counts can cause lots of problems for print and mail service providers. Though the workload increases, the time allotted to do the work doesn’t necessarily expand, especially for annual jobs driven by regulatory deadlines.
If you were expecting 100,000 one-page documents and found they had all expanded to two pages each, the time necessary to print, fold, and insert the documents would have doubled. You may need to invoke more document controls to ensure you insert the page sets into the correct envelope and you handle any missing pages properly. You may need to update your reprint procedures.
Extra pages may force you to order more paper stock, run extra shifts, or split the job among multiple print and inserting devices. You must take care to make sure job segments are not missed or duplicated.
Advantages of Cloud-Based Software for Occasional Print Jobs
Cloud-based software from Crawford Technologies can ease the pressure from year-end printing duties. When the need arises and you don’t have the time or resources to attack the challenges of annual print jobs yourself, the team at Crawford can come to the rescue. This approach has several advantages.
Opting for cloud-based software saves businesses from the expensive upfront investment necessary for on-premise alternatives. Since cloud solutions work on a pay-as-you-go model, you only pay for the services leveraged, making it ideal for occasional print jobs. Additionally, incurred expenditures are operational rather than capital, providing some financial relief when it comes to budget crunches.
Surge in page counts is one of the major challenges that year-end print jobs present. Fortunately, cloud-based software scales with your needs. Whether you’re dealing with dozens of pages or thousands, this software can adapt quickly, ensuring smooth and efficient processing of your print jobs, regardless of their size.
With Crawford’s cloud-based solutions, you no longer have to worry about compatibility with new equipment or changing data structures. The software can modify print files to meet the requirements of your workflow and equipment. Replacing finishing equipment barcodes is a common task easily handled by Operations Express.
Niche tasks like yearly print jobs often require specialized software. However, many companies may opt not to maintain a license for on-premise software used only sporadically, and the absence of appropriate software could hinder the smooth processing of annual print jobs. Is your software licensing aligned with your year-end print job requirements? Do you find it cost-prohibitive?
The common hurdles in executing year-end print jobs are far-ranging and unpredictable. How is your organization prepared to counter these challenges? Isn’t it worth considering a solution that can navigate these issues effortlessly? Crawford Technologies’ cloud-based software solutions might be the answer to those surprise year-end production issues.