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Document Optimization, Workflow Normalization, and Rapid Onboarding: The Future of Print and Mail Workflow

Executive Summary

This white paper explores a significant shift in transactional and repetitive direct mail workflows. Traditional technology has historically caused delays and errors for organizations and service providers. However, with the emergence of advanced technology, data files can now drive the production process and automate tasks, reducing the need for manual intervention or relying on staff knowledge. This paper outlines how Data Optimization , workflow normalization, automation, cloud, and rapid onboarding are revolutionizing the print and mail industry.


The print and mail industry is grappling with rising costs and staffing challenges. Outdated workflows and inefficient processes make it difficult for organizations to deliver crucial communications and meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs). This paper emphasizes how technological advancements in Document Optimization, normalization, and rapid onboarding can transform this industry, making it a streamlined and appealing communication channel for businesses.

Problem Statement

Transitioning to new workflow systems, software, or tools in production mail and communications delivery often involves the challenging process of onboarding or migrating workflows. This includes implementing new barcodes and optimizing postal processing for cost efficiency. Traditional onboarding can be a lengthy process, taking weeks or even years to implement across a large organization, creating a significant hurdle. This paper asserts that adopting workflow normalization and rapid AI-based onboarding is crucial for condensing years of work into a matter of weeks.

Additionally, due to the growth in people getting their documents with eDelivery methods, the industry is currently grappling with a surge in smaller print jobs, as opposed to large production runs. This shift significantly impacts production efficiency, requiring transactional printers to manage and track many small daily print files. This typically causes declining profitability.

Embracing Normalization in Enterprise Communication Processing and CCM

In the dynamic realm of Customer Communications Management (CCM) and Enterprise Communications Processing (ECP), a monumental shift is taking place – Workflow Normalization. This transformative trend involves a significant reduction in the number of workflows, consolidating them into a more manageable handful that are fully automated.

The Legacy Workflow Challenge

Legacy workflow tools, characterized by hard-coded input folders and file names, present a significant challenge. They require unique handling for every document or document type, each processed against different rules and distinct processes. This leads to a proliferation of input and temporary workflow folders, numbering in the hundreds or thousands. The consequences are extensive – files go missing, temporary folders remain unattended, and confidential data is left exposed when issues arise. Managing this labyrinth of folders and workflows becomes an arduous task, straining resources for upgrades and support. It’s evident that the days of single-file type-based workflows are numbered.

Embracing Workflow Normalization

Enter Workflow Normalization, a modern approach that ushers in an era of efficiency and simplicity. This process involves consolidating letters, bills, statements, and marketing communications into a unified workflow. Virtually any form of correspondence can seamlessly navigate through this normalized workflow. The impact is significant, with organizations witnessing a staggering reduction in folder management and IT tasks, often by over 50%. The benefits extend beyond mere efficiency; they encompass a fundamental shift in the way workflows are managed and executed in production print and mail communications.

“Workflow Normalization creates a fully automated workflow where the data file drives the output and postproduction devices.”

Harnessing Industry Best Practices

Central to Workflow Normalization is the incorporation of industry best practices and metadata. This occurs at the File, Document, and Page level, empowering the data file itself to manage routing post-composition, barcoding, and postal processes. The reliance on legacy-style job separation and a multitude of discrete workflows is rendered obsolete. This evolution not only streamlines operations but also ensures a level of precision and consistency that was previously unattainable.

A Unified Production Workflow: A Game-Changing Solution

Workflow experts unanimously advocate for a singular back-end production workflow capable of processing any file type, regardless of Print Description Language (PDL) or format. Whether it’s PostScript, PDF, AFPDS, Line Data, Xerox LCDS, Xerox Metacode, or even PCL, this approach stands as the most robust and straightforward method. It establishes a standardized production process, where defined back-end standards seamlessly accommodate any file type or data format. No longer do organizations need to undergo the arduous process of creating an entirely new workflow every time a different file type or data format enters the system.

Workflow Normalization marks a pivotal shift in the CCM/ECP industry. It redefines how workflows are managed, eliminating the complexities of legacy systems, and ushering in an era of unprecedented efficiency and simplicity. By consolidating and streamlining processes, organizations not only increase their productivity but also establish a new standard of precision and consistency. Embracing Workflow Normalization is not merely an option; it is an imperative for organizations aspiring to thrive in the dynamic landscape of fully automated print and mail communications.

“Workflow Normalization creates a fully automated workflow where the data file drives the output and postproduction devices.”
John Slaney, CCS

Rapid Application Onboarding – The power of AI

Migrating applications to modern workflows or integrating with new printing technologies can be a daunting task. AI-based tools have demonstrated superior proficiency in analyzing and processing documents, enabling swift and accurate onboarding. The SmartSetup solution by Crawford Technologies exemplifies this, indexing documents in minutes and automatically configuring applications for a normalized production workflow. This revolutionary approach vastly outpaces traditional methods, enabling the onboarding of multiple applications in a single shift.

By harnessing AI technology, business analysts or application specialists can now lead the onboarding process, eliminating the dependency on developers and technical resources. This transformative approach ensures organizations no longer face delays in application setup due to scheduling constraints.

“SmartSetup can complete job setup or application onboarding by over 90% compared to legacy style PDF Plug-In style indexing tools.”

Smaller jobs Creating a Management Nightmare

The shift from larger production runs to numerous, smaller, more specific print jobs has significantly impacted production efficiency over the years. While changing paper stock or releasing a new print file to a cut sheet digital press may only take a few minutes, it does slow down production. This slowdown is even more pronounced on Continuous Feed or Roll Feed printers, where paper changes can take 15 minutes or more, potentially resulting in the wastage of 10-30 linear feet of paper. And this impact is significantly more costly if additional setups are also needed on inserters.

In addition to the prevalent staffing and developmental challenges confronting many organizations today, a notable issue arises from the proliferation of smaller print jobs as opposed to traditional large-scale production runs. This shift exerts a significant strain on production efficiency and introduces a substantial auditing predicament. In scenarios where the print queue comprises dozens, or in some cases, over a hundred print files, the probability of a file being inadvertently overlooked, missed, or mishandled increases exponentially. This escalation in volume and complexity amplifies the margin for human error and necessitates a heightened level of oversight and scrutiny in print management processes. Consequently, organizations find themselves grappling with the imperative to implement more robust systems and procedures to ensure the accuracy and integrity of their print operations in the face of this evolving landscape.

The Workflow Concatenation Solution.

Print File Concatenation addresses critical challenges by combining similar files effectively. While past attempts at merging PDF, Metacode & AFP files may have raised concerns, modern technology provides a robust solution. Intelligent concatenation groups small production files into a single, appropriately sized print file, tailored to either roll length or specific printing time requirements.

This advanced technique surpasses basic file merging offered by freeware or inexpensive software. It streamlines the file by removing duplicate fonts, images, and resources for optimal printing. Additionally, it restructures the print file, ensuring all essential resources are readily available in the header for seamless processing and Ripping. This reduces RIP time and eliminates printer clutching and ripping issues, such as performance degradation from an excessive number of fonts or rendering problems due to poor file structure or complex resource paths.
By reducing the number of print files and mitigating human error, intelligent print file concatenation allows for grouping jobs based on roll lengths or specific time allocations, modernizing workflows. Implementing these strategies significantly boosts efficiency and accuracy in print operations, positioning your organization to thrive in today’s dynamic printing landscape.

Document Optimization: The 5 steps to production success

Over the past 15 years, the landscape of statements, bills, and communications has evolved dramatically. Modern inkjet and high-speed color laser printers have empowered organizations to create engaging, personalized content replete with vibrant imagery, intricate maps, and compelling messaging. However, this transformation poses a substantial challenge for many entrenched workflow systems that have been in operation for over a decade.

The Biggest PDF Printing Issue Ever

Legacy workflow software and freeware utilities often result in bloated and inefficient data streams or bad PDF & AFP print files. These files, generated by application systems or utilities rather than specialized Customer Communications Management (CCM) software, indiscriminately bundle each font and image on every page. While suitable for online presentation, this approach proves nearly unworkable for high-speed printing on modern inkjet printers, especially when attempting to achieve rates upwards of 1000 pages per minute. This causes resource intensiveness issues in that most production printers cannot handle each page containing duplicate copies of each font, image, or resource.

Step 1: Fonts Optimization

Over the past decade, fonts, especially duplicate or unused ones, have posed significant challenges in the printing industry. For production print staff, receiving a PDF file that’s meant to be print-ready often entails hours of preparatory work before even a test file or proof can be generated. The key to ensuring production files run at their optimal speed lies in having a robust solution. This solution should swiftly identify and remove unused fonts, eliminate duplicates, and meticulously organize all necessary fonts in the header of the file. This guarantees efficient production processes.

Step 2: Image Correction

The process of Data Optimization commences with the removal of unused or duplicate resources, a pervasive issue for many production printers. After this crucial step, attention shifts to understanding and optimizing the images. Duplicate or redundant images are systematically purged, while the remaining images are fine-tuned to suit the specific output device.

Step 3: Color Correction

In the era of dynamic, full-color communications, precise color calibration is essential. data optimization addresses this need by ensuring that colors are accurately represented, aligning them with the printer’s capabilities. This step guarantees that the final printout faithfully mirrors the intended visual impact. This requires that a proper color profile has been created for the printer with the paper stock that is being used. This is a one-time step that should be taken when a new printer/press is installed or when the paper stock is first acquired.

“Just because the color looks correct on a monitor does not mean that it will print correctly.”

Step 4: Structure Alignment

A balanced print file is pivotal for efficient processing. This step involves organizing the file’s structure to facilitate simultaneous Ripping (Raster Image Processing) or processing on multiple cores or CPUs of a printer. In contrast, an unoptimized print stream, cluttered with scattered resources and objects, traditionally undergoes processing one page at a time. By orchestrating the structure, the RIP or printers can swiftly locate images and fonts, allowing for independent page processing. This reduces RIP time and eliminates inefficiencies for production printers.

Step 5: Compression

The final stage of Document Optimization involves compression. While new compression algorithms and formats, such as HEIC, have emerged for viewing files on computers, legacy software running on controllers or RIPs may not support these innovations. Aligning the compression algorithms with the specific print device is paramount. This ensures that the file can be processed efficiently while maintaining the rated printing speed and seamlessly integrating with post-production devices like mail inserts, cutters, and binding equipment.

Document Optimization is a meticulous five-step process that transforms unwieldy, inefficient print files into streamlined, high-quality documents ready for modern printing technology. By systematically addressing fonts, images, colors, structure, and compression, organizations can unlock the full potential of their print and mail workflows, ensuring optimal efficiency, quality, and compatibility with today’s advanced printing devices.

Acquisition & Staffing for CCM & ECM Projects

The procurement and staffing of resources for CCM and ECM projects in the realm of enterprise software can present significant financial challenges. Implementing these systems demands specialized expertise, often requiring substantial investments in development, testing, disaster recovery infrastructure, and ongoing support.

Furthermore, the training and allocation of resources pose continuous hurdles. Unlike more prominently featured areas in technology, such as web development, there is a scarcity of readily available educational resources for creating streamlined mailing workflows in production printing. This leaves organizations and service providers struggling to secure technical personnel adept at configuring and programming tasks in an industry that often skews towards experienced professionals.

Enter the Cloud

The advent of cloud-based data processing offers a respite from these challenges. A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model not only alleviates the burden of software acquisition costs, and it also introduces a flexible payment model, based on usage or annual subscription. With the aid of AI-driven tools like SmartSetup, the onboarding of jobs to cloud software can be achieved in a matter of minutes or, at most, a few hours, a vast improvement compared to the weeks or months typically required for outsourcing projects.

What further distinguishes cloud-based solutions is their 24/7 accessibility, hosted securely on reputable platforms like AWS. Coupled with the proficiency of industry-leading workflow experts capable of expeditiously deploying workflows, it becomes evident why cloud data transformation and re-engineering have emerged as one of the swiftest growing domains, particularly for businesses grappling with repetitive workflows and intricate data formatting and re-engineering endeavors.


In this pivotal moment, the print and mail industry stands at the threshold of a transformative revolution, propelled by the convergence of Document Optimization, workflow normalization, and rapid onboarding. Workflow normalization serves as the linchpin, simplifying intricate legacy processes and driving remarkable efficiency gains. AI-enabled onboarding, intelligent print file concatenation, and the power of cloud-based solutions and AI-driven tools further amplify these advancements. The time for transformation is now, and organizations that wholeheartedly embrace these innovations will not only survive but thrive in the dynamic landscape of print and mail communications.

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