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Volume 27, Issue 4

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Thwarting a Potential Document Disaster

Unfortunately, in the past year the world has seen a significant increase in natural disasters, particularly hurricanes, with 2005 being the busiest storm season since 1933. Despite all of these indicators, many companies just don’t have a plan for business continuity in the event of a natural disaster. Especially when it comes to everyday document-driven processes such as billing and forms processing. Not only are many enterprises not prepared for downed communications in the face of disaster, but most seem to feel that they are immune or that disasters will only happen to other companies.

Having a detailed recovery plan can mean all the difference to a business’ ability to get back up and running to serve its customers. While some businesses, such as printers or insurance companies, rely more heavily on documents to get business done, all companies rely on printing and mailing documents such as insurance claims, bills, medical forms, checks, or even contracts. It is these documents that support the financial security of any business, and if disaster strikes, the company can be out for days, weeks, possibly months. Moreover, if a customer does not have the ability to get the correspondence he or she needs, it is a safe assumption that he or she will go elsewhere.

Disasters can and will happen, and when they do, companies need to know that key documents, like bills and statements, can continue to be delivered. Though many companies assume that having back-up files is preparedness enough, in many instances, simply backing up files is often not suitable. There are, however, some companies that have gotten the message. Businesses are beginning to test and implement detailed recovery plans designed to get operations, which include business processes, back online when they need it the most.

Document recovery in a disaster is especially important for those companies that rely heavily on document-driven processes for business. Imagine this: A major utilities provider that services more than 2.5 million customers is located on the Florida coast. The company relies heavily on the ability to send out its monthly statements to its customers. It is, after all, how they stay in business. After a Category 4 hurricane ravages the Florida coastline, the utility provider finds itself with no power, no communications, and no document back-ups. Without those back-up files, the company is unable to mail out the bills, and therefore, to collect payments. The provider’s insurance company was hit hard by the hurricane as well, and processing the claims can take up to several months. With no money coming in from customers and with no help from the insurance company, overall business recovery is at a standstill.

One option to getting printing operations back online after any disaster is to have your document information ready to print at a separate location – run by the company or by a committed partner – that is ready to deliver your documents the minute the need arises. That way, businesses can know that their document processing and printing operations can continue seamlessly, giving them the much needed time and resources to work on getting the rest of the company up and running as quickly as possible.

A disaster recovery plan does not require much time or expense, and it is a necessary part of any business operation. Before a disaster strikes, a company needs to select someone in the organization who is responsible for declaring a disaster and initiating the business continuity program. It would be a good business practice for this representative to contact the personnel at the designated off-site location. This way, the recovery team can become acquainted with the person they will be working with, and the business’ representative can learn about what is involved in activating the recovery plan, and therefore be prepared in the event of an emergency.

Once that person has been selected, businesses should send over all publishing resources such as fonts, images, templates, and finisher control information along with their location on the documents to the alternate location. Businesses also ought to be sure to include instructions for printing, finishing, and mailing for each of the files it transmits to the recovery plan. A business should continually update this information to ensure the requirements remain as current as possible.

When the business has sent this information to its team at the off-site location, it is ready to go into action in the event of a disaster. But that’s not where the recovery plan stops. Testing of the complete print, finish, and mail process under the direction of a chosen representative should be conducted at the alternate site. From the receipt of the print spool file through the sealing of the envelopes, the process should be tested to ensure the job is completed to desired specifications.

After implementing a recovery plan, a business can execute the established procedures for postage and supplies, and print spool files will be transmitted according to the agreed-upon schedule. The team at the separate location will then prepare the printers with the appropriate supplies, back-up resources, load necessary resources to the printer and release the spool files to be printed.

Following the printing process, the document sets will be placed on a mail processing system for finishing and mailing in accordance with the initial instructions. A business can even send one or more employees to the printing site during the disaster to monitor the entire process. That way, if a disaster should occur and the business’ representative implements the disaster recovery plan, document-driven operations will be up and running as quickly as possible.

Naturally, a business will need to consider a number of factors when choosing what to include at its printing site. The ideal program should have significant processing, storage area network, and Web server capacity to meet the company’s needs. It also is helpful if the separate site is a “hot site” that is used every day to produce all types of documents. This gives businesses additional peace of mind since they will not need to worry if the “cold site” will come up as planned. Additionally, a good off-site printer will utilize a knowledgeable staff and hold substantial experience in electronic document distribution, printing and finishing.

The job of the recovery plan is to make the process of implementing a recovery plan effortless; it is difficult to see why a business would risk its business continuity by not securing a back-up document printer. With a little advanced planning and the selection of a detailed document recovery plan, companies can get their business processes back online quickly and can focus on getting back to business as usual.


Brenda G. Kai has served as vice president of marketing for Docucorp since 2000. Prior to joining Docucorp, she was senior vice president of marketing for an online medical supply company.

"Appeared in DRJ's Summer 2006 Issue"

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