Print & Mail Business Recovery Services
Continuity with Clients: Keeping Customer Mail Communications on Track During a Disaster
By Bill Rider
Since its birth in the late 1970’s, the business recovery industry has continued to broaden, moving from original batch application processing on mainframes, to include recovery for telecommunications connectivity, distributed processing on mid-range systems, and most recently, network and work area recovery. As the industry nears its 20-year anniversary, forward thinking companies are continuing to evaluate their methodologies and are realizing the need to add print and mail recovery services to their overall DR solution.
The growing trend to protect client communications is based on the realization that print and mail services have a substantial impact on a business’ cash flow, customer services and ability to meet government regulation. For instance, many companies view their customer service mailings — such as statement of accounts and mutual fund statements — as critical because they represent the one opportunity each month to “meet” with clients. If this opportunity is missed, companies fear a loss of market share since they believe their clients will take their business elsewhere.
The demand for print and mail recovery services is further fueled as many corporations continue to undergo significant downsizing to enhance corporate profitability and shareholder value. As a result, most now have a single output processing site, with 70% of large companies retaining a single mail processing location. While consolidation has reduced cost, it has also increased business risk by creating a single point of failure – driving the market demand for print and mail recovery as a service.
Finally, basic good business practice and the law require companies to provide customers with standards of care and due diligence. Not having a recovery plan violates that fiduciary standard of care, breaching the trust between the company and the customer. To satisfy these responsibilities, it is important that management address several issues that will ensure an executable and auditable Print and Mail strategy exist.
Primary market research conducted with Fortune 1000 companies indicated businesses are looking for a print and mail recovery services provider that possesses four key attributes.
Substantial Corporate Reputation,
Resources and Financial Depth
Because recovery services is considered to be a high risk industry and the delivery of critical mail communications during a disaster is integral to the ongoing concern of a business, customers want to be assured that they are working with a company that has a solid reputation. Furthermore, they require verification that a provider has the ability to both deploy resources as appropriate and continue to fund the development of recovery services as it grows.
Competence in Mail Processing
Companies also want to be assured that electronic printing and mail processing is a core competency for their recovery provider. This is vital as the recovery provider may be required to replicate a customer’s critical mail application design with entirely different equipment. Often the client, for financial reasons, may not be using state-of-the-art technology, or may have recently purchased equipment different from that of the business recovery provider. In those situations, it is critical that the recovery provider has the custom programming and electronic configuration capabilities to translate files for output production on their own equipment.
Even when the equipment used for recovery is the same as the client’s, some custom programming may be required to allow for the proper quality controls and/or mail processing algorithms to be installed.
Commitment to Print and Mail Recovery
Companies with internal operations are also seeking a provider who is committed to print and mail recovery as a business segment. Much as Comdisco and SunGard made the commitment to the data side of recovery services almost twenty years ago with dedicated equipment and services, many customers are seeking the same attention to the recovery of their print and mail environment.
The use of dedicated human resources and equipment is important to many customers. The ability to have a dedicated project management infrastructure in place to support the client during developmental activities, on-going application maintenance, testing activities and actual execution of recovery services during a disaster is critical. Equally critical, is the use of dedicated equipment to provide recovery instead of providing services through excess capacity, reciprocal or third-party agreements that may or may not be executable in time for a disaster.
“Hot Sites” With Geographic Coverage
Although print and mail recovery is in its infancy, the need for multiple hot site locations with appropriate geographic coverage will become a future requirement. Customers have a strong preference to test in a location that is close to their own, and they want to ensure their provider has redundant sites to provide recovery for their own operations.
Why Existing Solutions Are Only Partial Answers
While there are several Print and Mail Business Recovery solutions available in the marketplace today, most offer limited capabilities, and force companies to compromise their requirements for timeliness and dependability. Although functional, the result is typically a system that underserves their business needs and ultimately affects their bottom line.
Quick ship solutions involve a pre-arranged agreement between a company and hardware vendor to ship the next available piece of equipment off the production line if a company’s equipment is damaged or destroyed. Generally speaking, if strategic relationships are in place, securing electronic printers from companies as IBM, Oce or Xerox can be accomplished within three to five days.
However, companies that are producing critical mail communications that impact cash flow generally cannot afford up to a five day response time. Furthermore, this five day turn-around does not account for the entire recovery process. Obtaining inserters that allow for recovery is considered to be a more difficult task due to their machine customization. If attempts at securing inserters within the necessary time frame are successful, companies must still consider the programming of translation code, the securing of a cold site, equipment installation and operator availability for production. In a time sensitive situation, a quick ship solution is not likely to provide an executable and audible response.
A reciprocal agreement is pre-arrangement between two companies to use each other’s capacity in the event of a disaster. Although it is possible to make arrangements with companies that have a solid corporate reputation and mail processing competence, there are a number of additional issues that must be considered before the solution can be deemed appropriate.
In today’s highly competitive business environment, many companies are reluctant to share customer lists. In those instances where competition is not present, companies must also address issues of timeliness, compatibility and location.
To allow for the chance to recover, companies should be approximately equal in size and operating at no more than 50% utilization. Compatibility is a factor when non-identical electronic printers and inserters require significant programming development, again taking time and resources that may not be available. Finally, because most reciprocal arrangements are formed out of common geography, location plays a key role when considering the potential for a regional disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane. Should these events occur, it is likely that neither company would be operational and capable of recovering the other.
Excess capacity providers may be capable of demonstrating print and mail competence and holding a good corporate reputation. However, most do not have the commitment to business recovery or multiple recovery locations.
Providers of this type of service do not utilize dedicated human resources or equipment. As such, there is little coordination with the customer to allow for successful project development, implementation, testing or ongoing change management. More importantly, the excess capacity provider utilizes the same equipment to provide both outsourcing and business recovery services. Because the outsourcing industry is subject to monthly peak production periods that drive equipment utilization to levels approaching 100%, customer recoverability during a disaster may or may not be achievable.
Brokered capacity solutions involve an agreement between the customer and a single company that would subsequently contract excess production capacity to provide recovery services. Because capacity is provided on an as available basis, brokered capacity highly resembles Excess Capacity. The noted difference between the two is that brokered capacity has the additional hindrance of being one step removed from the companies controlling the production capacity.
The Benefits of A Recovery Vendor
A print and mail recovery solution offers timely, efficient and dependable service to help companies to focus on their core recovery plan in the event of a business disaster. By employing dedicated human resources and equipment, print and mail recovery vendors ensure that critical customer mail communications continue to be printed and mailed and that a company’s legal and fiduciary responsibilities are fulfilled.
Unlike other alternatives, these vendors specialize in complete print and mail recovery and provide unmatched expertise with turnkey services. Solutions are custom designed to meet a company’s needs and objectives, which include developing criteria for assigning priorities to critical mail communications during a disaster. Additionally, these vendors coordinate and test systems processes to confirm compatibility and provide ongoing maintenance at hot sites with staff members, systems and equipment exclusively reserved for disaster incidents.
As the corporate environment’s perspectives of business communications continue to broaden, the need to implement print and mail recovery solutions will heighten. Those companies that recognize today’s trends and shape their recovery plans with the help of a print and mail services vendor, will find themselves well prepared to maintain contact and protect their relationships in the event of a disaster.
Bill Rider is the Business Recovery Services Operations Manager for Moore Business Communications Services.
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