For most companies concerned with their ability to recover print-to-mail processes after a business interruption, three hurricanes in six weeks would be reason enough to question their recovery capabilities. However, for a Florida-based insurance company, the added challenge of converting their print and mail operation’s new applications during this past fall’s hurricane “trifecta” made an already stormy situation even worse.
Thankfully, all three natural disasters – Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan – missed the company’s operation, but the combination of threatening weather and equipment modifications provided an opportunity for the company to verify its preparedness. The lesson learned was akin to a message touted frequently by industry leaders – “Test all critical applications of your operation before you need them.”
The reality is that this – or any – company’s ability to protect its revenue stream from the significant impact of an interruption is assured only if ongoing, comprehensive testing has been a part of its annual plan.
‘Alert’ Called In Anticipation of Interruption
Because the company had not previously tested all of its applications, it was faced with a race against time – and Mother Nature – as it prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.
Most business continuity and recovery experts agree that all planners, regardless of their experience and attention to detail, often overlook certain items. While some of these are small yet important and add insult to injury when disaster occurs, others can significantly impact the organization’s ability to recover, even survive. Among the latter is mail delivery and check and invoice printing, for which a company may typically require more than a week to replace a customized printer. This is time that organizations recovering from interruptions simply do not have.
As the first of the three hurricanes moved toward the Florida coastline, the insurance company declared an “alert” which set in motion the steps necessary to ensure continuity. Customer invoices and renewal reminders had already been identified as the most critical of the company’s documents, since both are linked directly to revenue and hundreds of thousands are printed and mailed daily.
An often overlooked item – postage – was also addressed during the alert stage. Postage monies, typically requiring two business days to clear the meter for use at the recovery provider’s location, were estimated and transferred during the early stages of the alert.
Also discussed were expected print-to-mail volumes and required turnaround times, as well as a reconciliation of differences between the production environments of the customer and its recovery provider’s recovery center to ensure alignment of data processing, print, and inserting capabilities and equipment. In addition, existing inventory of all materials necessary to produce the mailings was delivered to the recovery provider’s production floor.
Pre-Planning Helps Ensure Effective Recovery
Typically, business continuity plans call for print-to-mail recovery providers to respond within eight to 24 hours, ensuring that the process for printing and mailing all critical documents – in this case invoices and renewal reminders – is not interrupted. However, preparations and discussions with its recovery provider revealed that the actual time needed was three times that long – a delay that could have resulted in serious revenue fluctuations had the company been unable to actually mail invoices for three days. However, recognition of the time necessary to take the following action steps – and the company’s awareness of the need for speed – resulted in pre-planning that paid big dividends.
Day One – Print Processing, Programming, Postage
All print data and processing information was delivered to the recovery location, along with the required job-tracking documentation for printing, inserting, and mailing. At this point, the insurance company was given the opportunity to review the program documents thoroughly, making any necessary alterations to the information contained within.
At this time, the print-to-mail recovery provider had implemented the necessary quality controls, including the template for the printer, which was monitored every 30 minutes to ensure proper alignment and uniform printing. When customer approval was received, printing, inserting, and mail processing began, and funds for additional postage were transferred. Throughout this process, both companies conducted daily discussions to keep one another apprised of their progress, as well as other issues and concerns which arose.
Day Two – Modifications to Mail, Manpower and Machines
During the second day, the print-to-mail recovery process was continuously monitored and modified as needed to assure maximum throughput. The monitoring included not only the machines on which the invoices and reminders were being printed, but also the personnel who operated them. It was imperative that every detail of the process was clearly communicated to all production personnel to ensure that the targets for volume and turnaround times would be met.
By previously analyzing the processing requirements of each piece of print and mail equipment – continuous and cut-sheet printers, intelligent inserters, sorters, and postage equipment – the company and its recovery provider were able to plan effectively. Included in the plan was an understanding of how many pieces of each type of equipment would be needed for a recovery and the number of each that would be available at the recovery site.
Another factor to consider was the fact that the company was converting certain applications to a continuous-form environment, but had not tested them prior to the declaration. However, thanks to close communication between the company and its recovery provider, adjustments were made to permit a smooth conversion to continuous-form.
A seamless transition and production process were further assured as the recovery site subdivided the supplied data files into smaller, individual files, which enabled them to be run on both continuous and cut-sheet printers to accommodate the insurance company’s shifting environment.
Day Three – Print, Check, and Modify
By the third day, most of the production issues had been resolved and the recovery facility continued to print invoices while closely monitoring inventory levels of forms and envelopes, as well as postage funds.
Typically, the largest obstacle to a successful test – and a successful recovery – is the fact that the data is unable to run at the recovery facility. To avoid this, the company made certain that, in addition to the data compatibility, all resources – fonts, signatures, page layout instructions – were provided to the recovery site in advance of the declaration as it took some time to ensure that any and all inconsistencies between the two sites were addressed and eliminated. By recognizing this potential and planning for it, the company and its back-up provider knew before the disaster was declared that the data would run on the recovery provider’s systems.
Prior Analysis Key to Successful Recovery
Although the three storms’ fury produced widespread devastation and enormous losses for businesses and citizens throughout Florida and the Southeastern United States, the insurance company was spared their collective wrath.
However, realizing the variables impacting its print-to-mail preparedness are dynamic, the company’s schedule now calls for comprehensive testing to become a mainstay for the printing and mailing operation, keeping the following questions in mind:
- Document Identification – Can you rank the importance of your printed documents?
- Print Expectations – Do your business customers believe their print documents receive the same recovery priority as their other critical data processing operations?
- Disaster Recovery Response Procedures – Does your print and mail operation have pre-assigned procedures and responsibilities in place in case of interruption?
- Multiple Print and Mail Operations – Does your print and mail operation have multiple sites?
- Print and Mail Site Compatibility – Can your print sites produce similar jobs with similar equipment?
- Print and Mail Backup & Responsibility – Are the critical procedures – production, administration – backed up sufficiently?
- Print and Mail Environment – Based upon a worst-case scenario, do you know what resources – printers, inserters, sorters, etc. – you will need to recover? Do you know the capacities/costs to recover documents on each piece of equipment?
- Compliance – Do you know what regulatory fines your company may be subject to in case of a printing and mailing interruption?
- Reliance on Communication Services – Do you know which communications methods – T1, e-mail, tape, etc. – your print and mail processes rely on and to what extent?
- Job Origination – Do you know which types of host equipment and systems – mainframe, Web, third-party server – your print and mail processes rely on and to what extent?
- Processing Reconstruction – Do you know what print delivery application your print unit relies on, and to what extent ? Do you also know the print unit’s reliance on print data streams?
- Disaster Recovery Plan Inclusion – Does your company’s print and mail process have connectivity to the IT/business recovery site and is print work produced during DR testing?
- Security and Risk – Do your print and mail centers have physical security measures in place?
- Maintenance and Testing – Does your print and mail site – and your recovery site – have a well-defined, comprehensive recovery plan? When was it last tested?
Having experienced first-hand its value, the insurance company has learned and since committed to making regular, comprehensive testing – of all critical applications – a standard operating procedure. By having a recovery plan that has been proven to work, the company now enjoys the peace of mind that comes with knowing its revenue stream is protected and that it has the ability to weather any unexpected storminess on the sometimes turbulent business horizon.
Jerry Montella, vice president of Mail-Gard, has a variety of responsibilities, including managing the company’s sales force, developing new markets, enhancing business partner relationships and identifying growth opportunities. He joined Mail-Gard at its inception in 1996 as national director of sales. Montella holds an associate’s degree in fire science technology from Delaware County Community College. He is a member of several professional organizations, including Xplor International, where he serves as a member of the joint technology committee. In addition, he is a member of the Disaster Recovery Journal Editorial Advisory Board.