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Volume 31, Issue 1

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Print-to-mail disaster recovery has evolved in many organizations over the last few years from an optional process to an operational or risk management necessity. Once the decision has been made that your organization needs a formal print and mail disaster recovery plan the hard part begins. How do you develop such a plan, and can you do it yourself to save money?

There seems to be three basic lines of thought regarding print-to-mail disaster recovery:

  1. We don’t need much, any outage would likely last only a day or two, and we can catch up.
  2. We need a comprehensive plan, the long term viability of our organization relies on our ability to continue to generate and collect revenue, and continue the print and mail operation in the unlikely event of a business outage.
  3. Corporate risk management says we need a plan, but we need to reduce costs as much as possible.

We’ll focus on the second and third options, the organizations that have made the decision that they need a viable print and mail disaster recovery plan, but their views on the value might differ.

To set the stage for a successful recovery plan for a medium- to large-size print and mail operation consider the following points:

- A declaration may result from a natural disaster like a hurricane or tornado that physically damages the facility
- More likely though, a declaration is apt to result from some other source such as:

  •  Water main breaks, flooding the facility
  •  Fire damages some or all of the facility
  •  Storms damage power transmission lines leaving the facility undamaged, but with no external power for an extended  period with no generator backup.
  •  A lost laptop computer or disk drive containing client data. Security breach notifications must be produced in accordance with company policy and applicable law.
  • Pandemic incident that leaves the facility unharmed, but with inadequate staffing

- Any of the above may produce an outage of as little as a few hours to as many as several weeks or months, or require immediate action to produce additional notification documents.

The chart on the right, from the Disaster Recovery Journal shows that business interruptions are far more likely to have been caused by human error or power outage (82.35 percent) than by a natural disaster (8.82 percent).

Can you do it yourself?
If your company has multiple physical locations producing print and inserted mailings, the answer is “maybe.”
Consider what capacity levels work is produced within each of your facilities. If both facilities are working at 80-90 percent capacity, what is the likelihood that a disaster at one facility could be fully supported at the second facility?

OK, so let’s consider you have two production facilities and each are operating at 50 percent capacity and could fully support each other during a disaster declaration. What about equipment and technical requirements? Unless your company produces only one, single type of document using standardized print and finish processes the likelihood is that the recovery requirements will involve a very lengthy and detailed process.

Starting at the print side, there are many variables. You can print your forms using cut sheet or continuous printers, forms can be configured with one or two images across (noted as 1-up or 2-up), print simplex (one side) or duplex (both sides) , with MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition), highlight color or full color ink requirements.

The print variations are made even more complex when you consider the data elements required in order to print your documents. Host platforms – where data originates, document composition tools – to compose your document, and print management tools – which marry your data and resources for successful print production all need to be duplicated at your recovery or your second production facility. If your second facility is utilizing different data or print systems you may not be able to print.

The intricacies on the insert or finish side of the process are just as complex. The barcode technology (which tells the inserter how to assemble the job) is quite varied and the methodology behind each barcode varies by company, by job, and even by application. Then consider the page counts to be inserted, the number and the way selective inserts are chosen, even the type of postage payment (metered vs. permit imprint) may make a difference in the way the application may be processed. Are the printed forms presented to the inserting system as cut sheet, continuous, letter or flat size, how it’s cut and collated and any other custom operations such as ink jet printing, stitching, binding, etc. all must be considered in determining of your work can be produced at your other facility.

Last, but certainly not least, is to consider your Service Level Agreements (SLA). Whether internal or external, a clear understanding of your SLAs are in order, and what, if any, abeyance will you receive in the event that some sort of business interruption were to take place.


Based on the factors above, and evaluating the ability of your facilities to produce the documents, and at what rate, can you maintain your SLAs to keep yourself compliant with your internal policies, your customers, and even government regulations?

Does having the capability mean it’s the right thing to do?

The technical capability to print and insert the documents is an important piece of the decision making process, but not the only piece.

The next part of the decision process after “can we” is “should we?”

A number of companies today have chosen self recovery as their method of meeting their disaster recovery requirements primarily in an effort to reduce costs.

But does it really save? There are some significant soft costs to be considered when evaluating the true cost of self recovery.

Capacity – Does the capacity really exist at a remote facility to produce all of the required documents? That would require significant unused assets (hardware, IT, personnel) which could indicate an underperforming unit. This brings to mind several questions:

  • Since it is unlikely that sufficient staffing exists at the remote location, how will the additional staff to operate additional shifts and pieces of equipment be obtained, and how long will it take to be operational?
  • If you’re utilizing a third-party service bureau to produce your documents, how do you gain the confidence that this capacity exists and is readily available in the event of a business interruption? One important item of note when utilizing third-party processors: Virtually all of the liabilities remain with you, even though you are no longer processing the documents. Violations of regulations such as HIPAA can be very expensive. How do you know ALL requirements are being met ALL the time?
  • In today’s demanding financial climate, underperforming units are often closed, sold off, or otherwise redirected. It’s a bit of a dichotomy, excess capacity is needed for a remote recovery, but a plant with significant excess capacity is often considered to have a target painted on its back? How do you protect yourself in this environment?

Hard Costs – Obviously printing and mailing technology has grown significantly more intelligent, capable, and expensive over the last few years. Acquiring new technology at the main facility may require a technological upgrade at the backup facility.
What is the hard cost associated with ramping up additional shifts at an existing facility?

Several years ago there was a trend to build smaller satellite facilities to handle growth and self recovery. In many cases, the cost of operating an additional brick and mortar facility with personnel, equipment, utilities, etc. far outweighed the incremental cost for simply adding capacity at the main print and mail facility.

Some of these satellite facilities are being reassigned, or shut down completely in cost containment efforts.

Testing is an absolute requirement that entails both hard and soft costs. Preparation of the tests, transmission of the data, etc. are all soft costs. Employee travel, materials, etc. are all hard costs.

Soft Costs – In addition to the factors above there are a myriad of soft costs to be considered.

  • Lost opportunity — as has been pointed out previously, capacity can be somewhat elusive to define. In the event of a business interruption and should a conflict arise, something has to give. What is the cost of a normal production item that does not get produced, or what is the cost of a new opportunity that must be turned away?
  • Quality — One of the most difficult components on which to assign a cost is that of poor quality. Consider the activity required to start a non-existent second shift with new personnel running unfamiliar applications. The opportunity for mistakes is significantly higher in this environment.
  • IT — Jobs and data must be transmitted to the remote site, and significant care must be taken to assure there are sufficient communication lines, printer resources, etc., to be successful. IT resources are not free, and perhaps more importantly, are often not readily available. While not as visible as some items, these are real costs.
  • Change management — One of the most difficult, and most commonly overlooked, component of self recovery is the change management process. Constant monitoring to make sure that all changes, no matter how minor, are recorded and placed in the remote libraries to make certain the documents can be produced flawlessly in the event of an interruption. The worst time to try to reconcile changes is after the interruption has been declared.

Balancing Need, Economy, Reliability
We’ve discussed the need for print and mail disaster recovery. Once you’ve performed the internal analysis as to whether or not you can do it or should do it yourselves, the next step should be a detailed evaluation of a third party print and mail disaster recovery solution that is customized for your needs. Consideration should be given to whether the recovery is a full recovery (where all documents are printed) or a partial recovery (where a priority is set up and only the more critical documents are printed).

A disaster recovery team, much like the business continuity team at your company, should be appointed and specific ownerships detailed, so that all of the things we touched on (and the many we didn’t) are solidified with documented processes.

If you’ve outsourced your print and mail production, it’s a much more difficult evaluation, as you’re moved even one more step from the solution. Clear documentation and frequent testing in a real time environment would seem to be in order to maintain confidence that, in the event of a business interruption, your documents receive the attention they would if you were producing them.

It’s important to determine your critical communications/disaster recovery needs prior to deciding to self recover or go to traditional dedicated recovery providers.

If you’re lucky enough to have an organization with multiple geographically separated production facilities, it would be prudent to undertake a careful evaluation of your recovery needs and options. At first glance, self recovery, when possible, often appears to be the appropriate choice.

However, when considering the importance you place on your company’s printed output, it may not be the wisest of choices. Placing these critical communications in the hands of a dedicated recovery provider may be the most cost effective solution when all factors are considered.

What should you look for in a third-party provider? Whether a third-party provider offering recovery as a part of its product offering, or a dedicated disaster recovery provider, there are a few components that you should familiarize yourselves with their capabilities.

  • Locations: How many locations, and how are they located geographically?
  • Hardware and equipment: What is the hardware population of the remote facility, and is it truly compatible with your documents? If a dedicated recovery provider, are they tied to an equipment manufacturer (i.e. limited in their services to the equipment they manufacture), or are they independent and able to select the best equipment for their client’s needs?
  • Communications/IT environment: What kinds of communications lines are available for data transmission to the remote facility? Is it adequate for your applications? What is the software environment to allow applications to be processed on dissimilar equipment? Providers should utilize a software platform that provides for any data/document format in and out to allow processing of documents that contain processing logic on equipment that was not natively designed for that logic.
  • An experienced, dedicated recovery provider will provide you with a detailed roadmap of the process, the associated costs, and a clear understanding of the responsibilities of each party. An exacting change management process, monthly or quarterly meetings or conference calls, along with periodic test exercises will provide the appropriate ingredients for a cost effective, reliable, exercisable disaster recovery plan.
  • Track record: How long have they offered disaster recovery services? How often have they been called upon to actually utilize disaster recovery services? The proof is often in the pudding.
  • The recovery plan: Last, but certainly not least is the importance of a fully documented and tested plan. This plan may actually be the key to corporate survival in the event of an extended business interruption.

You and your management team face difficult decisions every day in this demanding financial environment, but there may be no more important decision to make than on how your organization’s data/print/mail disaster recovery plan is formulated.
According 2007 Best’s Underwriting Guide by A.M. Best, only 6 percent of companies that suffer catastrophic data loss survive, while 43 percent never re-open and percent close within two years of the disaster.

In addition, a 2006 study from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that of those companies experiencing what was referred to as “significant data loss,” 93 percent went out of business within a five-year period.

You can’t afford to be one of these statistics.

Stan Johnson is vice president of sales and marketing for Mail-Gard, and a veteran of more than 22 years in the print and mail industry. Prior to joining Mail-Gard, Johnson served in a number of positions, most recently as director of total postage management, with Pitney Bowes Document Messaging Technologies.