Print and mail outsourcing is the outsourcing of document printing and distribution.
History in the United States
In the world of statement processing and critical variable print customer communications, outsourcing first became popular with the largest financial services firms in the 1990s. The volume of printing and mailing and associated operational overhead on their balance sheets commanded considerable visibility. Consultants helped firms to ask the question, "What are my core competencies?" Can someone else do this better for me? The answer, unless corporations were mega print and mail experts running load-leveled operations, almost never included "print and mail" as a core competency. The answer was usually "yes".
The term "outsourcing" became very common in the print and mail business and later expanded to be very broad and inclusive of most any process by the year 2000, including offshore outsourcing, which rapidly became most synonymous with the term because of the political visibility.
But print and mail outsourcing has continued to grow with advancing technology supporting the industry since the onset of laser printing. Now color laser, digital presses and high speed full color commercial ink jet printing are coming into full production environments. "Print to mail" or "Print and mail" are now common terms for referring to the process of utilizing outside firms specializing in print and mail to handle these common production tasks.
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1. Data transfer - The customer transfer files and documents that require printing and mailing. Transfer can be accomplished via email or public or private ftp upload
2. Data processing - The provider will process this data to extract key information for mailing and print file set-up for downstream automation. The provider will then perform the document formatting. (Turning data into documents).
3. Document formatting - data is formatted according to a composition rules engine that has been programmed or set up to format the data into specific design formats. In addition to design and content considerations, the documents are formatted to include barcodes that are read by the automated inserting equipment. The result is a fully composed print file ready to RIP (raster image processor) and print at the compatible print device.
3. Variable printing - each piece of the mailing can be customized to better reflect the end user. Data such as customer name, appropriate images, etc. can be modified on each printed piece. Variable printing is shown to increase response rates of direct mail.
4. Automated Envelope Inserting - totally automates the merging of personalized documents of variable lengths, auto-folds and inserts documents into an envelope.
5. USPS Mailing - mailing campaigns can be delivered to the USPS with correct postage adhered and meeting all USPS guidelines.
Level of effort
This largely depends on whether the business is starting with raw data or self composed print files.
1. Raw data - While the printing hardware and inserting technology to support faster, more high quality print to mail processes in the manufacturing environment has helped to drive the justification of ongoing print to mail project outsourcing, it can be a painful experience for companies to contract and integrate with a chosen provider. Large upfront expenditures on design, programming, project management and setup can be common. Processes and manufacturing processes and standards often are the driving force behind providers' programmers approach to development. At times this can conflict with design and composition considerations. Providers often provide these services for programming fees while positioning themselves as keeper of their clients' document composition rules, formatting and content. This has its pros and cons. Outsourcing the full responsibility, starting with the receipt and formatting of raw data allows companies to eliminate the responsibility for software and design tools used in this process and allows them to focus on their core competencies. This can be very desirable, especially if there are no internal designers available.
2. Print files - The sophistication and ease of use of today's document composition software has led to many businesses maintaining their own document composition. The main advantages of this are control, speed of change management, and cost control. Online services compliment this software with ready-to-use print to mail drivers and options. Online print to mail picks up where document composition leaves off, and can be implemented quickly and inexpensively. This new generation of online print to mail services is enabling business to maintain control of their document content while still eliminating the in house print to mail activities and costs. Some examples are  MailXstream, and  MooreWallaceVPO. These services are standardized on Adobe PDF file format making their services compatible with virtually any windows generated print files.
Economics of online print to mail
According to industry estimates, printing accounts for 1-3% of a company's' overall budget. When companies keep printing in-house, most organizations are not able to realize the full costs of printing. Outsourcing provides additional transparency and allows for a tighter controlled budgets and can reduce expenses saving hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per year. Additionally, the equipment and expertise required to create professional and customized pieces of collateral are often expenses that many small to mid-size firms can no longer afford. By outsourcing, some estimates show that companies can save approximately 30% on their annual printing budgets.
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