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Information Capture

15 May 2007

Chris Wright, TNT's Southern Operations Manager with the new Kern 3500 high speed mailer machine at TNT's Document Services facility in Basildon

The management of information is becoming increasingly important, wide-ranging and innovative. Craig Scott argues that a combination of technology and a widening portfolio of services is the key to success for document process outsourcers

THEY SAY KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, but in today’s world of avalanches of emails, mountains of paperwork and millions of items of webbased data, the real power in business lies with those organisations that know how to capture, store and use information in the best way possible. The correct management of information can improve every facet of any organization - from cash flow to customer service.

All that paper in the office contains priceless information. Gathering, storing, organising and retrieving that information can often place huge demands on a business. What the document outsourcer does is to take the stress out of these processes.

Scanning was once viewed as a ‘back end’ operation by business – something done for archive purposes once a document had been processed through the organisation in its paper form. Now it is very much viewed as a process which needs to be introduced earlier in the business cycle. With more ‘image enabled’ IT systems and a more mobile, distributed workforce, there’s a greater reliance on and need for scanned images to be available as early as possible. One global automotive manufacturer, for instance, needs supplier invoices scanned earlier in the process in Europe so processing can take place at the corporation’s back office facility in India.

Capturing more and more historical data is another key trend driven by a number of factors including strict compliance regulations demanded in the financial services sector. Compliance with Financial Service Authority rules means financial services organisations need to be able to accurately and efficiently access huge volumes of historic data. Very often this data is held on microfiche and microfilm. The scanning of this media, and capture of relevant data has proven to be a much more efficient process ensuring complete transparency and providing a fully functional audit trail, better than the more traditional manual approach to accessing and reviewing the archived data.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest from both the public and information providers in accessing historical information. TNT, like other providers, has tapped into this demand by increasingly utilising off-shore facilities to offer a value added business process – another increasing trend in the sector. The capturing of key information from newspaper articles for a leading French information provider is now done at TNT’s data capture facility in Mauritius – providing an ISO accredited, time bound and cost-effective abstraction service.

The scanning and data capture processes refined by TNT underline the importance of a true partnership approach with the customer. In the 1990s, Land Registry took the decision to transfer all property title plans in England and Wales – some 18 million plans – into an electronic format. This mammoth task over three years was entrusted to TNT.

The contract was of crucial importance - guaranteed land registration forms the cornerstone of a stable economy, providing everyone with the confidence they need when dealing with property. Land Registry holds the world's largest property database, recording ownership of many billions of pounds worth of property, with more than £1m worth of property being processed every minute in England and Wales.

The TNT team faced three major challenges in digitising the file plans, ultimately enabling The Land Registry to improve even further its service to its customers. It had to ensure the faithful reproduction of boundary lines on documents, some of them over a hundred years old, in sizes ranging from A5 to A0. It was crucially important to preserve the dimensional accuracy of the plans on the scanned images and each image had to have a file size that was manageable for customers when downloading the documents.

The successful three-year project – which was delivered on time and on budget – helped TNT Document Services to clinch a second three-year contract worth a further £10m with Land Registry in 2000 to electronically capture some 90 million associated RR (register referred) documents. TNT developed a process methodology to handle a large volume and variety of types and sizes of documents quickly and efficiently, while at the same time preserving the document integrity. At its peak,120 staff worked through the millions of documents sent from Registry local offices to the scanning facility in Coventry. The electronic archiving of the historic records was successfully completed at the end of 2004.

A year ago a new five-year contract was announced for the conversion of additional ongoing ‘live’ documents, such as new leases, processing 60,000 pages a day, providing employment for over 40 staff, and utilising thelatest scanning technology and a refined process which will improve the operation even further.

In the March edition of PFM, (Data to Doormat, pp31-33) strategic marketing consultant Michael Herson outlined the latest developments in transactional mail (billing) and direct mail (marketing) and how the convergence of the two has come about as a result of advances in digital print technology and the increased need to provide extra value.

We’re not quite there yet with full convergence. Historically, the requirement of transactional billing was for the highest quality document, on time, every time, at the most competitive price. Every avenue has been explored to drive down costs, including, in TNT’s case, utilising TNT Post’s cheaper postage via its Downstream Access agreement.

The only route left for driving down costs is to explore the convergence of bills and marketing literature into ‘trans-promotional’ documents, using printers to apply unique messages on the documents and achieve a degree of personalisation that was not previously possible.

The DTi’s 2006 Energy Challenge White Paper could signal a change that sees an increased transparency of energy costs for the consumer. This would means bills would be monthly, including regular current readings, bar charts with historical data in addition to those added marketing messages. It is our view is that this White Paper stacks up behind the forces of the marketeers – driving a greater awareness of and need for more effective use of text, imagery and colour in bills. We believe, however, that in May 2007, full colour transactional printing is not yet delivering as it does not produce consistent, high quality documents that portray the required brand image and values of our customers. At present, the full colour technology available often requires a level of human intervention and a cost per pack that is not, in our view, currently viable on a sustainable basis to meet the combined needs of the marketing and billing departments.

In the next 12-18 months however, this viewpoint may change, along with advances in printing technology. At the moment, skillful use of highlight colour print equipment, such as the Xerox HC180 machines we have in operation in Basildon and Cardonald in Glasgow to selectively use colour within boxes to highlight text or panels or to chart information, produces results that meet the exacting quality and clarity requirements.

Furthermore, intelligent use of colour in this way makes the document clearer and more informative to the reader and consequently can reduce the number of calls made to the customer service centre, thereby further reducing costs in the overall customer communication process. Equally, judicious use of colour has been used to positively drive calls to a customer service centre where an organization is actively seeking greater engagement with its customers.

Unless print is your core activity, it’s very difficult to keep up with all these developments in the digital era. This is where the document process outsourcer excels. The outsourcing of the printing, mailing and billing documents has enabled telecommunications giant T-Mobile to focus on core business and reduce its operational costs. TNT handle invoices, copy bills, credit notes and letters for T-Mobile – some 30 million packs per annum. We have 17 bill runs per month, plus letters on a daily basis along with copy bills. T-Mobile has reduced its costs and focused on improving services for its 16 million customers across the UK.

TNT has built relationships with customers from both private and public sectors. The Land Registry, London boroughs, several county councils in Scotland sit side-by-side with organisations like T-Mobile, Coors and Pirelli Tyres. On the surface, unlikely bedfellows, but at the heart of it, common processes – the generation of bills and statements and the processing of invoices, proof of deliveries and expenses etc. All that paper in the office contains priceless information. Gathering, storing, organising and retrieving that information can often place huge demands on a business.

TNT can archive any form of data – electronic, box and file, computer tape and audio/film masters and our Visions service allows us to create structured archives on electronic documents, and we can hold an exact replica of the equivalent paper document. We can also provide the archive on CD-Rom for stand alone or networked.

This widening of service offering, plus a keen sense of present and future requirements in the sector, is clearly the way forward. The key is to offer a portfolio of services that provide an holistic, one-stop-shop approach for businesses keen on outsourcing. With major cost and efficiency benefits to be made through service and supplier consolidation, the industry clever money is increasingly on the ‘end-to-end’ solution to service delivery. Knowledge is indeed power. But without the correct management of the vast flows of data – in both paper and electronic form – it’s important not to remain powerless.
● Craig Scott (left) is Divisional General Manager at TNT Document Services

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