Software as a service (SaaS), the advancement of scanning and printing capabilities and even mobile technologies are playing a vital role in the evolution of the document outsourcing industry. The innovations implemented over the past 20 years, especially the cloud, have changed the way companies communicate with customers through increased personalization and the ways employees collaborate with the advent of automated workflows.

These advancements have also forced a seismic shift in the industry and led to a new digital-first identity, spurred by market consolidation and new partnerships. Gone are the days of one-trick print companies, as today’s landscape consists of organizations who offer a full suite of services designed to enable clients to more effectively communicate with their consumers through personalization.

Ineffective, black and white communications
It’s hard to imagine a time when one channel (print) and two colors (black and white) dominated the way in which organizations communicated with their target audiences. Just 20 years ago, email still hadn’t gained widespread adoption–Hotmail launched the first web-based email system in 1996–and color was only used for certain applications, as it was too costly.

Direct mail served as the primary way for organizations to disseminate their marketing campaigns, and many took the “shotgun” approach. With no systems available to integrate customer preferences and effectively personalize collateral, companies were forced to print massive amounts of generic content with the hopes that it resonated with just one to two percent of the intended recipients.

The digital maturation
It wasn’t until 10 years ago that the most forward-thinking organizations began to really shift and leverage technology to integrate existing customer data to create more personalized materials. This trend gained significant momentum with the introduction of online platforms that enabled Fortune 500 companies to automate this process and begin communicating with their target audiences on a one-to-one level.

For example, if you attended an auto show back in the early 90s and filled out a form to request more information about a particular car, the manufacturer would send its entire catalog–in hopes you would find what you were looking for. Today, that same car company can use a web-based document management platform to create customized templates for each of their vehicles with editable sections that can be further tailored. By introducing customer relationship management (CRM) data regarding vehicle preference to the equation, combined with the knowledge of a consumer’s channel preference and geo-location data, a manufacturer can send a more targeted piece of communication showcasing the right car and the nearest dealer. Businesses even have the ability to track the links and Quick Response (QR) codes embedded in the materials to analyze performance.

The industry shakeout
While the digital advancement has enabled companies to more effectively communicate, it has had a profound impact on the organizations who have failed to diversify their businesses accordingly. As the quality of non-commercial production has increased and costs have decreased, commercial print vendors have felt the biggest blow. With their assets, which used to be operating at near full capacity, now sitting idle, it forced massive consolidation in the space. For those printers who have survived, many have expanded their services to include sourcing and work with clients to find them the best deals for their projects.

The companies who have succeeded in the document outsourcing market are the ones who have placed a premium on technology. Whether through research and development (R&D), strategic partnerships or mergers and acquisitions (M&A), implementing the latest advancements–as evident with the introduction of web-based document management platforms–has enabled this group to thrive and meet the increasing demands of clients. To further illustrate this point, vendors are now leveraging cloud-based infrastructures for a variety of use cases, including enabling customers to produce, distribute and digitize materials at scale 24/7/365 in a secure and fully redundant manner.

While the future for the industry remains bright overall, there will be continued consolidation for those who fail to evolve. Staying ahead of and implementing the latest technology will be critical for organizations to thrive in this market.

Ken Bechard is vice president of production services at Novitex. With more than 30 years of experience, he has a track record of designing solutions to improve both operational performance and financial value.

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