Data Management Is an Essential Skill to Master
As Dennis Fish sees it, the key to his company’s success is speed — and he doesn’t mean press speed. The ability to process client data quickly and turn it into a targeted direct mail piece that lands in customers’ hands, when it will have the greatest impact, is what distinguishes ICS Corp. from the competition, he believes.
Based in West Deptford, New Jersey, ICS has perfected its data management expertise. When a financial services customer identifies a good prospect for a credit card offer, for example, ICS can turn that customer data into a mailpiece in record time.
“On average, we’re able to shave 10 days or so off of an entire process, which can have a very large impact on campaign performance,” Fish, director of technology and compliance at ICS, reports.
The company is using this expertise to expand its business. “It’s definitely become a large part of our overall sales pitch,” he notes. “We’ve integrated that service pretty well into our story.”
Throughout the industry, commercial, direct mail, and transactional printers are recognizing that their success relies on more than the quality of their printing. Mastering data management has become a crucial aspect of the business. An increasing number are obtaining security compliance certifications to prove they can manage data safely, and customers are gravitating toward those companies that can do it best.
In Indianapolis, Fineline Printing Group, a privately held and minority-owned company, has successfully used its expertise with data management and security compliance to build a strong clientele.
“We currently have contractual relationships with 18 Fortune 500 companies,” reports Lisa Young, COO of the 60-employee company. The reason those companies stay with Fineline, she contends, is because of the data management infrastructure it has built that enables it to handle complex, data-heavy projects.
“We’re able to talk and speak data with our customers, and that gives us a great connection or relationship with them,” adds Guy Vreeman, Fineline’s data security and compliance director.
At DS Graphics | Universal Wilde, which has facilities in both Canton and Lowell, Massachusetts, data management expertise has likewise become a crucial doorway to customer loyalty and increased business.
“The more we’re able to help them with the data, the better we can come up with suggestions for how to hit different audiences and demographics,” points out Christopher D. Wells, executive VP of the 300-employee communications company which, in addition to printing, mailing, and fulfillment, provides creative, marketing, logistics, branding, and digital strategy services.
Enhancing Clients’ Data
With 350,000 sq.ft. of production and warehouse space spread across three facilities about 20 minutes south of Philadelphia, ICS is well stocked with offset, digital toner, and inkjet equipment. It installed a Ricoh Pro VC40000 continuous-feed inkjet press in 2021. Specializing in direct mail and boasting an in-house marketing agency, the 57-year-old company works with clients in the financial services, mortgage, insurance, healthcare, and nonprofit industries. It produces an average of 100 million pieces of mail each month.
One of the company’s strengths, Fish says, is helping clients become more efficient with handling their data. ICS assists with data hygiene, enhancement, modeling, and warehousing services. The company has 15 employees on its data team.
Through data enhancement, ICS improves clients’ files by adding other data from additional sources, such as credit reporting agencies, to enable better personalization, which improves its customers’ marketing efforts. The ICS team uses advanced modeling tools and leverages past performance data to build predictive response and performance models for clients. This helps determine which prospects have a high likelihood of responding to a mailing.
ICS starts with a client’s existing customer file to understand what characteristics the client feels are most important in a customer or donor. This is enhanced with demographic and credit data to get insights into people’s lifestyles and the decisions they make. A model is created of a good customer.
By integrating data management services, prospect segmentation strategies, and real-time analytics, ICS can reduce time to market, while minimizing data security risks. “Probably the biggest reason that customers continue to talk to us about this is primarily speed to market,” Fish affirms.
ICS also provides enhanced data hygiene tools to ensure addresses are accurate and consistent with USPS postal standards, using resources like the National Change of Address (NCOA) database and the Social Security Death Master File.
Data is also crucial in the production process. To track job progress, ICS uses what it calls a “Multi-Aggregated Data Entity,” a data-driven tool that allows it to optimize production scheduling, make real-time decisions based on historical data, and enable real-time tracking of job progress. To ensure mailpiece integrity, barcode scanners on inserters track that pieces were inserted correctly, and each job includes a report verifying that each piece was mailed.
Managing and storing all this data — literally hundreds of millions of records — requires some intense security precautions. ICS maintains a HIPAA-compliant operation and uses SOC 2 Type 2 operating standards. It is also fully compliant with the stringent requirements of all major credit data providers. It has completed audit processes for SOC 2 Type 2, HIPAA, Experian Data Handler Assessment, and Trans Union Data Vendor Annual Assessment. The company also does internal audits and gets an annual audit by an external company.
Internally, ICS uses the most aggressive standards of password complexity and requires multi-factor ID confirmation for access. It maintains a clean desk policy so no papers can be left out, and all terminals must be turned off if an employee steps away from the desk. The data team stays up to date on encryption technology and security tools, and conducts vulnerability testing, even hiring a company to try to hack into its system. Fish notes that most hacks start with phishing attempts.
“We do regular training and testing of our employee population to make sure that they can spot that coming through the system and that they’re following the right protocols every day on their work machines,” he says. “It’s a constant move to the top.”
Physical security is tight as well, Fish says. “We employ something called the principle of least privilege access,” he explains. Users only have access to the specific data, resources, and applications they require to complete a task.
Variable data printing is done in a secure area. Only operators have access. Barcode scanners on machines ensure 100% of the mailpieces were produced and none are missing. And the entire building is under recorded video surveillance.
“We’ve made major investments in our information technology infrastructure,” Fish says.
It has all been paid back many fold, however, in the business ICS gets from financial services companies and others that require certainty their data will be safe — and their mailings will reach consumers quickly. Fish says ICS has it all in hand.
“We can do it faster,” he promises.
Speaking the Language of Data
Fineline’s journey into data management started when potential clients asked the commercial printing, mailing, and fulfillment provider to complete a SIG security assessment questionnaire. Its responses at the time were less than what the prospect wanted, which limited the work Fineline was given.
But this experience made the company realize its opportunities would expand if it improved its security compliance. So, it hired a consulting firm, R-VMC Consulting, to do a readiness assessment for compliance. This showed Fineline where it needed to shore up its security. Fineline is now HIPAA compliant and SOC 2 Type 2 certified, with its processes mapped to the HITRUST cybersecurity framework. R-VMC continues to provide support and training to ensure compliance standards remain high.
This has played a big part in bringing Fortune 500 companies onto Fineline’s client roster. “It allows us to have committed, contractual relationships with partners like that,” she says.
“Our ability to speak that language with these large corporate healthcare customers gives them the confidence to work with us,” Vreeman adds.
Fineline produces a variety of mailings for customers, such as forms, catalogs, letters, enrollment information, collateral, ID cards, invoice statements, postcards, and more. Its 70,000-sq.-ft. facility houses 12 presses of all sizes, including a six-color, 40" offset press with a coater.
“While putting printing ink or toner on paper continues to be the lion’s share of overall sales dollars, we are really doing far more than that today,” Young notes. “Much of our time is spent in creating automated programs.”
To process the large amounts of data it receives, Fineline builds software application programs, customized for each client. This enables customer data to be presorted, printed, and inserted in an automated, touch-free process.
“In order to … be cost-effective in the marketplace, automation is the only way to go,” Vreeman stresses.
“We also provide them validation of the data and the materials that are being sent to clients,” Young adds. Fineline created a software program that allows clients to see when their mailings are in the mail stream and when they have reached the recipient. Customers also receive reports showing that each piece was delivered as promised.
To manage all this data, Fineline has strong security procedures in place. In addition to its certifications, it does internal audits and vendor compliance audits. Access to the mail area is restricted, files are unable to be saved from computers to external drives, and production areas are under constant video surveillance. Employees are continually trained in security practices and occasionally tested with phony phishing emails.
“I’ve found that the training is what really helps keep us safe in the cybersecurity world,” Vreeman reveals.
“Data security, cybersecurity, it’s top of mind for everybody,” Young adds. And these days, it has to be that way, she adds — no matter the cost.
“You’re going to have to spend some money to get where you need to be … before you get the work,” she points out. “Clients are not going to give you the work until you can prove you can keep their data safe.”
Helping Clients Analyze Data
Speaking from his office in the Boston suburbs, Wells of DS Graphics | Universal Wilde (DSG UW) has his own spin on the importance of data.
“People would always say, ‘well, if you control the data, you control the customer,’” he reflects. “I don’t look at it that way. For us it’s ‘if we have access to the data, we can better help the customer analyze it, and make changes and enhancements going forward.’”
That’s precisely how DSG UW is using data to grow its business. It specializes in using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and even digital voice assistance technologies like Alexa to gather demographic data that can help its customers target additional audiences and demographics, while extending their reach with existing clients.
A campaign may start with a direct mail piece that includes a QR code linking to an AR experience. Or recipients could respond to the piece using Alexa. Those responses may then trigger a text messaging campaign, or an email or social media campaign, he explains.
“As soon as we can convert that print to a digital interaction, that’s where the data comes from,” Wells remarks. “If we’re doing a direct mail campaign, we’ll typically insist on doing personalized QR codes, even if they’re not doing personalized landing pages — just to redirect to the landing page they want because that can feed back to them what age groups are actually scanning the QR code to respond.”
He’s been pleasantly surprised to see that age group expand to include all ages as people get more comfortable with QR codes and AR — which no longer requires downloading an app to experience. “Now it’s all Web-based, so it’s much easier to get people to do it,” Wells says.
In addition to using data to help its customers improve their marketing results, the company also focuses a significant amount of attention on protecting that data. “It’s a huge, expensive part of it,” he admits.
DSG UW boasts a secure printing environment with badge access and 360-degree video surveillance. Its data center is SOC 2-compliant, and the company is well versed in the intricacies of JCAHO and HIPAA compliance. Its security measures have inspired confidence in DSG UW customers, which include some of the country’s leading financial, healthcare, and insurance providers.
“SOC 2 is very expensive,” Wells notes. “It’s a huge resource drain.”
But, like the others, he considers it essential for any commercial and direct mail printer that wants to use data management as a path to future growth.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.