Are Your Operations Manuals Secure?

One of the ironies of the ‘digital age’ is that we print more on paper than ever before.

One of the items that companies use and cling to, even when they have electronic versions, is the old fashioned Operations Manual.

I’m a digital native – I spend a ton of time on my iphone or laptop but I still carry around the 3-ring binder for our Printsmith software platform. The reasons are simple:

  • No WIFI needed for my binder
  • I can carry the binder with me anywhere
  • I can write notes in the margins
  • My computer is a crowded space – I know I can get info from my binder quickly

I find that this is true for most companies. We recently did an operations manual project for Showhomes, a franchised home staging company based here in Nashville. Like all franchise companies, they tightly guard their trade secrets and operations manuals. This is the essence of what a franchisee purchases when they buy a franchise so security for the manuals is something they think about a lot.

Like many companies, they have an online manual but saw that staff and owners needed a hard copy. Some people, like myself, just learn better with a hard copy handy. The problem is this: what is to stop someone from copying the binder?

The solution we came up with for them was: we printed a number of unique manuals. Each manual has an embedded watermark on each page and the watermark for each manual is different. Showhomes keeps a log of the manual they assign to staff and franchisees.

This way, if someone copied a page, they would know where the leak occurred. The unique watermarks keep most people honest and give Showhomes the ability to tell a judge that they took reasonable steps to protect their system.

If you work in a industry, like franchising, where you need paper copies and you need them to be secure, how safe are your trade secrets?

Angie Ryan, Reprographic Pro 615-509-3192


8 responses to “Are Your Operations Manuals Secure?

  1. I think that if you have developed a way to efficiently watermark unique copies of the manual, then you have gone a long way towards solving the problem.

    The reality is that dishonest people will find ways around any system that we put into place. As my fatehr says, locks only keep out the honest people.

    • Your dad has a point, but I lock my car door to keep people out and so far it has worked! My guess is that a person would think harder before they made copies if they thought you cared enough to protect yourself. If you left a 100.00 bill on your front seat and the door unlocked, I bet it would be gone…

  2. Maybe we could learn something from the map-making companies. They have a very cleaver way of protecting themselves against illegal copies. They include an intentional map error on their map copies that they sell. That way they can track the origin of illegal copies. Intentional map errors may include non-existent streets, small islands on lakes etc.

    If you could translate that to printing, then maybe you might have another system. It could be as easy as placing an underscore on specific letters.

    We have partially solved that problem with a tracking feature in our onlune manual This feature allows us to know who has printed and when. We can even restrict printing to specific users. You can obviously print screen to go around this. So, like Kit said earlier, locks only keep the honest people out.

    • There will always be a new trick to learn. Doctors use a special paper to write prescriptions, schools use a similar paper for transcripts that print copy or void when additional copies are made.
      I think its wise to know who printed and when they print, but how do you know what they did with the print? If you find a copy lying around do you know where it came from? How do you protect or track additional copies?

  3. I’m not a fan of paper manuals but they are nice to have in a training session and the ability to take notes and keep it does have value. We use both online and paper and I think you have to at least make sure you are taking the basic precautions. Yes, if someone wants to steal your info, there is likely a way for them to do so.
    That said, if you take precautions and the idea of using unique watermarks on every page is a really great one, then you can sleep better at night and more easily catch leaks.
    I’m really happy with the work these guys did for us and I’d recommended it to anyone.

  4. Way to go, great information and keep it up

  5. Like Thomas we like to have paper manuals for our franchisees during training. Dishonest people will find a way to take the information and reproduce – paper or electronically.
    We have not used watermarks before but it’s certainly something I will consider now.

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