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July 25 2006 11:33 AM

Since 1999, the Los Angeles County Department of Public and Social Services (DPSS) has invested $1.6 million in installing new mailing systems from Neopost at each of its 65 facilities. The results include dramatic improvements in mail processing and equipment maintenance.
Every week, Los Angeles County�s DPSS processes more than 30,000 mailpieces, directly affecting the well-being of its approximately 1.7 million participants. An agency serving a county of 9.8 million residents, larger in population than 42 states, with an area of 4,083 square miles, encompassing 88 cities and the needs of an ethnically and culturally diverse community cannot afford to process mail inefficiently.
�Mail is an important artery serving the heart of our operations at DPSS,� notes Guillermo �Bill� Reyes, division chief, Bureau of Workforce Services. �If you stop the mail, we�re out of business. However, it was not until recently that the DPSS focused attention on mail processing and asked questions such as, �Is it efficient? Is it cost effective? How can it be improved?��
In 1999, the DPSS Automation Committee, led by Reyes, examined mail processing and then agreed that there were significant inefficiencies in mail processing that needed to be addressed. Mattie Gardette, district director, Bureau of Workforce Services, describes the situation this way: �At the beginning of each month, the DPSS receives a deluge of mail from participants including forms and receipts that they must provide to continue qualifying for aid, whether in the form of cash, food stamps, medical or job placement services. Our existing letter openers were not able to handle the increasing volume of mail the DPSS received since their purchase. The letter openers would often tear the forms the participants sent back, and they would destroy the cancellation date on the envelope, which the DPSS needs to prove that it provides timely services to its participants.�
�The solution at the time,� adds Stephanie Dillard, human services administrator III, South Special District, �was to pull other staff from their jobs at the beginning of each month to help mail center staff manually open mail and tape together forms the letter openers had ripped. This not only added to our labor cost of processing mail, but it also negatively impacted morale and diverted staff away from their own important responsibilities of serving participants.�
In addition to recognizing a need for improved processing of incoming mail, the automation committee identified problems with outgoing mail processing and internal mail sortation.
After submitting its findings with a recommendation to modernize mail equipment and processes to DPSS senior management, the automation committee received approval and full support to move forward. The committee then invited several mail equipment vendors to bid on the contract.
The automation committee awarded the contract to Neopost based on the right combination of products, price and Neopost major account executive Kandis Swimmer�s personal commitment to partnership and to tailoring a solution to meet the specific needs of each DPSS facility.
�Kandis� focus on partnering with DPSS and on breaking down barriers between vendor and client initially impressed us, and her continuing commitment to the project over the last two years left no doubt that we had made the right choice,� says Reyes. �While product and price were very important, it was Neopost�s commitment to partnership that most influenced our decision.�
The automation committee and Neopost conducted initial needs assessment surveys and implemented the new mail-processing systems at six pilot facilities. These installations served as a proof of concept for subsequent rollout to 65 facilities throughout the DPSS. The following equipment was installed at each facility:
�           A mid-volume mail machine with interfaced 30-lb. electronic scale and mail accounting system � The mail machine processes mail at 170 letters per minute while the interfaced scale ensures that correct postage is applied to each mail piece. The mail accounting system tracks postage costs for each aid program and generates reports.
�           A System One folder inserter � The folder inserter processes up to 1,300 mailpieces per hour, which is 10 times faster than tedious manual folding and inserting.
�           A letter extractor and a letter opener � The letter extractor opens envelopes on three sides at speeds up to 2,400 envelopes per hour, and it solved the problems of tearing forms and destroying the cancellation date.
�           Modular mail sortation furniture in the mail center and mail distribution centers on every floor �The mail sortation furniture can be configured to meet the needs of each facility for size, number and placement of sort bins.
The mail distribution centers allow staff on each floor of a facility to deposit outgoing mail for pick up at specified times each day, rather than running down to the mail center at the last minute and overwhelming mail center staff with outgoing mail.
Neopost also designed and implemented a color-coded incoming mail sortation system based on the 11 core languages in which the DPSS serves its participants.
As a result of installing this system, one or two mail center staff can handle the entire weekly volume of approximately 30,000 pieces of incoming and outgoing mail for each facility. It is no longer necessary to pull other staff away from their jobs to help open all the incoming mail or to fold and insert outgoing mail into envelopes. This drastic reduction in manual labor, combined with precise metering using the interfaced scale, has saved the DPSS approximately 22% in mailing expenditures each month.
An installation of more than 1,000 pieces of mailing equipment and furniture across 65 facilities would not be complete without automatic maintenance agreements and an easy system for identifying equipment, serial numbers, account numbers and the number to call for routine or other maintenance. To ensure hassle-free equipment maintenance, Swimmer designed magnetic business cards containing all of this information to be placed on each piece of equipment while negotiating with the Los Angeles County Internal Services Division yearly maintenance agreements that automatically initialize after expiration of the 90-day warranty. The maintenance agreements are not only for convenience; they also save money, as the cost of a yearly maintenance agreement is less than a maintenance technician�s hourly rate, not including materials.
The installation of modern mailing systems at the Los Angeles County DPSS illustrates how automation with proper equipment can result in improved efficiency and morale. It also illustrates how a small committee and a vendor can work together as partners to improve a process that is central to the smooth operation of an organization and to the well-being of its participants.
Steven Golightly summarized the outstanding success of the new mail centers and the hassle-free experience of working with Neopost in the following way: �As director of the largest human services agency in the nation, it is of paramount importance to me that we connect our workforce to the best tools available to get the job done. One of the most important ways we communicate with the 1.7 million people who interact with us every month is via the mail, so the efficiency with which the mail centers in our 65 locations handle incoming and outgoing mail must be optimal. From the beginning of our business relationship, Neopost has provided equipment, training and technical support of the highest caliber. The positive comments I get from staff about how the new equipment has made their jobs both easier and more effective is a real testimony to the time and attention that our Neopost representative gives us.�
Kris Wagner is director of Sales and Marketing Development for Neopost Inc. Visit Neopost online at