Mail center and logistics managers invest so much energy creating outbound shipping processes that help manage costs, track deliveries, and ensure a great end-to-end experience. What’s new today, however, is that many organizations are creating business value by retooling how they manage the packages that arrive at their facilities.

Consider this college campus in the Northeast. In their effort to show parents how well they cared for the students on campus, they implemented an automated, closed-loop process to track, manage and secure incoming parcels that offered students greater convenience, greater accountability and faster delivery. By focusing on the needs of the end recipient, they demonstrated a commitment to the quality of student life in a real, tangible, personal way — a support point that has helped increase applications to the university.

While every incoming parcel is critical to someone in your organization, few companies invest in automation and workflow management to the same degree as they do in their outbound operations.
But the costs can be substantial.

Without an automated inbound receiving process, a series of manual processes, paper forms, and duplicate entries are relied on to move items from the loading dock, mail center or front desk to their intended recipients — a system that can easily fall victim to human error. While most deliveries are made on time and without incident, some shipments fall through the cracks. And, when they do, costs add up fast.

• Items may be waylaid in house. Delays in delivering goods or documents that are perishable or time-of-the-essence pose risks for organizations and their customers. 

• Shipped goods may not reach their intended recipients. Whether these are lost, stolen or simply misplaced, if the organization received them from the carrier, the onus is on the organization to replace them — and the costs can be staggering.

• Investigating, recovering and re-delivering missing items can quickly become an all-consuming task that wastes valuable resources and takes away from other more important responsibilities.

A more automated approach can ensure chain of custody and confirm that every item reaches its intended recipient. The value is not just measured by the hard costs of wasted time and lost deliveries — but also the impact it has to your internal customers.

Consider the law firm where a signed contract arrives via overnight delivery but doesn’t get into the hands of the partner who needs it in court that day. Or, the business that signs for delivery of an executive’s new laptop, but fails to ensure that the laptop reaches her before she leaves for an overseas trip. In both cases, current processes fail to provide the accountability needed to ensure proper handling and delivery.

In some industries, the costs of misplaced parcels can have even more dire consequences. Healthcare organizations, for example, receive specimens, lab reports, x-rays or medical equipment on a daily basis; and delays or errors in final delivery can directly affect patient care.

Ensuring Efficient, Accurate, Timely Confirmation

Understanding these risks, one such healthcare organization took steps to automate their approach to inbound package management, adding accountability and control to the process. Their parcel distribution team now offers a higher level of service to internal customers at a fraction of the cost, with a more efficient, accurate and timely closed-loop process.

With ten campuses and over 540,000 patients, this healthcare network’s mail center needed to coordinate deliveries to a team of 11,000 associates. Previously, inbound packages were processed through a central receiving location and in-house distribution depended on a phone-and-paper based process. Both dispatchers and recipients had to manually complete forms. The process was time-consuming and gave managers little visibility with which to monitor and track items from central receiving to their final recipients.

Understanding the need to improve efficiency and accountability, the healthcare network implemented an asset-tracking solution for inbound mail and parcels — ensuring a well-documented chain of custody for assets, packages, specimens, equipment and records. Automated data recording relieved operators at the central receiving center from photocopying packing slips and manually logging information. Automated notifications streamlined delivery and issued alerts, special instructions, pick-up notices, and electronic delivery confirmation. And hand-held scanners made it easy to track the movement of every item through final delivery.

Tracking the “Last Mile:” What It Takes to Succeed

As evidenced above, inbound parcel management is different from outbound package management — though just as important to an organization’s success. An effective solution will automate the tracking of mail and packages even after they reach your mail center, ensuring full accountability until they are delivered to their addressees. 

Best-in-class systems will simplify delivery logging, reporting and prioritization for mail-center staff, and will provide recipients a variety of options for checking delivery status and location. When considering options, be sure to take into account:

• Disparate Barcodes. Your inbound system must be able to scan, read and track a broad range of barcode types from carriers, couriers and postal services.

• System Links. You can add efficiency by integrating inbound package tracking with internal systems such as purchase-order or accounting systems — creating a checkpoint to validate that goods were received prior to payment. If you employ locker systems for self-serve package pickup, you can integrate the delivery information to that as well.

• Handheld Devices. You’ll want the ability to quickly and easily scan items at every step of the delivery process. Capturing and recording electronic signatures along the way provides for a complete and accurate audit trail. 

• Two-way Interactions. Top systems support automated communications, to alert recipients of package arrivals and any disruptions in service. These can also enable addressees to advise the mail center of special handling required during delivery, or to report damage to items received.

• Effective Management. Customer-delivery manifests can help to prioritize deliveries by department, delivery routes or mail stops. Built-in reporting provides real-time updates on what has been received, delivered and confirmed.

Whether your desire is to cut costs, increase efficiency or provide more reliable in-house delivery to your internal customers, inbound parcel management is quickly becoming a must-have capability. Because when you improve your inside game, everyone wins.

Karen D'Andrea is Director, Marketing for Pitney Bowes's Distribution Solutions (PBDS). Distribution Solutions include Pitney Bowes' complete line of inbound tracking and global logistics management solutions. She can be reached at