April 29 2008 03:12 PM

Revolutionary changes are taking place in the preparation, rate calculation and mailing and shipping processes of todays mail and parcels, much of it being driven by the USPS in an effort to identify ways to increase revenue, reduce costs, improve service and develop a performance-based culture.

As our industry continues to introduce new equipment and software programs that offer faster processing and an array of features, it is important that we dont lose sight of a major industry objective: to make the day-to-day mailing and shipping operations of our customers easier, more cost-effective and error-free. Todays busy executives would be amazed at just how much can be saved in their business operations simply by improved mailing/shipping performance sometimes the last place any executive team would probe.

Some of the more significant ways our industry is achieving this is through more effective system design capabilities; through a genuine commitment to a higher level of knowledgeable responsiveness to our customers; through more efficient document and mail management; and by recognizing the need for a total system solution.

All this becomes especially critical in light of renewed initiatives by the USPS, Federal Express and UPS to enhance mail and shipping security and streamline the process through a variety of programs including decertification, new rate calculations under the USPSs Shape-Based Pricing structure and other Postal Service cost- and time-saving efforts.

Improving the Overall System

One of the more significant advances of late has been the ability of our industry to design systems and document handling equipment that monitor their own operation and
capture increasingly detailed and useful data about mailing and shipping activity. These advances are now being exploited to better serve customers and anticipate their needs, thereby providing cost-saving conveniences and services and heading off potential problems that might otherwise result in system downtime.

For example, todays powerful, easy-to-use, web-based applications are designed to enable mailing and shipping managers to view, report and follow their mail and parcel traffic all from the convenience of a desktop PC. This translates into increased efficiency, improved productivity and real cost savings through better control of various mailing functions and the transformation of complicated tasks into simple ones. These online services can collect and store activity information, making important data available to customers through convenient reports. Moreover, activity data is typically maintained online for months, which facilitates easier access to monthly comparison data to help evaluate trends in mail volume and usage, and it provides a basis for more informed management of the mail center.

These efficient online services often provide customers with access to discounted, electronic-rate Special Service fees offered by carriers to mailers who process and upload tracking information about parcels tracked by Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation and Certified Mail. Instead of tracking pieces individually, the customer can now monitor all tracked packages, since the delivery status for each tracked parcel is continually updated as the Postal Service makes it available. Youre able to consolidate data about daily machine activity as well as monthly departmental and USPS mail class usage, making it available for viewing online or for export to a spreadsheet. And when the Postal Service announces a rate change, the server can update the mailing machine electronically in a matter of minutes, well in advance of the effective date of the rate change.

Improved Document Management: More Than Just Sending out Mail

As communications and document streams continue to grow, more financial and human resources are tied up in the process of generating, distributing and validating documents and mail. This takes into consideration the entire mail and parcel communications spectrum, from document preparation, processing and metering to accounting and inbound/outbound tracking. Improved communications management becomes essential, and todays technology provides organizations with the ability to prepare and handle mail more efficiently, significantly increase document and mail visibility and have quicker access to critical postage account information.

Today, it is just as important to recognize how your documents are being electronically prepared and mailed as it is to understand the volume and postage costs associated with them. Increased profits can literally be squeezed out of an organizations entire mail and document stream. Consider the level of savings both in time and resources if you could eliminate duplicate and unnecessary mailings, consolidate invoices, group your mailings to achieve postal savings, reduce returned mail through address verification and much more. Its all about improving your overall document and mail management process, from file creation to final destination. Its the mail centers equivalent to Lean Manufacturing.

To help achieve these results, end users are adopting a variety of comprehensive solutions, including more integrated document management. Integrated document management
begins with a careful analysis of your mail stream and docu
ment handling requirements from all departments followed by seamlessly combining practical software and hardware solutions and responsive service support. The result is a process that efficiently creates, stores and mails documents, with customers reporting dramatic savings in postage, resources and labor costs.

A unique component of integrated document management is new software that very efficiently integrates document creation, production, distribution, mailing and shipping within a single automated operation. The software is designed to enhance the preparation and printing of critical business documents by receiving raw or formatted data from a wide variety of sources within an organization and transforming it into professional, easy-to-read business documents. It reduces mailing costs, enhances the security and integrity of important business information and improves processing efficiency.

On Screen, Online and On Time

While mail and shipping managers are always alert for ways to shave postage expenses and take advantage of Postal Service discounts, its easy to overlook other hidden targets for operational and financial efficiencies, like the dreaded down time. Most companies in our industry are investing heavily in technologies to help customers simplify and streamline the process of everyday mail management. These new technologies, for example, help monitor the mailing machine remotely and pinpoint potential problems before they occur; trigger delivery of a new supply of ink when the onboard reservoirs begin to run low; download new application features and postal service rate table updates; and electronically track the delivery of parcels.

Another important aspect of mail and shipping management involves pre-payment for postage, still required by the Postal Service and a practice that often ties up cash flow and frustrates the company accountant. To simplify pre-payment, our industry has developed new methods of streamlining the entire process of obtaining and paying for postage, methods that allow customers to obtain postage immediately, manage cash flow better and defer payment.

Of course, you cant manage what isnt monitored and measured, so mailing and shipping managers need to have visibility on how postage is spent. Almost every customer can benefit from products that automate the collection and compilation of mailing machine activity data that can be used for chargeback accounting and job monitoring. These important new tools are available today and are valued both by busy mail center and shipping managers who previously compiled data manually and company bookkeepers who rely on timely and accurate reports.

With ongoing initiatives from the USPS aimed at dramatically improving mail and parcel processing, the industry has its own critical role to play in developing faster, easier and more efficient solutions. Our industry has shown its ability to drive product innovation and engineered technology to new heights, with equipment features that have helped customers operate efficiently in the smallest mail centers and the largest production centers. But it is important that we keep our eye on the ball, that we recognize and anticipate customer needs over and above product development and that we play critical roles in making the job easier and more efficient for those who purchase our products. This means developing a different way of looking at mail and document management and identifying unique ways to improve efficiencies.

It is critical that we in the industry help customers recognize where improvements can be made throughout the entire document preparation and mail stream, and to put the right tools in their hands to affect these changes. More and more, the mail center is being identified as a critical component of business and customer communication processes. Industry leaders and end users who understand the importance of investing in technology and more efficient processes have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the customers bottom line.

John Grogan is the Vice President of Marketing for Hasler, Inc. For more information on how to enhance your mailing and shipping processes, visit www.haslerinc.com.