Steve Belmonte, President, Accuzip
Over the past several years, postal software has improved considerably. I believe this is due to several factors:
1. Competition Competition breeds greatness. All great software developers and companies look at their competitor's products to improve their product's interface or feature set. Competition also reduces your overall annual investment for updates and upgrades. As with all industries, the postal software industry benefits from competition, and so do you, because software development will continue to improve.
2. Certification Procedures Certification procedures are provided by the U.S. Postal Service. CASS and PAVE are just two of the certification procedures offered. The USPS has developed comprehensive rules and procedures for developers to become certified. These rules and procedures ensure that you receive reliable postal software that will reduce your overall postage costs and provide improved mail delivery.
3. Cooperation and Teamwork This is the 12th person on a football team or the sixth person on a basketball team. One of the main reasons that software development has improved over the past several years is because of the cooperation and teamwork of the U.S. Postal Services certification departments. The great employees and contractors who work with the USPS are always willing to listen to software developers feedback so their procedures and the industry as a whole continue to run efficiently. This cooperation and teamwork with the USPS is another important reason why software development has improved over the past several years.
Continuing to update and upgrade your postal software is very important, and in most cases, required. Think of your postal software as you would your own vehicle. Your vehicle needs regular attention to continue functioning well. Certain aspects of your vehicle have mandatory requirements to continue operating and reducing your overall annual expenses. Like your vehicle, your postal software must meet certain requirements so that you can continue reducing your overall mailing expenses.
There are two distinct differences between "updates" and "upgrades." Updates are typically required so that the software can continue reducing your mailing cost. Updates could resolve significant issues with the software or mandatory changes by the Postal Service. Issues with the software may not be postal related, but may render the software useless for a particular function you may need to get the job completed. Updates can also be mandatory, and in some cases required, so that you can continue to receive the postal discounts you expect. Mandatory updates may include new CASS-certification requirements, ZIP+4 and
Upgrades are mostly optional, but are highly recommended. Typical upgrades would be feature enhancements or added features to the product. Most companies, but not all companies, charge an additional fee for an upgrade to a new version so that you can enjoy these new features. This fee is normally over and above the "annual maintenance" fee that most of you are accustomed to paying to receive the "required" updates throughout the year (possibly technical support). Upgrades, even though they are not normally mandatory, may be a significant improvement to the software interface. An upgrade may improve your overall workflow and may save you money by reducing your labor and processing costs.
Think of your postal software as an investment. Current, updated, well-maintained postal software will definitely help reduce your overall postage costs, as well as your production costs. Continuing to update and upgrade your postal software is like driving a well-maintained vehicle. The postal software, like your vehicle, will continue to run smoothly and maximize your bottom line!
K. Jon Runstrom, President, BCC Software Inc., a BÖWE
When I founded BCC Software in the late 1970s, a computer with sufficient power to process even a modest-sized mailing cost an arm and both legs. Mailing lists were commonly maintained on Addressograph metal plates, which were put in "presort order" and used to mechanically stamp an image on the mailpiece. Alternatively, hordes of day workers in back rooms would visually scan mailpieces sequenced in ZIP Code order, looking for 5- or 3-digit or state breaks, arranging the groupings in bundles, applying the appropriate color-coded stickers and (if counts were sufficient) combining the bundles into sacks. Even within the Postal Service itself, mail processing was predominantly a high-cost manual process.
Today, industry-wide technological advances have enabled a far different mail distribution process. Relatively low-cost PCs and the now-requisite postal software allow mailers to prepare jobs in increasingly refined sorts that minimize manual processing by the Postal Service's progressively more capable automated equipment. CD-ROMs and high-capacity hard disks allow the wide distribution of Postal Service ZIP + 4 files. Advances in printer technology, most notably inkjet and laser, enable the efficient production of pre-barcoded mail. The additional capacity of DVD drives and new software innovations foster wider and easier use of Change of Address data and Delivery Point Validation technology.
These advances have helped the growth and maturation of an industry. Now foreseeable are the future high-tech leaps that will make mail even more efficient, while adding value to the mailing process itself. Postal acceptance will be increasingly standardized, with newer and better implementations of MERLIN making acceptance less reliant on the judgment and personality of individual acceptance clerks. These implementations will take into account a mailer's past performance: those who have presented consistently high-quality mail will enjoy streamlined acceptance, allowing the Postal Service to focus on problem areas requiring special attention. The upcoming four-state barcode will permit mailers and the USPS to better monitor delivery performance and improve tracking and delivery confirmation. New · software tools will push the continued refinement of data: identifying and appending missing suite or apartment information, for instance.
Possibly the most dramatic advances, however, will come as the entire mail preparation process is integrated. Technology is coming that will allow the monitoring and centralized reporting of every step of the process from data preparation through presorting... to imaging, inserting and assembly... to containerization and even account reconciliation and payment. Opportunities for human error and requirements for reactive intervention or rework will be minimized, eliminating most waste and unnecessary cost from the process. The future in mail production will be quite rosy for those with the foresight and willingness to invest in all of the tools available to them.
Roger Spitzig, Vice President and General Manager, Software Business Solutions,
Today's software solution providers recognize that a company's most powerful asset is its data. Smart technology solutions combine customer data with data that describes how customer communications have been handled to improve the message processing lifecycle. This contributes to the ultimate goal of improving both the quality of the information being delivered and the efficiency with which it is processed.
Recently, the mailing industry has experienced a fundamental shift in the way businesses achieve profitable growth. Whereas increasing the amount of hardware has traditionally been the only route to increased capacity, software is now being used to help customers achieve maximum productivity from existing equipment. The modern automated document factory no longer consists of separate islands of automation; managers are choosing solutions that address their entire operation, allowing data managed in one process area such as data manipulation or data quality to positively impact related processes such as finishing, sorting, delivery tracking and postage payment. The ability to collect, manage and share data throughout the lifecycle of every job enables mailers to manage their operations in real time and proactively anticipate and mitigate issues before they become problems.
Organizations that view the components of a mailing operation not just as independent processes that insert, print or finish a job, but rather as a series of interdependent enterprise processes designed to deliver customer communications efficiently and effectively, are in a strong competitive position. Software solutions used must be truly integrated to deliver the benefits of a smart operation that continues to have more value and insight as items pass from creation to delivery.
By upgrading existing software, mailers will be able to process information in the most efficient, least costly manner possible since new, integrated solutions are tightly coupled, easier to support, more efficient than the ones integrated in the field. Web-based interfaces are increasingly used to provide fast and easy access to internal and external users regardless of their location. Newer systems are also tuned for high performance and fast data access. Successful vendors must provide integrated software solutions to create fewer, more valuable tools for mailers allowing them to realize the benefits of fewer pieces of equipment to maintain, optimized productivity from existing equipment and fewer user interfaces and data formats to learn. Strategic mailers who position themselves to collect and leverage data across the automated document factory stand to realize the most immediate and future efficiency gains as software
solutions evolve to meet all of their changing demands. www.bowebellandhowell.com
Michael Maguire, Director of Sales and
Postal address correction's genesis was that of a mailing and postage discount database tool. The benefits for the U.S. Postal Service were simplified delivery, while the benefits for the end user included substantial postage discounts. Today, address standardization has transcended the mail center and goes to the inherent value of the organization using it. Correct, clean and current address information is an important intangible asset, not unlike the value associated with patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Data capture involves the capture and collection of original source data in our case, postal addresses. It can include a wide variety of input mechanisms. We would commonly think of a call center agent collecting name and address information as the means by which most address information is collected. Let's not forget about Web site entry (the prospect is the data entry agent themselves! Here is a real data quality concern if we've ever heard one), point-of-sale collected at cash registers and data entry personnel keying in addresses on handwritten response cards.
As is often noted in the direct marketing press, 40% of most data errors occur on entry. This is the point where address correction should take place, the point where the data is freshest, the point of entry. An invalid delivery address strongly suggests a data entry problem that in a real-time environment could be corrected on the spot. Correcting the address while the caller/customer is still on the phone is a dramatic step toward corporate address quality.
Everyone that collects address information should understand that they are dealing with money. Reaching or not reaching a customer is the gain or loss of revenue. Address correction software is an important ingredient in any organizations' address quality initiative. Just as important are the systems, processes and standards for collecting all (not just address) data. Clean, correct and current customer data is the lifeblood for any organization competing in today's wildly competitive and changing business environment. www.smartsoftusa.com ·
Harry Whitehorse, President, Envelope Manager
Fast-paced changes in mailing and shipping software are being driven by transformations in the postal industry, business environment and software architectures. Mailers can no longer think of software as a one-time purchase, but rather an evolving service. By adopting service models, mailers will have the tools not only to respond to these changing environments, but more importantly, to use them to their advantage. These tools and all the new data made available through them are an asset to their adopters and a competitive disadvantage to the users of outdated software. Updating software is no longer an occasional patch for rate changes or certifications it is a business necessity. Furthermore, subscription models can offer a budget-friendly billing cycle that avoids "spikes" from upgrades.
The continuing USPS transformation is creating demands and opportunities for software developers way beyond the traditional rate changes and re-certifications. Mailing applications are in the midst of an innovation phase that is likely to continue well into the future. For instance, in the last five years, two rate cases were implemented in 2001-02; USPS payment options have been updated to promote Internet transactions; new data for tracking mail and parcels has been deployed by the USPS; PC Postage has found niches for small businesses and parcel shippers; and residential delivery indicators/delivery point validation have been incorporated into address cleansing. More recently, a new rate case has been approved for 2006, another rate case is likely for 2007 and rich new tracking data is expected to come on line from USPS investments in scanning technology. Longer term changes are also expected. The USPS Transformation Plan for 2006-10 calls for a transition to annually adjusted commercial rates, re-design of the postal delivery network to reduce costs, evolving requirements for postal discounts, enrichment of mailpiece data/barcodes with intelligent mail and customization with negotiated service agreements.
The mailer's own business environment is also creating new requirements for software functionality. Evolving regulatory constraints on direct marketing and corporate governance are changing the volume and services required from the mail center. Cost cutting and accountability are decentralizing office mail away from the mail center and into enterprise-level software applications.
Another driver for change is the evolution of software architectures. For example, new functionality is being deployed to take advantage of the real-time availability of disparate data through Internet transactions; many mailing applications have adopted XML interfaces for data exchange; and open application interfaces are allowing software developers to quickly integrate applications with legacy systems as well as new software.
Clearly, the demands of the postal, business and software environments are changing mailing software for the better. Although the existing tools are tried and true, the fundamentals they were designed for are changing, and mailers cannot afford to cling to old software and fall behind.
Christopher Lien, Commercial Mail
In today's Infor-mation Age, the quality of a company's information is a crucial component of success. For the commercial mailing industry, nothing is more vital than the address itself. This recognition of the value of each individual address is unprecedented in our industry. There has been an explosion of new tools and technologies for address cleansing, all designed to help mailers reach their ultimate goal of achieving complete and correct addresses. To form the foundation of their address quality solution, a majority of mailers have made the investment in CASS-certified software. To leverage it more effectively, an array of add-on options has emerged, including: DPV (Verifies Accuracy of Deliverable Addresses), Address Element Correction (AEC), ACS (Electronic Change-of-Address Notification) and link related products such as LACSLink (911 Address Conversion Matching Tool), NCOALink and ANKLink data.
Until recently, the mailing industry largely assumed that a mailing list processed through CASS-certified software guarantees everything on a mailing list is correct and deliverable. It doesn't. What it does is identify those addresses which may be deficient and require additional investment to correct. The next, and arguably key, step is applying the appropriate tools and technology to achieve a complete, ready-to-go address for just-in-time mailing. Their CASS-certified software is talking... but are mailers listening?
They should because the costs associated with an ineffective address quality solution are staggering. The U.S. Postal Service estimates Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail cost $1.9 billion in 2002, and as much as twice that amount to the industry overall. Reducing this cost is a major goal of PMG Jack Potter, who has challenged the commercial mailing industry to reduce UAA mail by 50% over the next four years. The stakes of getting the address right have never · been higher; we're now moving into an era where postal rates are likely to reflect the quality of the address since that is where costs are incurred.
The quest for excellence in address quality is aided not only by the latest tools and technologies, but the knowledgeable application of best practices. Since last fall, a workgroup of the Mailers Technical Advisory Council (MTAC) has been developing addressing methodologies and best practices that reflect an understanding of the inherent value of an address and an emphasis on improving address quality. Recommendations will be presented to the Postal Service in March 2006, ushering in a true renaissance in the realm of address cleansing. www.firstlogic.com
Tim Waggoner, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Group 1 Software,
a Pitney Bowes Company
Important strides have recently been made in two software categories Customer Communication Management (CCM) and Data Quality - that impact production mail. CCM ties together back-office enterprise applications and data with customer relationship management (CRM) applications and supports continuous process improvement initiatives, integrating business and market strategy with technology strategy. CCM solutions acquire, consolidate, cleanse and enrich corporate data to generate business intelligence and enhance communications with customers as well as within the enterprise and across an extended enterprise or supply chain.
Customer data is a unique competitive asset. It's imperative that businesses make strategic decisions based on data that is accurate, complete and consistent. Data Quality software is an essential requirement to achieve return on investment from customer-facing technologies and develop effective outreach programs. It is the cornerstone of successful CRM, CCM and other customer-centric enterprise applications, including data integration and business geographics. With these technologies, enterprises can measure customers' true value to the organization and maximize profitability, increase data sharing across their organization and make more informed business decisions.
Mailers will face the need to upgrade to these solutions because of these short- and long-term challenges: Communication costs are rising in a competitive environment that demands higher productivity levels and stringent cost control. Contact center costs have more than doubled since 2000. In the
Location-sensitive industries and overall disaster recovery and business continuance strategies have been significantly affected by such incidents as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in the
The regulatory environment (cf. Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, Do Not Call Registry) continues to demand clearer, more frequent communications between companies, customers and stakeholders and superior records retention and archiving. www.g1.com
Ray Melissa, President, Melissa Data Corp.
Mailers should expect their software programs to provide the tools necessary to prepare their mailings to meet requirements for postal discounts and efficient delivery... without having to think about updates or upgrades. But if you are still getting mail or packages returned or your response rates are too low, you should consider taking advantage of the many improved data sets from the U.S. Postal Service that come in the form of upgrades to your mailing software. These add-on programs ensure the greatest deliverability rates and reduce the waste of returned and undelivered mail.
Most mailing software programs are a
Keeping up with new and changing address information is the key to deliverability. The National Address File of ZIP+4 codes required for CASS certification is updated with an average one million changes per month, and it expires every 120 days. Additional data sets, like DPV, LACSLink and NCOALink are not yet mandatory for CASS discounts so are offered as add-on files. Upgrading mailing software to access these files during address verification not only ensures the highest level of address accuracy possible, but enhances the lifetime value of the database for optimum productivity.
The cost-effectiveness of upgrading is subjective. How much money do you waste on replacing, re-mailing and re-shipping? How much business have you lost as a result of bad address data? Are you keeping up with the movers in your list? With 16 million Americans moving each year, you're sure to get your share. And if you have records with rural route addresses that have been converted to a city-style (911) address, the LACSLink file will update those records, instantly, as they run through address check processing. This new file a
Many software developers such as Melissa Data are combining these files, currently provided on no less than four CD-ROMs, onto a single DVD. Production is more efficient and the cost-saving benefits can be passed on to the customers. In summary, the results far outweigh the costs. The relatively low cost of upgrading your software with additional resources such as the DPV file will be repaid to you many times over. www.melissadata.com
J. Jeffery Peoples, President, Window Book, Inc.
The need for quality mailing software has increased dramatically over the last several years. Mailing software that manages all postage payment methods reduces labor and increases transactional speed and accuracy is necessary to help organizations avoid the profit leaks that can compromise a successful business. Most importantly, software that accounts for all mailing activities and integrates across the entire enterprise makes it easier for corporations to deal with an ever-changing workforce and postal regulatory and rate landscape.
Any company that mails without a complete mailing management system, including a database of all postal activity, is putting its organization at great risk. In a time of uncertainty, where at any moment a natural disaster or operations mishap can throw the mailing process off track, comprehensive postage accounting a method for automatically collecting metered, stamp and permit postage payment data in one database is the smartest way for organizations to account for all postal funds. Plus, more comprehensive postage management will keep you from being caught short when accounting for the fiscal year.