There is no question mail processing software developed over the past 10 or so years, is one of the most significant factors responsible for the tremendous increase in production in our industry. Software is the driving force behind most of our industry's production technology developments. Desktop software is a major part of this improvement. It has allowed even the smallest mailers to take advantage of postal automation and make-up discounts and cut production costs in the preparation and processing of mail.
With the development of more advanced desktop hardware systems, desktop software has become powerful and flexible enough to support even relatively large mail operations. This, coupled with many new capabilities, makes desktop software the answer to many different operations' mailing preparation needs. As desktop software evolves, mailers will utilize it for even more processes. What do mailers have to look forward to from desktop? Why not ask the software creators.
Steve Belmonte, President, AccuZIP Inc.: The future of desktop postal software is a bright one. Many companies that advertise on the Internet continue to advertise through direct mail. There is really no substitute for having a potential customer receive your promotional piece in the mail. Many advertisers who use the Internet for advertising through e-mail cut their own throats by saturating the e-mail community with so called "junk" e-mail. More often than not, advertising sent through e-mail is deleted before it is even read. When you only have one line of text for the subject line in an e-mail, as opposed to a nicely printed, cleverly thought-out mailpiece to catch the customer's attention, there really is no doubt which medium receives the better response.
Another argument that could be made for why the future of desktop postal software is so bright is integrity. With competition between small and large businesses so intense, list integrity is more important now than ever before. Company mailing lists, whether active customer lists or carefully compiled lead lists, are very valuable. Companies are reluctant to send lists over the Internet for processing, even with signed confidentiality agreements and Web-based security in place. The bottom line is the trust factor.
As an alternative to e-mail and the Internet, using desktop postal software is the smart choice. Installing postal software on your desktop computer, local or server-based, allows the company to securely process lists immediately and to have full control over its data. Desktop postal software products are readily available, and the costs for sophisticated direct-imprint printers are falling fast. Not so long ago, companies would pay big bucks to set up a small mail center to process their own mailings or to process mailings for others. Now, more than ever, direct imprint printers are available at very low costs allowing small- and medium-size companies to bring their lists in-house to process themselves, right from their desktops without employing additional staff. The software and printers are so sophisticated that one individual can easily handle thousands of pieces of presorted and barcoded mail.
Desktop postal software is a gold mine waiting to be discovered by entrepreneurs and established print shops that currently do not provide mailing services. Many of these types of companies already have a customer base they can tap into because many of the services these two industries provide are part of the mailing process. Desktop postal software is an excellent revenue source, often overlooked for these industry types. And using the Internet in conjunction with the software works great we provide users with a "Live Chat" button in the postal software, which connects the user to technical support or allows them to interact with other users. What is the future of desktop postal software? The answer can be summed up in one word, bright!
K. Jon Runstrom, president and CEO of BCC Software, Inc.: In the twenty years that I have been writing software for the mailing industry, there has been persistent predictions that electronic communication will supplant mail as the preferred medium to exchange information. Such forecasts have, thus far, proven to be as inaccurate as predictions of the paperless office. On the surface, it is difficult to understand how, in those twenty years, mail volumes have continued to increase in spite of the extraordinary increases in faxing, e-mail, electronic banking and the awesome availability of information that can be retrieved with a mouse click from the Internet.
Somewhat ironically, it is technology that is responsible for the continued popularity and effectiveness of mail as a communication vehicle. Today's professional mail shops, like modern postal facilities, are technological marvels. The interrelationship of mailing software, modern production and mail handling equipment, both within and outside the USPS, has kept the costs of mail preparation and processing at an absolute minimum. The Postal Service's CASS and PAVE certification programs, with their emphasis on mail quality and presort accuracy, have further contributed to a general sense of the reliability of the process.
In order to leverage the reputation for efficacy that mail enjoys, the USPS and mailing software vendors must continue to stress reliability and cost effectiveness. Although CASS software has gone a long way towards improving address quality, more needs to be done, particularly with regard to Standard mail. One of the factors that allows Standard mail to remain a bargain is the fact that the USPS does not need to expend any effort or expense to ensure the mailpiece will ultimately be delivered if the address is inaccurate it will likely end up in a dumpster. Mailers should use every tool available to ensure accurate addresses. A new tool, Delivery Point Validation (DPV), developed by the Postal Service, should be available through software vendors by the end of the year. DPV will verify that a given CASS-certified address actually exists and is deliverable to by the Postal Service. (Contrary to common opinion, the CASS process offers no such guarantee.)
Another factor affecting deliverability is the fact that so many Americans move every year. Every mailing should go through a proactive move update process. We have long offered a low-cost FastForward option that makes move update processing as simple as ZIP+4 matching. By mid-year, the Postal Service is expected to drop its annual licensing fees for FastForward systems to as low as $5,000, making move update processing available to all mailers.
The ultimate in reliability lies with the ability to determine if a mailpiece has actually been received. Planet Barcode, along with the Postal Service's Confirm program, takes a step in that direction. I expect the Postal Service to take that to another level in the near future and provide actual delivery point confirmation at a reasonable cost.
It is expected the Postal Service will complete the roll out of the PostalOne program in the near future. In conjunction with the industry standard Mail.dat file specification, the long awaited electronic submission and verification of postal paperwork will greatly simplify the mail presentation and acceptance process.
All of the above factors, together with our integration of main stream data management capabilities in a mail management software package supporting all classes of mail, will help ensure that mailing software and the users of that software have a very bright future indeed.
Steve Rifai, director of Marketing, Envelope Manager Software: After a long period of relatively little innovation in the mailing industry, the 1980s brought about electromechanical meters, mainframe computing applications for large corporations and the dawn of workstations and PCs. The 1990s brought about inkjet meters, PC applications for mail centers and mail houses and the dawn of Internet applications for the mailing industry. The trend points to the growing role of the Internet in mailing applications and the large-scale adoption of Internet Mailing Services by small mailers. In the 2000s, Internet Postage stands as the most significant innovation in postage evidencing and Internet services will deliver subscription-based mailing applications to small mailers at affordable prices.
Although small feature-functionality improvements will continue to evolve desktop software products in the mailing industry, the most significant innovations will be in the development of Internet services and Internet postage and their integration into mailing applications.
The Internet provides two key advantages to the mailing industry: immediate accessibility and increased services to small mailers. The Internet is a perfect means to disseminate relevant subsets of large and rapidly changing databases such as Zone Charts, Line of Travel Files, Address Matching and FastForward or NCOA. CD subscriptions are costly, inconvenient and can only be distributed at low frequencies (months). The Internet, on the other hand, eliminates the cost of manufacturing and shipping CDs, bypasses the hassle of managing them and allows vendors and the USPS to update their data far more frequently.
The Internet also makes high-end services such as FastForward and electronic Delivery Confirmation affordable to small mailers by amortizing the cost of these USPS services among a large number of users. In a sense, the mailing software vendor acts as a consolidator for small mailers and represents them to the USPS as one large mailer.
Our entire product line is Internet-enabled. These services are seamlessly integrated and use the Internet to transparently provide the latest available data. For example, they provide real-time serial numbers for automated Certified Mail forms and recently integrated electronic Delivery Confirmation printing and tracking.
The first generation of Internet postage products was aimed at small businesses and the small-office/home-office market. Future generations of Internet Postage products will expand into corporate and traditional mail center applications. Corporations will benefit from enhanced enterprise reporting, accountability and postage management procedures, while mailers will benefit from the accountability and cost-effectiveness of Internet Postage. www.envelopemanager.com
Raymond F. Melissa, president and founder of MelissaDATA: The quality of the data you collect and maintain affects the quality of your communication with customers and prospects. The more you know about the people and businesses you are contacting, the more effective your message. Our focus is to enable users to effectively communicate with their customers with the lowest possible rates.
Postage rates will continue to rise, as will mail production costs. Marketing budgets will be stretched to the limit. Data quality is crucial to effective customer relationship management and increasing the lifetime value of a customer. The resources are available, in one program, on one CD-ROM, to turn a simple mailing list into a powerful, profitable marketing asset.
We believe innovation is the key in our approach to incorporating unique direct marketing features into the software. The Professional version of our program provides a variety of options to maximize the performance and profitability of a database. These tools will become even more valuable as e-commerce and other forms of mass communication desensitize consumers to direct marketing messages.
One of the most recent marketing features available to users is an add-on module that appends latitude and longitude coordinates to the sixth decimal and adds the Census tract and block numbers to each record. Direct marketers can link to newly released 2000 Census data. This will enable them to update their records with the most recent demographic information available and provide long-awaited data to improve target-marketing strategies, define new territories, modify or restructure communications and create valid customer profiles and models.
There will always be a sense of urgency for data quality solutions. Software is ideal for verifying, updating and enhancing address and telephone data. As the need to verify data captured from a Web site or in real-time becomes eminent, direct mailers and marketers will find the solutions they need in software products.
Steve Barnes, vice president of Marketing, Pitney Bowes Mail Creation: The future of desktop addressing software is very exciting. The Internet now enables people to access more information and larger databases than ever before, right from the desktop. This creates boundless opportunities for productivity improvements and cost savings in the areas of addressing, list creation as well as customized one-to-one marketing.
Applications that were once limited to high-end, powerful computers have become easily accessible on remote terminals as we utilize the inherent strengths of the Web. For example, consider the marketing science possibilities: marketers can go online and choose from gigantic databases to create better and more targeted lists from their desktops. Modeling becomes easier and more accurate with more details from which to choose, and appending additional information like demographics to current lists goes from cumbersome to point-and-click.
For years, address management software has enabled business mailers to save time and money through enhanced mail deliverability and optimized postage discounts. Now, with recently introduced options, business mailers have the flexibility to meet the USPS Move Update requirements via the Internet. Future offerings will further expand this desktop approach by allowing users in locations around the world to locally access information that resides remotely.
More current data will be accessible faster. Instead of waiting for the latest software enhancement or program update, the most current version will be available 24/7 via the Internet. Also, the user interface of a Web browser is universally understood, so with wizard-like prompts the process is easy.
We have and will continue to see processing advancements as well as significant growth in the science of marketing. As new Web-enabled addressing software becomes more mainstream, the future is boundless. 800-672-6937; www.pb.com