If e-mail was expected to reduce the demands on the organization's mail center, it hasn't. If anything, the Internet revolution has increased the pace of hard-copy information flow, challenging mail center supervisors to stretch the budget while improving speed, accuracy and efficiency.


Today's mail equipment manufacturers are responding with technology advancements that truly deliver, making 2001 the year to consider upgrading mail center operations for the 21st century. New equipment and sometimes, a new approach can enable mail center supervisors to:


  • Decrease the impact of postage rate changes on the mail center budget

  • Keep up with USPS regulations to maximize the lifespan of new equipment

  • Take advantage of lease agreement options to reduce the total cost of ownership

  • Empower mail center staff with tools for improved mail routing within the organization

  • Eliminate personal mailing costs billed to the organization's meter

  • Bring mailing production in-house to reduce costs and risks of outsourcing


    Whether or not you're ready to upgrade your equipment, understanding recent and upcoming trends in the mail equipment industry will help you make the best decisions for your organization.


    Equipment that Does More

    Postal rate changes like the one in January typically affect the budget not only by increasing postage costs but also by necessitating a $500 or $600 fee to install an upgraded chip containing the new rates for the postage meter scale. Some manufacturers have built a modem directly into the mailing equipment, enabling customers to download new rate information directly into the scale via a dial-up connection eliminating the cost of chips and installation fees.


    Manufacturers are also responding to mail equipment usage trends throughout the organization. If your mail center typically meters diversely mixed mailpieces from postcards and #10 envelopes to bulging mailpaks and direct mail you should consider metering solutions that reduce the sorting required. Some high-end solutions require minimal sorting, while others require no sorting whatsoever.


    Today's systems can also reduce the unexplained postage charges that skyrocket during the holiday greeting card season. Above and beyond the standard departmental or client accounting codes, some systems let you assign user ID codes, which can even tie into the magnetic strip on your company's employee ID badges. This level of accountability helps ensure users bill costs to the correct department and usually reduces postage expenses enterprise-wide.


    Routing Technologies that Improve Delivery

    You've probably heard the USPS is introducing information-based indicia printing (IBIP) over the next several years. Essentially a crosshatch of barcodes, IBIP will replace the traditional postmark with exponentially more information about the sender and recipient address, which can be read digitally, thereby reducing required handling, improving accuracy and speeding the mail delivery.


    As the age of IBIP draws near, the USPS will begin decertifying mailing equipment that is not compatible with IBIP. If you're about to sign a new mailing systems contract, you can maximize the life of the new product by looking for these two IBIP-ready features in the mailing system:


    1. Digital printing not a stamp with the ability to generate incremental numbers with different numbers placed on each indicia. 

    2. Dot-specific placement of ink, as in today's inkjet printers.

    While IBIP will improve delivery of your outgoing mail, you can achieve greater efficiency routing the incoming mail with solutions that are currently available. Internal logging and tracking systems for packages and priority deliveries can help streamline the process of quickly getting mail to the right person within the company while creating a valuable paper trail.


    Most of these packages have been cost-prohibitive for all but the largest-volume organizations. However, several software-based solutions now offer a more affordable approach for smaller firms.


    More Bang for the Marketing Buck

    For many organizations, the heaviest mailers are marketing executives who frequently consider outsourcing costs to be a given when they are planning their mailing projects. However, today's automation equipment can make the work far more cost-effective as an in-house project, which can also reduce the possibility of competitors accessing valuable direct mail list data.


    Today's equipment can even help marketers create the most attention-getting promotions by increasing mailpiece thickness and height. Some manufacturers have introduced meter pass-through of nearly one-inch wide, while others offer vertical feeding to eliminate height restrictions.


    If you still can't justify the cost of upgrading your mailing systems, take a look at your mail equipment leasing agreement. You might be able to reduce your costs dramatically by renting or even purchasing the equipment under a different contract.


    It's true that you are required to lease the postage meter, under USPS regulations. However, some manufacturers will lease a stand-alone meter that plugs into the rest of the mail center system, which you may be able to finance less expensively over the long-term. And don't forget to calculate the tax benefits of purchasing and depreciating the equipment.


    If you have trouble understanding how much you're paying and what you're getting in return, it's worth clarifying with your service representative. While you're at it, you may discover there is new equipment that makes your mail center more productive while reducing your total equipment costs.


    A veteran of the mailing equipment industry, Bill Pesch is president of the US region of Francotyp-Postalia. For more information, visit www.fp-usa.com and www.go-FP.com.

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