"Resistance is futile."
-Battle cry of the Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation
There are times when the recent technological advances in the mailing industry seem more like science fiction than science. Look at CONFIRM, a new product from the U.S. Postal Service that helps you track mailpieces sent by First Class mail or Standard mail. By combining file-based processing with CONFIRM, it's now possible to track a single document from the time a print file is created, through printing and inserting, presorting, entrance into the Postal Service, even down to the carrier sortation. And then the return piece can be tracked from the customer.
At a recent conference, a friend said his company used PLANET Code and CONFIRM to track the movement of the mail between cities. The company contacted the Postal Service to report what appeared to be a consistent delay in the same spot along the route. Further investigation revealed that the driver was making a "pit stop" at a local casino for a few hours. That issue was quickly resolved.
And this is only the beginning. Vendors are announcing the development of digital paper and "smart" enve-lopes. Yesterday's dreams have become today's realities. No one knows what tomorrow may bring.
For some, this may be intimidating. Over the years, the mail center has been a safe haven from the rapid changes in technology. Of course, meters could be networked and barcodes could be used for selective inserting. But at its core, the mail process remained the same. Paper documents and physical mail were handled using methods that have been in place since the days of Ben Franklin. Those days are gone forever.
That's a good thing. And these latest changes should be embraced. Change is a sign of growth. Nature teaches us that if something doesn't grow, it dies. And who wants to be part of a dying industry?
Change brings about fear. And fears are usually grounded in ignorance. If we don't understand something, we no longer feel in control. Instead, we feel uncertain, helpless and afraid. And that's compounded by another fear: the fear of looking stupid. So we don't ask for help, and the situation gets worse.
Education is the key to overcoming these fears. Through learning, you gain understanding, putting you back in control of the situation. You may not be able to control the direction of technology, but you can be prepared to apply that technology to your operation.
You must dedicate time to read as much as you can. This issue of Mailing Systems Technology includes a lot of great information on the new technologies being introduced. You should read all of the articles, not just the ones that · have a direct impact on you today. No one knows where he'll be tomorrow or what job he will hold. But you can prepare yourself by reading now.
And you don't have to wait for the next issue to be published to stay up to date. Visit the Mailing Systems Technology Web site at www.mailingsystemsmag.com regularly. The news section features information on equipment releases and industry changes. The discussion board is a great place to exchange ideas and get help from other managers and vendors. You can even post questions anonymously to the discussion board. Check out links to sister publications like e.bill, Document Processing Technology and Parcel Shipping & Distribution.
To keep better in touch with what is going on with vendors, plan regular visits to their Web sites to read any press releases that they offer. Go to the Postal Service's Web site at www.usps.com every day to get the latest information on rates, products, security and other issues. A few minutes each morning with your cup of coffee will help you stay well informed.
Attend the regional and national trade shows. Budgets are tight, but do everything you can to get there. Participate in your local Postal Customer Council and Mail Systems Management Association chapters. Go to meetings equipped to take notes and ask questions. Don't worry about looking stupid. Vendors love to explain their products, and speakers crave audience participation.
Make friends with the Information Technology (IT) staff members in your company. They're not nerds or wizards but professionals like you, and they are proud of the systems they've helped design and build. Ask for an overview of how the network and other IT systems work in your company. This doesn't have to be in a formal environment. Invite your new friend to lunch and don't forget to take a pen and notepad.
Sign up for internal and external PC courses. Don't be embarrassed to register for the basic or introductory courses. You'll be setting an example for your employees about the importance of education. And don't use the excuse that you're too old or it's too late in your career. My mom was approaching age 60 when she first learned how to use a PC. Today, she uses the Web to learn about places she plans on visiting and e-mail to stay in touch with her 18 grandchildren. Technology can be liberating if you embrace it.
When investing in new technology, pay attention to the terms and conditions. Ensure that any software upgrades are included in your maintenance agreement. Investigate shorter lease terms and early buy-back programs. In the past, meters and inserters were expected to last for decades. The ones you buy or lease today will be obsolete five years from now, maybe sooner.
You're lucky to be working at a time when there are major changes sweeping through the mailing industry. The Postal Service has published its Transformation Plan. New postal products like PLANET Code and CONFIRM can enhance the impact of mail on your company's core business. Software and equipment vendors are creating tools that will add value to every document sent to every customer.
Educate yourself and embrace these new technologies to transform yourself and your operation. Resistance is futile.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of the Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. For more information, visit www.berkshire-company.com.