If you had a magic crystal ball, what would you ask it? At Mailing Systems Technology, we try to provide you with insight into the future of the mailing industry. We do features on new mailing equipment, we do Annual Wage & Operations Survey, and we try to give you information on all the new products. But since there is no such thing as a magic crystal ball to ask about the future of your industry, we did the next best thing. We polled eight of the top minds in mailing industry software and asked them, "What's the future of mailing industry software, and what should managers do to prepare."
Here are their responses, check them out, they may clarify some questions of concerns you are having about planning for your operation's future. Read them carefully, and make the best decision as to what software will work best for your operation. Feel free to contact us or visit their Web sites for additional clarification.
The future of mailing industry software is scripting and variable data printing. Because of the competitive nature of the mailing industry, mail center managers must be prepared to review their current mailing software to ensure that it is keeping up with the growing customer demands for faster turn time and personalized direct mail.
Scripting helps mail center managers completely automate the entire mailing process from start to finish, which may include importing, CASS certification, duplicate detection, mail management, searching, presorting and report printing and direct imprinting. Mail center managers that utilize products that can be scripted to automate their repetitive tasks can handle larger work loads, resulting in higher profits and greater productivity.
Variable data printing is becoming more prevalent as customers are demanding a greater response from their direct mail campaigns. Variable data printing results in a higher response rate because each mailpiece printed is highly personalized. Mail center managers should review their current mailing software to ensure that it supports relational and conditional printing so that both static and variable data can print onto each mailpiece in a single print stream, in a single pass through the printer.
A good scripting feature will provide an easy-to-use Graphic User Interface to assist the mail center manager to define a sequence of events that determine the steps needed to complete a job. An event is defined as the process that will occur during a certain point in the script. For example, "opening" or "CASS certifying" a list could be defined as an Event. The mailing software should be able to run a script automatically upon opening or at a specific date/time. Look for mailing software that incorporates scripting as part of its core product. Integrated scripting will save you time (automating manual tasks) and money (increased productivity).
Using mailing software that integrates variable data printing can greatly enhance the value of the mailing services the mail center manager provides to the customer.
Many studies on the effect of variable data printing, also known as variable information printing, personalized printing, customized printing or database publishing, have been published. Organizations, like the US-based CAP Ventures, the Rochester Institute of Technology and several marketing organizations, have found that personalization (variable data printing) is more effective than forms of mass communication (static/non personalized).
Personalized printing has proven to lead to a higher response rate, a faster response time, better content retention, more orders and a higher order size. The result is that implementing variable data printing will generate more revenue.
The mailing software industry is alive and well. Businesses are finding new ways to market with Direct Mail and cutting costs at the same time to increase profits. Research the Internet for mailing software products. Use keywords like "CASS," "Mailing Software" and "Postal Software" to find an integrated scripting and variable data printing solution in one product. www.accuzip.com
BCC Software, Inc.
Thirteen years ago, I authored a similar article on the future of mailing. It was titled Automate or Liquidate. Its recurring theme was that mailers must transition from the largely manual methods of the past. It was vital that mailers invest in software and equipment that would allow them to prepare mail under increasingly complex postal schemes and, of course, print the now ubiquitous postnet barcode. At that time, pundits within and outside the industry were openly forecasting the near term death of the mailing industry. After all, the fax machine was becoming commonplace who in their right mind would send a letter across the country when it could be transmitted almost instantaneously by fax?
For the more than 25 years that I have been developing software for the mailing industry, the soothsayers have continually suggested the future of mail is a bleak one. They have suggested computers and the electronic age would render "snail" mail obsolete. Those predictions continue to be contradicted by real-world results indicating direct mail remains one of the most effective mediums for winning and retaining customers. This is further supported by the continued increase in volume for almost every mail category, particularly advertising mail. (The rate of increase has slowed in the last couple of years, but most experts attribute that to general economic conditions and external events such as the Anthrax scare.)
I am not suggesting the future of the mailing industry will be easy. Mail, as a process, continues to increase in complexity. In 1990, there were three postage discounts. Today, there are over 4,000! If there is any constant that characterizes the U.S. Postal Service, it's change. That change, as in any business, is driven by the need to decrease costs and increase revenues.
The much dreaded MERLIN machine and the much publicized rigorous enforcement of Move Update requirements are examples of postal initiatives to reduce costs. Initiatives such as these have a clear impact on both mailers and software developers who must both aggressively strive to increase the quality of their processes and/or products as well as learn the requirements. As much as we all may loathe programs that make our already low-margin efforts more rigorous, the overall health and viability of mail as an effective medium can only be enhanced by quality improvements. Mailers and software vendors who can meet the challenge are the ones that will survive and prosper.
On the revenue side, the Postal Service should continue to develop product enhancements that add value and reliability to the mailing process (Delivery Point Validation (DPV), Residential Delivery Indicator, Delivery Confirmation, and FastForward to name a few). It should aggressively pursue initiatives like Intelligent Mail that may combine Internet and Postal Service technology to provide real-time tracking of an individual mailpiece as well as a wealth of other benefits. (See the minutes from the February 2003 MTAC meeting at www.ribbs.usps.gov/mtac.htm.) At the same time, the Postal Service should be discouraged from pursuing initiatives that have been loss leaders and, in fact, compete with its own core customer base (e.g., NetPost services at www.usps.com/netpost).
For today's professional mailers to keep up with the dynamic world of mail, it is imperative that they partner with a mailing software provider that has a proven ability to keep pace. Mailers must be continually aware of the full range of product offerings from the Postal Service. They must insist that their mailing software developers provide solutions that are compatible with those offerings, or else they must find a developer who does. With the help of their software providers as well as trade associations such as MFSA (www.mfsanet.org) and the Alliance of Non Profit Mailers (www.nonprofitmailers.org), mailers must stay informed so they can be prepared for inevitable changes. Through these affiliations or directly, mailers should lobby to ensure the Postal Service, with its de facto monopoly advantage, does not become an unfair competitor. The successful professional mailer (and, of course, software developers) must provide unparalleled one-to-one customer service either that or it must liquidate. www.bccsoftware.com
Postal address correction's genesis was that of a mailing and postage discount database tool. The benefits for the Postal Service were simplified delivery, while 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, current address information is an important intangible asset, not unlike the value associated with patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Traditional mailing software providers are now configuring their products and expertise to accommodate these "data integrity" challenges. This concept goes beyond the physical · address to other areas of data integrity including telephone area code correction and duplicate address detection.
Postal address information of customers, prospects and suppliers is ubiquitous in virtually every enterprise, both profit and non-profit. This information remains the fundamental means of contact with our constituencies even with all of the electronic means of communications at our disposal. The United State Postal Service has promoted address standardization in addition to ZIP+4 coding for more than a decade with some success. Still, address inaccuracies and the resulting undeliverable mail are common.
In direct marketing dictum, the "Law of Escalation" states that: "The farther the customer or prospect transaction progresses, the more expensive it becomes to correct the address information." The Law of Escalation is also known as the "$1.00/$10.00/$100.00" rule. The premise is that with each event that occurs over the course of a customer transaction, the more dispersed, replicated and unpredictable the address information becomes. In the following example, the specific dollar amounts vary, however, the relative values typically do not.
The $1.00/$10.00/$100.00 Rule
The Law of Escalation doesn't consider the residual effects of shipping a product to an incorrect address or a brochure that never reaches its recipient. These costs and lost opportunities can be staggering, but they can be calculated.
The Law of Escalation focuses on the time, resources and the hassle of ensuring customer X's information is valid throughout the organization. This Law also illustrates when address information is best corrected.
Address quality managers face that most frightening phrase: "change in practices." Address correction should be resident everywhere addresses are captured. The call center, Web site and salespeople's laptops are just a start. Implementing CASS-certified software across the enterprise will be challenging, to be sure. The result is faster, better and more complete communication and delivery with customers, suppliers and vendors. www.smartsoftusa.com
With the Postal Service's implementation of its Transformation Plan underway, the future of mailing industry software depends on the ability of mailers and software vendors to adapt to a changing mail environment and to take advantage of the Internet to reduce processing costs. Although the Postal Service's transformation has far reaching goals, three main thrusts stand out as drivers for change in the mailing software industry: offsetting the decline in First-Class Mail volume, product redesign and negotiated service agreements and Intelligent Mail.
The Postal Service's Transformation Plan acknowledges the continuing decline in First-Class Mail volume and the growth in the package-shipping market segment. The very same driver for diversion from First-Class Mail, electronic commerce, is fueling the growth in package shipping. With this market shift, mailers can expect a renewed emphasis by the Postal Service on package shipping and Priority Mail in particular. As a result, the Postal Service's shipping products will be the focus of significant improvements in service and infrastructure, while maintaining a competitive advantage in price and residential delivery network. Mailers should be poised to take advantage of these improved products and services. In particular, mailers should regularly assess their costs of shipping and evaluate Postal Service options. Mailers should make sure their software tools can take advantage of Postal Service shipping products. New software tools that combine electronic shipping functionality (such as Delivery Confirmation and e-mail shipment notification) with Internet Postage allow users to easily and cost-effectively print complete pre-paid shipping labels with no minimum requirements.
The complexity and multitude of options in Postal Service mail classes is very costly for the Postal Service and mailers because of the education and training of hundreds of thousands of postal workers. This also makes it very difficult for customers to understand and take advantage of Postal Service services. Postal Service product redesign is aimed at simplifying the structure of Postal Service mail classes to reduce costs and stimulate usage. These improvements, however, could mean very significant reclassifications to which mailers and software vendors must adapt. At the same time, the Postal Service is testing Negotiated Service Agreements as a means of providing discounts to volume mailers. These initiatives suggest that the future direction of mail discounts may depend less on mail content and work share, and more on volume, history of spending and mail class choices. The Postal Service may reward customers for loyalty, for increasing mail volumes and for using high-margin mail classes over lower-margin choices. Mailers should make sure that their software vendors are capable of adapting their tools to a fundamental mail reclassification. More importantly, mailers should have enterprise-wide accountability for all their postage spending so that their full purchasing power can be brought to fruition.
The Postal Service's Intelligent Mail initiative is phasing in new functionality and product enhancements to make mail uniquely identifiable and traceable. The Intelligent Mail vision promises mailers and the Postal Service more reliable and measurable service, better security and improved data on mailings. Intelligent Mail will use a combination of printed barcodes and Internet-accessed data to maintain complete information on mailpieces entered into the Postal Service mail stream. Mailing software products that incorporate information-based Indicia (IBI or PC Postage) are uniquely positioned to take advantage of Intelligent Mail because they already use printed barcodes and Internet-accessed data · to identify and track mailpieces. Mailers should make sure that their mailing software vendors are capable of taking advantage of Intelligent Mail features as they are implemented by the United States Postal Service. In particular, mailers should look for vendors that have experience in Internet services, electronic tracking as well as PC Postage. www.envelopemanager.com
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way." That anonymous quote, made famous when it appeared on a plaque on media mogul Ted Turner's desk in a picture in Fortune magazine, is particularly appropriate when we look critically at the state of our mailing industry. A sagging economy, declining volumes, rising costs and countless other pressures are forcing us all industry professionals and the vendor community alike to look at how we can continue to best serve our customers in a time where change occurs on a near daily basis.
It's also a time of opportunity. Under the direction of Postmaster General Jack Potter, the Postal Service is striving to offer better service, control costs, create innovative work-sharing discounts and broaden direct marketing opportunities for all types of businesses. Such changes require software vendors to provide flexible solutions that allow customers to take advantage of new savings and efficiency options offered by the Postal Service.
Keeping ahead of regulatory change and serving as a voice for customers and partners in postal affairs are what we consider "table stakes" for any software provider. Additionally, a requirement of "scalable" mailing software will be the norm, offering users solutions that grow with their businesses adding new features and capabilities rather than replacing entire systems. We also see a future of innovative ways of delivering software technology (whether it be over the Internet or some other conduit) and enhancing solutions to better manage complex mail flow in organizations of any size.
How should you, as a mailing industry professional, prepare for the future of mail automation technology? We encourage you to critically examine how your chosen solution fits into your current operations and how it will support its growth in the future. Carefully consider such issues as:
Vendor resourcefulness Does your chosen solution go beyond "plain vanilla" mail preparation schemes? A low-cost solution may not support the newest United States Postal Service niche classification schemes and work-sharing discounts.
Preparedness for change Unfortunately, many software solutions are not ready when new rules take effect or vendors deploy software prematurely, necessitating multiple revisions. Ask for a list of current customers who can be contacted about vendor readiness.
Software Certification Many solutions are touted as "CASS" or "PAVE" certified. But "PAVE certification" can be claimed if it meets just one of about 30 categories. The lesson: Go beyond the hype and find out what categories the software meets.
Industry collaboration Proactive vendors will work with their clients to explore all possible avenues for postage savings and delivery improvements presenting new ideas to the Postal Service and keeping their clients updated on the latest opportunities.
There's no doubt we're at a critical junction in the history of our industry. Transformation isn't a Postal Service-only issue. We all have the opportunity to "lead" the future of how we mail and that's an exciting thing! www.firstlogic.com
You don't have to look too far to see the future of mailing industry technology. That's because the future is here today. The innovations that seemed out of reach to mail center managers yesterday are available right now at surprisingly affordable prices.
For just a little more than the price of a laptop computer, small to mid-sized businesses can put a technology solution in place that will help them save time, money and resources in the mail center. All that's required of a mail manager is a willingness to team up with the techies in the IT department.
The solution that I'm describing is point-of-entry address verification. It's the equivalent of posting a data-quality sentry at the corporate door. Validating and correcting contact data before it reaches the mailroom or fulfillment center will lower your production, postage and labor costs. Industry experts say up to 40% of data errors occur at the point of capture. These bad addresses can mean misdirected parcels, undelivered bills and wasted catalogs.
Component object module (COM) technology is a powerful guard against bad data. COMs are pre-packaged functions that programmers can build into a custom PC or Web application. A collection of COMs will verify, correct and enhance name and address data in real-time or batch modes.
When the COMs are doing their magic, thousands of megabytes of data flow back and forth from desktop to server until every bit is scrubbed to shining perfection. You won't be able to see or even touch this product because it runs in the background 24 hours a day, seven days a week, invisible to the naked eye.
The components allow your company to match input data from your Web site or call center against the Postal Service and Canada Post databases of deliverable addresses. Updates of these components and the national address files are provided at regular intervals and can be downloaded to your company's servers. ·
For those companies that prefer not to load the data files onto their servers, there's another solution: a hosted Web service. With a Web service, there's no software to install or data to update or maintain.
Front-end address validation using COM or Web services is a fast, efficient and affordable proactive measure. It will certainly help reduce the cost of doing business by improving the accuracy of your data. The benefits can be measured in more efficient mailing systems and happier customers. Why wait for the future when you can start today? www.melissadata.com/dqt
A major initiative of C-level executives today is to use new technologies to build a tightly integrated environment that ensures that profile updates and marketing responses from every interaction with the recipient becomes part of the corporate knowledge base. But in order to accomplish this initiative, mail operations executives will need to prepare to proactively influence the revenue-generating activities of their organizations by feeding data from the mail stream back into the enterprise and then using that data to shape marketing campaigns.
Print and mail finishing operations can no longer view themselves as an isolated function for distributing print or digital records of business transactions. Each piece of mail is a vital customer touch point. Intelligent Mail can deliver significant benefits back to the enterprise by linking output documents with call center operations, security tracking and marketing campaign management. Precision tracking helps the enterprise save money and can lead to higher levels of customer satisfaction.
We have created a software solution that can not only track and trace each mailpiece through the entire messaging cycle but also provides companies with a way to tie back-end data to a dynamic, re-engineered, Web-based, front-end customer interface.
This solution enables businesses to re-engineer their flow of communications by capturing customer interaction data from the document creation process, rendering it both on the document and in control files that synchronize with the feeds from physical flow data and then providing the information via browser-based reporting systems to key business processes such as finance and treasury operations, call center functions, security tracking and marketing campaign management.
This software solution provides a means to verify mailpiece integrity, track on the piece level, obtain proof of mailing and acceptance processing, aid in fraud detection and collection efforts, facilitate image archiving, integrate with customer call centers and self-help resources and provide early detection of undeliverable mail as well as proactive delivery notification.
Intelligent Mail will be a cornerstone of a competitive company's customer relationship management strategy and it will capitalize on the synergies of all customer touch points. Looking ahead, Intelligent Mail will prove to be the new "secret weapon" for innovative industry leaders to gain market share in 2003. www.pitneybowes.com
Address quality is important to every organization. By ensuring your data is clean and up to date, your overall operations will be more effective.
The benefits of address quality are well-known you save money by reducing wasted postage and sales literature, you avoid lost opportunities from incorrect or out-of-date contact data, you can more easily find and eliminate duplicates, and your shipping room can avoid the very high address correction fees imposed by parcel carriers.
New technological developments in software will increase the way address quality can be used by your organization. One such technique is designing software using COM technology, which makes it much easier to integrate the address management tools inside a proprietary database or application.
Another development is the acceptance of various data exchange formats, which allow applications to freely share common elements of data in a standardized format.
Additional types of data sets are becoming available, which also increases the effectiveness of your address quality efforts. For example, the Postal Service has release data under the title DPV. In addition to address correction using CASS-certified software, DPV takes address quality a step further by validating the actual existence of the record being processed. Since the DPV looks deeper than just a range of street numbers, this data has great benefits to shippers.
Another type of data set becoming more common allows for the validation of international addresses. With more and more commerce being conducted outside our borders, the value of international address management tools continues to grow.
With the Postal Service handling over 40 million change of addresses per year, mailers and shippers benefit greatly by having real-time access to this move data. Sending mail or packages to persons or businesses who are no longer at an address wastes money, materials and goodwill. Updating your data by processing your addresses before you mail or ship is the preferred solution and that's possible without delay using the technology of the Internet.
As always, organizations purchase software primarily to increase productivity and to save money. The future of mailing industry software is to increase the ways a mail center manager can use these products to provide a healthy return on investment. www.satorisoftware.com/mail