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Feb. 27 2013 02:54 PM

There are quite a few differences between managing a corporate mail center and managing a university mail center. In my experience, getting your arms around a university is much more difficult than at a corporation. You need to target just a few lynchpins to make changes in the corporate world; a vice president here and a director there, and you have permission to make a process change. Not so at a university where each college within the university operates its own kingdom. I have been in plenty of meetings at the corporate level where all the major players were in the same room at the same time. Decisions are much easier when everyone is located under one roof - figuratively and literally. I cannot imagine being able to do that at the university level. In addition to communication differences, one of the biggest culture shocks between managing a corporate mail center and managing a university mail center is funding.

There are two sides to every accounting ledger: the income side and the expense side. At the corporate level, mail centers are usually on the expense side. I understand that within larger, corporate accounting, each department has their own ledgers, but generally speaking, management looks at mail operations as an expense. You are there as a manager to control that expense. You need to meet the mailing needs of the company while keeping expenses down. The ideal of every mail service center is to have the correct equipment, processes, vendors and personnel in place so a small number of people can handle a large amount of mail. The same goes for the university mail center. But at the university level, in addition to controlling expenses, you have to be self-funded as well; at least some of us operate that way. Some universities and colleges are partially self-funded; some are operating strictly on the expense side. When my supervisor sent out a question about funding to a group of university mail center managers, he received too many funding structures to count. What's it like to be self-funded while trying to reduce postage cost for the university as a whole? It feels a bit like the shell game. You know the shell game, right? The one where you tried to hide the pea so the other person cannot find it? Yeah, that one.

Typically, your message to departments at the corporate level is pretty simple: Drive down the postage cost by taking advantage of Postal Service discounts. Sometimes those discounts involve volume; sometimes it's addressing, and sometimes its envelope design. Each department would like the mail center to help them drive down the cost of each mail piece while maintaining the proper delivery date range. So where does the funding come from? Some universities will drive down the postage cost using Presort as the shell and the pea. They take the difference between the Presort price and the First Class price to help fund their operation. Some centers place a surcharge on every piece that is metered. At the University of Texas we have developed another way that helps the university save money while allowing mail centers to self-fund. In order to receive all the postage discounts available the mailing must be prepared meeting certain postal regulations. It takes time and equipment to do that. Some mail centers can charge for services such as CASS and NCOA certifications, high speed addressing and barcoding to lower the postage cost per piece. Then they can return the full postage discounts to the customer but charge them for the other services. These service charges allow the mail center to be self-funding and the department to save money on postage. Even when departments pay the fees for these services, the postage discounts on large mailings offset that cost. Converting First-Class mailers to Presort, Standard or Non-Profit mailers is the key to self-funding for many universities mail centers.

Sitting down with mail center managers that self-fund is a bit like sitting down with a group of small business owners. Each manager is trying to come up with the right formula of raising funds while providing the right services to his or her customers. After all, the money going to mail service centers from departments are still university funds. As confusing as the self-funding shell game is, it can be played in such a way that the university is assured its mail is being handled in a professional way and every postal discount is being applied; and in the end, your university mail center operates at no cost to the institution.
Jim Guza is Mail Services Manager at the University of Texas at Austin.