Recently, we were asked how long it is necessary to retain data. This, of course, begged the question, what data? The answer in all cases is: all the files that would be needed to recreate all aspects of a job.
Job data is more than just the mail.dat or mail.xml file that’s uploaded to the USPS. Think through all the parts of producing a job: what would be needed to review or recreate it? In a LEAN process, a mail producer has documented its processes and therefore has the ability to rebuild a job – and that starts with the original data file. In turn, there would be versioned data files and a variety of reports and related documents. When there’s more segmentation and versioning of files, both the starting data file and the incremental files are needed.
Here are the documents that should be retained:
1. Original data file and all versions, including the final data file
2. Versioned copies of the printed matter
3. Presort, post-sort, ad logistics reports
4. Mail.dat or Mail.xml
5. If taking additional discounts associated with a promotion, a picture of the finished mail piece as proof of what was mailed
6. NCOA certificates and DSF run reports
7. All correspondence with the client related to work order, piece proofs, and change approvals
8. All correspondence with the USPS regarding the pieces’ or mailing’s eligibility for the rate claimed or a promotion
9. All postage statements and supporting documents.
All the above should be produced or retained electronically and then compressed into an electronic job folder that can be easily restored. Computer storage is inexpensive, and archiving this information equates to a business insurance policy. The mail producer is accountable to both the client and the USPS, so a complete set of archived job data is both protection if the client questions the job, and a defense if there are problems with the USPS.
Speaking of the USPS, many mailers have encountered problems when undocumented mail or other errors are reported on the Mailer Scorecard. To research or defend against alleged errors, the mailer would need data that might go back 120 days or more. In case of an assessment, the easiest way to prove rate eligibility or postage payment is by showing the mail.dat submittal and scan events against those records. The mail.dat file includes piece level details, tray and sack information, and skid or container information. Scan events can show when scanning started and on how many machines the pieces were processed. Too many scans would suggest the pieces became “loop mail,” which could cause an assessment that would be refuted only if the mail producer had archived the relevant data.
How long should the mail producer keep data? The archived data should be retained and available for at least one year, but three years is recommended. To ensure its security, the archive should be encrypted and a copy stored off-site, perhaps on a cloud site.
In most cases, there might never be a need to retrieve archived data, but you never know. The USPS might investigate a complaint that a mailing wasn’t eligible for a rate, or a client might allege the mailing wasn’t properly prepared because response rates were poor, or a client simply needs a copy because their own data files have been corrupted. In these situations, the value of having complete archived data will be apparent.
Leo Raymond is Owner and Managing Director at Mailers Hub LLC. Tom Glassman is Services Engineer, Ricoh USA.