Dec. 29 2006 12:10 PM

For most companies, shipping and receiving isn't a core business; it's simply a supporting function a means to an end. However, the ability to get documents and parcels into the hands of the right people at the right time is critical. When companies fail to do so, valuable documents are misplaced; critical deadlines for projects, proposals and contracts are missed; and clients, customers and vendors lose confidence in your ability to deliver. Package management can make or break a company.


The Life of a Package

Most companies haven't invested in this supporting function, and those that have usually have invested in a standalone system for inbound or outbound packages not a solution that provides a complete view of the package life cycle (see diagram) from originator to final recipient.


A Web-based package management solution facilitates and streamlines internal communication regarding package status. This type of solution provides a central point (the desktop) where information about the package can be compiled and accessed. Critical information includes the sender's name, the recipient's name and address, the carrier and the delivery schedule, the cost of the shipment and where that cost should be charged (to a customer or an internal project or division). In addition, a Web-based package management solution can provide to-the-minute updates of package status.


Let's look at how investments in package management can affect internal communication and business success. Call it "The Last Mile," a story about the perils of getting the package into the hands of the right person, on time. The scene is a small- to medium-sized local company with multiple offices around the city and clients and vendors nationwide.


The Players

Employees throughout an enterprise have a role in the life cycle of a package.


Leading Roles

  • The Mail Center Manager Usually harried and overworked, this unsung hero is responsible for managing and tracking incoming and outgoing packages. Often, he's dealing with requests and questions from multiple employees.


  • The Average Employee The average employee's needs are simple she wants to receive packages on time and get critical documents and parcels into the hands of her clients, customers and colleagues.


    Supporting Roles

  • The Company Accountant A dedicated number-cruncher who must determine if carrier charges are appropriate and track down the department, customer or cost center responsible for paying.


  • The Purchasing Agent Needs to know when goods are received and will then match these shipments against purchase orders.


  • The Customer Service Representative When customers call to find out package status, this employee must have the answers.


    First, let's consider how this drama might play out between the leading actors when no package management solution is in place.


    Take One, Scene One: The Outbound Package

    It's 9:30 AM, Tuesday morning. Average Employee is at her desk reviewing her to-do list for the day. Her phone rings. It's another of the enterprise's employees in a nearby city, and he's angry.


    Angry Colleague: Where are the contracts? You promised you'd have them here by 9 AM.


    Average Employee: I sent them yesterday using a next-morning service. You should have them. ·


    Angry Colleague: Well, I don't. Can you find out where they are? I need them for my meeting at 10 AM.


    Average Employee Calls Mail Center Manager

    Average Employee: I shipped a package to my colleague yesterday and he never received it what gives?


    Mail Center Manager: Do you have a tracking number handy?


    Average Employee: No. I gave the package to the mail center assistant and he took care of it.


    Mail Center Manager: [Sighing] I'll go and check the logs.


    Mail Center Manager begins checking the handwritten logs he uses to track all of the incoming and outgoing packages. The logs are confusing because Mail Center Assistant, who is new, has been tracking the packages inconsistently sometimes by carrier and sometimes by date of shipment.


    Mail Center Manager finally locates the carrier and tracking information. He calls and finds that the package was signed for in the other location's mail center at 8:30 AM today. He calls the Angry Colleague's office and is connected to the mail center. Turns out the package is on the office mail cart, which is making the morning's delivery rounds.


    The scene ends with Average Employee calling Angry Colleague. It's 9:45. He's already left for his meeting. She just lost the trust of a colleague and the company's shot at a valuable contract.


    Take One, Scene Two: The Inbound Package

    Later that same day, around 2 PM, Average Employee gets a call from another colleague at yet another of the enterprise's offices.


    Other Colleague: Are you ready to review those documents?


    Average Employee: What documents?


    Other Colleague: The ones I shipped to you yesterday. ABC Carrier says they delivered the package this morning. Didn't you get it yet?


    Average Employee: Not that I know of. Let me check. I'll call you back.


    Average Employee searches her desk and her in-box still no package. She calls Mail Center Manager.


    Average Employee: Did I receive an ABC package yesterday from Colleague?


    Mail Center Manager: I'll check the log. Do you have a tracking number?


    Average Employee: Nope. I'll get back to you.


    Average Employee calls her colleague for the tracking number. At the same time, Mail Center Manager begins checking the handwritten logs he uses to track incoming packages. As with the outbound packages, Mail Center Assistant has used an inconsistent approach to logging incoming packages.


    Average employee calls Mail Center Manager with the tracking number. Mail Center Manager logs on to the carrier's Web site and checks the package status. He is interrupted several times by calls and emails from other employees with questions about carrier costs and the status of packages. Mail Center Manager finally finds the status of Average Employee's package. It arrived this morning and was signed for by Mail Center Assistant.


    Mail Center Manager: You signed for a package for Average Employee this morning. What did you do with it?


    Mail Center Assistant: I took it up to her office and left it on her desk. She wasn't around so I just left it.


    The scene ends when Average Employee and Mail Center Manager find the package on the desk of an administrative assistant in another department. Mail Center Assistant had delivered the package to the wrong desk. Total time elapsed two hours. Average Employee's colleague has left for the day. An afternoon of valuable work time has been wasted.


    Take Two: The Package Management Solution

    Now, consider how these scenes play out when a Web-based package management solution is given a starring role. You'll see there's more action, less dialogue and better results.


    It's 8:30 AM, Tuesday morning. Average Employee is at her desk. Her phone rings. It's another of the enterprise's employees in a nearby city, and he's angry.


    Angry Colleague: Where are the contracts? You promised you'd have them here by 9 AM.


    Average Employee: I sent them yesterday using a next-morning service. Stay on the line a second... I'll check the status.


    Average Employee goes online and accesses her company's package management system. She is able to access the system and see all packages that she requested to be shipped within the last day and the last week. She can also search for packages based on order number and other package information.


    Average Employee: The package was delivered just a few minutes ago and was signed for by someone named Bob Smith.


    Colleague [No Longer Angry]: Great, that's my administrative assistant. I'll go down and get it right now.


    Meanwhile, Mail Center Manager is training his new assistant, and the package management system is automatically sending out e-mails, notifying employees of packages received and delivered.


    The afternoon scene never even takes place  one look at her computer tells Average Employee who signed for the package. She finds it and reviews the documents with her colleague as scheduled.


    Behind the Scenes

    Not only does a package management solution make life easier for the leading players in this drama, it also increases the efficiency of supporting players. The accountant can access the system to determine appropriate charge-backs. The purchasing agent can go online to check for arriving shipments and PO numbers. The service representative can check delivery status immediately while on the phone with customers.


    A key aspect of an integrated package management system is the ability to provide a view of package status to both the sender and intended recipient of the package. A sender will be interested in the status of packages she has requested be delivered. A pending recipient will be interested in packages that have been addressed to him. A package management solution that supports both outbound shipments as well as inbound receiving and internal delivery can provide both views to the employees of a company.


    In addition, systems of this nature often allow companies to save the expense associated with external shipping carriers by routing intra-company packages through internal delivery agents. A package management solution can provide the same type of tracking status that often causes people to use external carriers.


    The previous examples show that managing the status and information regarding packages, documents and parcels should not be ignored. The costs associated with delayed or missing parcels can be disastrous. Investing in managing these "support" functions makes more than good "cents."


    Ray Mather is senior product manager, Systems Products, for Pitney Bowes Distribution Solutions. He has more than 25 years experience in tracking systems and related technologies. For more information please contact him at

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