The first question you may be asking is "who needs a mail accounting system?" The answer: entities that need to break out postage expense to charge it back to a cost center or department need a simple method. I have seen companies with manual logs next to their postage meter where they write down how much each department spent. This is clearly antiquated, inaccurate and time consuming. The good news is that there are many ways to track postage expense through your mailing system and some of them will be at no charge or included with your machine. The goal of this article is for you to understand all of your options around mail accounting to find the best fit for your organization.

There are three main types of accounting systems to consider.
1. Mail Machine Accounting Systems
2. PC Based Shipping and Accounting Systems
3. Multi Meter Accounting Systems

Mail Machine Accounting Systems Just about every mailing system on the market today comes with some basic mail tracking. This would allow the user to break down postage expense to a set number of cost centers (Typically 10-50). At the end of a period of time, you can request a balance from the system. It will give you the totals that can be either taken off the screen, printed on a meter tape or an envelope.

Most mailing system providers will also give you expanded options (For a charge) that will allow you to do much more. Here are some items to consider:

· Increasing the Number of Accounts Most providers will allow you to increase the number of departments your system can track. As a rule of thumb, the larger the mailing system, the more accounts it can track. Typical expansion options will be between 50-5,000 cost centers.
· Transaction Level Detail What happens if a department questions the $1,123.34 postage charge you added to the general ledger for the month of May? With the included accounting option, it just gives a total at the end of the month. Many companies need to be able to see every piece of mail that was run through their system so they can back up what was run. These systems work the same way but will let you access the level of detail required.
· Scanning Some entities will have very long cost center numbers that are too cumbersome to key enter. With a connected scanner this becomes faster and more accurate.
· Information Access You may not want to spend time trying to view charges on the small screen of your mailing system. Vendors will provide you options of how you can access your data.
o Web Based Access This is my favorite because it can be generated where and when you want it. This is great if the manager wants to view accounting information in their office, far away from the mailing system.
o PC Connection There can be a cable that connects the mailing system to a close by pc or laptop.
o Printer These printers are provided by the manufacturer and allow you to generate reports directly from the mailing system.

PC Based Shipping and Accounting Systems These systems allow the user to ship and account for UPS, FEDEX and mail expense in one place. The software is loaded onto the PC and there is a direct connection to the mailing system. PC based Shipping and Accounting Systems can track an unlimited number of accounts and provide transaction level detail that can go back for years. Another advantage is that the user can easily compare rates between the carriers, potentially lowering mail and shipping costs.

If there is the need to do multiple carrier accounting, this type of system is your best bet but it has some drawbacks over higher end Mail Machine Accounting Systems that we will discuss below:
· Slower Since the accounting data is entered on the PC instead of on the mailing systems control panel, it is slower, can involve more keystrokes and a lot of running back and forth to get all of your mail processed.

· More Complex When you put a PC at the end of the mailing system, it adds a complexity. A new job or batch needs to be created, class information needs to be entered and then the information needs to be sent to the mail machine to start processing. When you are done with that department's mail, you need to close the job or batch. This makes it difficult for casual users to walk up and operator the system.

· Potentially Less Mail Piece Visibility From my experience, for class and piece level detail to show up in the accounting system it needs to be entered into the PC to rate the item. This is a separate rating engine and independent from the rates on the mailing system. What happens when a batch of mail comes down from a department that is multiple classes and sizes? Because of the time to process on the PC, many customers will rate each piece on the mailing system where it is fast and easy. At the end of the transaction, all the accounting system will know is the total charge and number of pieces and not the detail of how the items were sent.

Multi Meter Accounting Systems If you need to keep track of the accounting expenses of multiple meters at your location or across the country, these systems make this work easy. They typically have a central database that multiple meters will access. Meters are connected in various methods based on the vendor and type of system connecting. Here are the different connection options:
· Directly through the mailing system control panel
· Through a dedicated terminal connected to the mailing system.
· With a PC connected to the mailing system.

The true power of these systems is the central control and visibility. Accounts can be entered on the central hub and pushed down to one or multiple meters. Activity can be monitored in real time (Or near real time) and postage refills can be scheduled automatically. Many companies with set up custom surcharges or fees for different services performed that can be assigned to mail as it is run or keyed in off line from the mailing system.

For complex accounting applications, there is no substitute for this type of system. The downside is the cost to set them up. If you have basic accounting needs but have multiple meters, check out what type of information you can get with web access through a Mail Machine Accounting System. These platforms can typically show you cost center transactions for your different meters. The main areas you may miss out would be the power of the reporting, how it consolidates the information and how account numbers need to be entered on the mailing system vs. pushed from a central database.

Conclusion There is no one right system for all customers. It depends on the detail required, the carriers needing to be tracked and the number of sites that need to be consolidated. Hopefully this article provides a foundation of the options to consider making sure you are getting the right system for your application.

Adam Lewenberg, CMDSS is President of Postal Advocate Inc. with over 19 years of experience in the mail industry. Their mission is to help entities with large numbers of locations reduce mail related expenses, and make their spends easy to manage. He can be reached at (617)372-8653 or