Mail-center managers familiar with the so-called ââ⬚¬Åâ¬Å"digital mail centerââ⬚¬ââ❠are also familiar with its limitations: lack of confidentiality, recipientsââ⬚¬ââ¬Å¾¢ lack of choice and the systemââ⬚¬ââ¬Å¾¢s inability to handle non-uniform mail streams.

The real issue: A digital mail center simultaneously does too much and too little. As to ââ⬚¬Åâ¬Å"too much,ââ⬚¬ââ❠opening and scanning the contents of 100% of incoming paper mail is enormously wasteful ââ⬚¬ââ¬â❠much of the scanned material is never read by its intended recipients. Plus, even if non-First Class mail is discarded before scanning, a great deal of what does get scanned still goes unread.

As to ââ⬚¬Åâ¬Å"too little,ââ⬚¬ââ❠digital mail-center processes are generally not versatile enough to identify and then forward paper mail exactly where, in what form or when it is wanted. They also handle only one category well ââ⬚¬ââ¬Å" transactional mail ââ⬚¬ââ¬Å" and have difficulty with documents that are not uniform like standard bill-payment envelopes.

Fortunately, a new technology fills in the gaps that digital mail centers donââ⬚¬ââ¬Å¾¢t address, while providing enterprises significant cost savings, increased efficiency and improved environmental-impact performance.

Internet-Powered Postal Mail is a new and extremely useful component of any digital-mail system that handles all mail streams:
1. Transactional mail (bills, invoices and other high-volume uniform mail streams);
2. Advertising mail (which may or may not be culled in the mail-center, but is rarely if ever handled by a digital mail-center system); and
3. Individually addressed employee or departmental mail requiring a recipient to decide what to do with the item
In addition, Internet-Powered Postal Mail is the only form of digital mail that can process individually addressed mail and present it to addressees for them to decide how it should be processed.

Giving Users Choices
Internet-Powered Postal Mail is an entirely new concept in mail digitization, and the system is surprisingly simple. First, all incoming mail and interoffice mail is inducted into the Internet-Powered Postal Mail system. Induction includes affixing a unique bar code to each sealed mail piece, weighing it, and then scanning the front and back of it for a high-resolution color image. In low-volume environments, envelopes are scanned on manually operated equipment; in high-volume environments, envelopes are scanned on high-speed, camera-augmented sorters, with irregularly shaped pieces imaged on flatbed scanners or other appropriate equipment. Parcels are generally photographed by digital camera. As part of envelope scanning, software identifies the sender and recipient blocks, which are converted into computer-compatible text via OCR. Software then matches the text to known recipients while system operators manually match mail pieces with unknown recipients. Images of the still-sealed envelopes and metadata are then routed to recipients by email and placed in recipientsââ⬚¬ââ¬Å¾¢ secure online accounts.

As in a conventional mail-center, mail addressed to general mailboxes or to ex-employees is routed to designated managers for handling ââ⬚¬ââ¬â❠not via manual lookup and interoffice mail transport, but electronically via automated database rules. Likewise, operators handle ambiguous recipient names as they would in a conventional mail-centerââ⬚¬ââ¬ââfor example, by routing an envelope image to the correct John Smith based on department, or return address. While these activities are occurring, inducted mail is stored temporarily, pending instructions from recipients as to how to handle the physical mailpieces.

Unlike digital-mail systems, each envelope remains sealed until the recipient employee grants permission to open it. Automatic rules can also apply ââ⬚¬ââ¬â❠e.g., open all envelopes appearing to be invoice payments. Thus, confidential documents such as legal correspondence and HIPAA information remain confidential.

In a typical Internet-Powered Postal Mail implementation, recipients are presented with the following choices:
· Forward to someone else in the enterprise
· Forward to another recipient or location (e.g., to a colleague or to oneself if a telecommuter)
· Deliver through the existing interoffice mail system ââ⬚¬ââ¬â❠a feature called ââ⬚¬Åâ¬Å"To My Deskââ⬚¬âââ
· Shred
· Recycle
· Archive
· Open-and-Scan to create a PDF of the envelope contents

With the click of a mouse, recipients indicate their choice regarding each envelope and mail is processed accordingly, either manually or via automation. In the case of scanned documents, recipients are alerted when their orders are ready to be downloaded, either individually or in bulk, from a password-protected website.

Case Study: a Fortune 100 Enterprise
Implementation of Internet-Powered Postal Mail at a Fortune 100 enterprise over the past two years has proved that the system substantially reduces the amount of paper flowing through an enterprise. It also reduces:
· The number of touches that a document experiences
· The capital and operating costs of transporting those documents
· The total lifetime cost of managing each document.

Because Internet-Powered Postal Mail permits managers to track what happens to each mail piece, enterprises can understand their mail streams with perfect clarityââ⬚¬ââ¬ââsomething they have never had beforeââ⬚¬ââ¬ââfrom the moment each envelope is inducted until the moment it is disposed of by, or delivered to, the recipient. Internet-Powered Postal Mail thus enables a total Mail Information Management System.

While most mail center managers have excellent visibility into outbound mail volumes, they often have little awareness of the total cost of inbound mail. With highly granular insight managers can use simple analytical tools to discover and address unexpected cost centers, reveal streams of personal mail irrelevant to the enterprise, monitor mail volumes by department in real time, and identify ââ⬚¬Åâ¬Å"best practicesââ⬚¬ââ❠for handling inbound mail as well as low performers in need of additional training.
The Mail Information Management System is a powerful tool that immediately reveals both how employees handle their mail and how the entire organization handles paper. In time, it is likely that the percentage of mail requested on paper will decline, as mail recipients become more comfortable with Internet-Powered Postal Mail. This creates enormous cost savings throughout the enterprise, including:
· reduced mail-delivery, filing, storage, archiving, and retrieval costs
· fewer commute trips just to check the mail
· reduced courier expenses
· reduced document scanning on inefficient devices
· elimination of distributed scanning equipment
· reduction in private express statute payments

The Right Action at the Right Time, Every Time
As more enterprises move toward paperless operations, Internet-Powered Postal Mail allows the digitization or destruction of mailed documents before they enter the workflow. It also ensures 100% accurate delivery on the rare occasions that recipients need information on paper. Without Internet-Powered Postal Mail, these documents typically are photocopied, filed and retrieved many timesââ⬚¬ââ¬ââonly to be digitized on the way out the door, en route to long-term storage or destruction. Because estimates of the lifetime cost of a paper document range from $20 to $90, Internet-Powered Postal Mail, like digital mail, drastically reduces enterprise document-management costs.

In addition, rather than have scanning done throughout the enterprise by high-cost labor using slow equipment, Internet-Powered Postal Mail centralizes scanning in the mail center using high-efficiency equipment and economical labor. And because most paper never leaves the mail center, recycling is centralized there, saving labor and energy while ensuring that recyclable paper does not end up in trash bins and that confidential information isnââ⬚¬ââ¬Å¾¢t exposed to prying eyes.

Internet-Powered Postal Mail thus combines the best of the conventional mail center and the digital mail center. For the majority of mail not wanted on paper, it represents a significant step toward paperless operations.

Adam Weiss is Vice President of Business Development at Earth Class Mail Corporation.