Miranda Reeves1small_0

Millions of mail pieces are printed, stuffed into envelopes, stamped and circulated around the world everyday -- at enormous cost to businesses. No wonder companies are taking a hard look at their mail systems, determined to stamp out errors and insert innovative tools and technologies as a way of minimizing mailing costs and staying compliant with regulatory agencies.

If your company is seeking opportunities to streamline operations and cut costs, look closely at the major pain points in your mail system. Does your system miss documents? Damage documents, requiring reprocessing? Deliver envelopes to the wrong parties? Sort mail inefficiently so that potential postage discounts are left on the table?

If so, there is good news. New track-and-trace technologies can solve these problems. Let's cite an example involving a large insurance third-party administrator. Insurance companies operate in a highly regulated industry and are required to maintain absolute integrity in their print and mail operations. The administrator wanted an automated, real-time, mailroom solution that would eliminate as many manual steps as possible in order to ensure total integrity.

Automated System Ensures Mail Integrity

The company installed a cutting-edge output process management system coupled with a sophisticated mail tracking and management solution and intelligent mail barcode technology to drive 100 percent document-level integrity. The automated system has built-in checks from receipt of job until documents are mailed. When a job is brought into the system, it is immediately recorded as a production job. A 2D barcode with unique information is assigned to each particular mailpiece. When the barcode is assigned, a tracking file is created and sent to the Ironsides camera installed on the output side of the sorter. The system ensures that no job can ever be printed twice or missed entirely. If a print jam occurs, for example, tools within software allow the system to recover and continue printing.

Every document is tracked as it moves through to the insertion equipment. If a piece of paper is not inserted properly, software flags it for recovery. The system also insures that every piece is in sequence. If a jam or misread occurs, the software registers that the item is different from the control file and diverts the piece out of the insertion stream. At the end of the job, the camera component sends back a file noting which pieces need to be reprinted and automatically generates the reprint.

The reprinted item is sent back to the insertion step and either automatically reinserted, run through and checked off against the original control file or manually scanned and inserted. A report then verifies that for Major Job XXX, for example, 999 pieces ran successfully on the first pass; five were reported as being re-sent through the insertion equipment or manually scanned. When a job file is closed, the client is assured of 100% accuracy of every mailpiece throughout the entire print/mail process.

The company is now protected against noncompliance claims and fines. Should an investigation become necessary because a recipient claims he or she did not receive the document, the company can prove that the document was produced and mailed.

Consequences associated with improperly addressed mail are not only costly, but they can damage a company's brand. In a highly publicized case in October 2011, the national media reported that one large bank's had sent the wrong statements to 30,000 customers in South Carolina. Ouch! No company wants to be placed in this embarrassing, and potentially actionable, position.

Solutions Fit Most Sizes

What can you do, especially if you are not a megabank, but a small healthcare provider, for example?

Quite a bit, in fact. The game has changed significantly from the standpoint of affordability. In the past, smaller companies managed their mail systems manually, often working from spreadsheets. Companies could not afford the high price tag on robust, sophisticated, automated systems. Today, however, mailing solutions with track-and-trace and other cost-saving functions, once the purview of a few industry giants, have become affordable for smaller businesses, especially with "managed" services and cloud delivery.

Managed delivery, where cost is based on a usage model and front-end costs are minimized, is putting powerful technology into the hands of a much larger range of mail shops. Companies that do not typically have the IT and software expertise to implement sophisticated solutions can access such applications through a third-party provider that, in essence, becomes an extension of their IT organization. The provider supplies the server, manages the operating system and hardware and performs other services that allow mailers to focus on their core responsibilities.

As managed mail systems begin to be delivered over the cloud, customers will gain other advantages in terms of connectivity to other services, such as document composition.

In net, it no longer costs millions to put a solution in place. I recommend that you start small and grow. Start with some track and trace options and add capabilities over time. You can get big bang for your buck by putting selected software in place to ensure you are doing everything as perfectly as possible and are tapping every cent of savings that your budget will allow. Your savings will likely cover the costs of your investment in a short period of time.

Companies can quickly recover their investments after implementing an automated system. For example, one of our customers, within just a week after installing an automated workflow solution saved several million dollars in postage and paid back their investment six times over.

Miranda Reeves is the Senior Product Manager at Ricoh Production Print Solutions (Ricoh). Focusing on InfoPrint ProcessDirector Software, Ms. Reeves is responsible for the product marketing of the company's leading software products and works primarily on developing and launching new initiatives to market.

Prior to Ricoh, Ms. Reeves held positions at Seagate Technology and Epsilon Data Management. At these companies, as with Ricoh, she worked with engineering and executive teams to design leading products that drive real value to users. She has also been a software engineer and team lead for IBM's iSeries print software products.

Ms. Reeves holds a Master of Business Administration from Regis University and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science from the Colorado School of Mines.