We live in a digital age. The Internet—and more recently the Cloud—have made profound and fundamental changes to our lives. Those changes are most apparent in business. From ordering products and services to communicating and interacting with customers, a world of commerce without borders is the new reality.

In a digital and connected world, mailers need to adapt and evolve to meet changing needs and business requirements. One big shift for mailers is the growing number of parcels and flats they send as part of their normal daily operations. A higher shipping volume is one of the new realities in the mail center.

As you know, increasing shipping volumes have spurred more carrier options and rising costs. Therefore, it’s no surprise most mailers are trying to figure out if they indeed are taking the optimal approach to their sending operations. So what should you do?

The first step in refining and optimizing your sending is to take a deep dive into your data. And thanks to the cloud, mailers have access to more data from more shared resources than ever before. Taking a good hard look at this data can help you optimize every aspect of your shipping operation—from negotiating with carriers, to streamlining your internal processes, to improving customer response, and relationships. Let’s look at these areas, one by one.

Data on Carrier Performance

Capabilities among carriers are changing. For example, the USPS data points are getting richer, and their delivery time performance is improving dramatically. Review all your data to see how each carrier performed in 2015. Looking at delivery performance against pricing will show you how carriers compete on value. Use this performance data to refine your carrier mix and negotiate prices with each.

Data on Operations

Whether we’re talking about products or documents, the time from client request to physical delivery is critical. Look at the data to find opportunities to streamline different phases of your internal processes. Are there fixable delays in the order picking, document printing or retrieval processes? One operational area that can often be shortened is the amount of time between when an item is ready to ship and when it actually gets picked up. You can save time here by working with carriers for pickup times or windows that fit your operations best. Setting up a 10 a.m. pickup time typically gains you half a day or more compared to end of day pickups.

Data Impacting Customer Relationships

Increasingly, carriers are providing tools that help you keep your customers informed about the status of shipments. For example, the USPS offers tracking tools that help recipients receive notifications, provide delivery instructions, and even reschedule deliveries. Ensure your customer communications provide awareness of the tools they can use to enhance their recipient’s experience.

Crunching the Numbers

With recent shipping rate increases, it is critical to have the right carrier mix and are sending the right flat or parcel with the right vendor. Yet in order to do that, you have to be able to compare the data from multiple carrier systems.

So how do you analyze all this data to truly understand the delivery performance of your mailing and shipping operation? You don’t need a Ph.D., but you will need a lot of time to go through the data and map it out. Each carrier offers software that looks at their individual company’s performance. Unfortunately, the different applications make it difficult to do comparisons among all the carriers.

The good news is the cloud is making it possible for mailers to access multi-carrier software solutions once exclusive to large enterprises. These new shipping solutions are being deployed in a SaaS, or software as a service, model where software is licensed on a subscription basis and centrally hosted in the cloud. This approach eliminates the need for heavy IT support and investment and makes it easy for businesses to initiate the sending process from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection.

It is important to carefully examine the data to understand carrier shipping performance in your mailing operation. At the same time, it is wise to begin taking steps to optimize your operational efficiency. Ultimately, you want to streamline your shipping processes as much as possible, and look at all your data through the same lens, in order to make it work better for you.

Enabling New Value and Benefits

What about your legacy systems and equipment? There’s a lot of interest today in the Internet of Things (IoT). This refers to devices connected via the Internet. These objects are able to collect and transmit data in real time and can be controlled remotely. All of this happens through the cloud, which can be public, private, or a hosted service. The IoT creates a two-way link that can unlock a host of services and benefits, including remote diagnostics, usage trends which can prompt recommendations for improvement, automatic supply orders or refills, and trend analysis. New technology is evolving to connect even older devices without Wi-Fi hardware to the IoT.

In conclusion, you want all the information you can get about the mailing and shipping happening throughout your sending operation. And the more information you have digital access to, the more control you will enjoy. This will make it easier for you to control costs and simplify an increasingly complex sending process. Today, the cloud is enabling mailers to access the information they need to run an efficient, effective, and cost conscious operation. We live in a digital age and mailers need to embrace the cloud to optimize their sending processes.

Patrick Brand is Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global SMB Products and Business Strategy, Pitney Bowes.