In part one of this series, we covered the many factors that are creating new challenges for inbound parcel management. First is the dramatic increase in the volume of inbound parcels that organizations now handle. The Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index projects a 20% increase in parcel shipping globally by 2018.

Much of this is due to the growth in e-commerce, as more than 7,000 brick and mortar stores are expected to close by the end of the year. With this e-commerce growth comes growth in e-commerce returns, an ever-increasing challenge for inbound parcel management.

Organizations of all sizes have also seen an enormous increase in employee purchases sent to work addresses. In many households, no one is home all day, so what may seem a courtesy is pretty much a necessity, especially for high-value items.

Finally, regulatory compliance has added a more serious level of responsibility for organizations taking receipt of all kinds of shipments, from medical records to financial and legal documents.

Technology to the Rescue

To answer these challenges, a variety of inbound parcel management solutions have come to market. At their core is flexible software that connects to a wide range of tools that speed up the inbound process. These include: handheld scanners and signature pads; wireless scanners and belt printers; barcode and label printer PCs; and smartphones and tablets running Android or iOS operating systems.

Some software can work with devices that use cellular connectivity, so you can track people and items in motion, and you don’t have to rely on vendors for the networking functionality. These solutions continue to be further enhanced and developed by manufacturers to meet new inbound management challenges as they come along.

Flexibility Is Key

The new software can be deployed three ways. It can reside on your servers on premise; it can be hosted remotely by an outside service; or it can be accessed as a software as a service (SaaS) application residing in the cloud.

The on-premise option can be appealing to financial and healthcare organizations who want to manage data privacy themselves. The hosted choice saves an organization the investment in additional resources, as the hosting vendor provides all IT support and security. The cloud-based SaaS option is the easiest to deploy and the most economical in most cases.

With SaaS, you pay for services as a subscription based on functionality. It’s attractive to organizations that want to conserve server space and be up and running immediately, because all applications and databases reside in the cloud. SaaS is also less expensive to maintain, because the SaaS provider takes care of upgrading them and supporting users, so the organization doesn’t need any additional IT staff involved. In addition, cloud-based SaaS solutions let users readily access applications and data from the mail center, on the loading dock or at any location where they have a mobile device and wireless or cellular service.

No matter how you deploy your software, inbound parcel management solutions also have the flexibility to fit your exact needs.

Know Your Needs

To match today’s inbound parcel management technology to your situation, the first step is to identify your needs. Start by asking some important questions:

  • How much sender and recipient information do you want to gather to make your job easier?
  • What sender and recipient information is important to the organization?
  • What information is key to servicing internal and external customers?
  • What data is needed to satisfy tight compliance standards?
  • What kind of reporting is required?
  • What information will you need if a delivery is called into question?
  • What do your workflows look like today?
  • Would you like a different workflow that would improve your day-to-day operations?

Workflow considerations can include the need to add barcodes to packages received without them. This can point to the need for label printer or wireless belt printers to create barcode labels, for example. From a workflow standpoint, you may also want mobile devices that are cellular rather than wireless, so you can both transmit data and contact and track employees. One example is a hospital with central receiving that dispatches up to eight drivers to a range of locations. Their cellular connectivity allows them to re-route drivers if a destination changes once the truck is dispatched. Cellular connectivity is also very useful for interoffice parcel tracking.

Not surprisingly, needs vary by type of organization. For example, a law firm may need a precise time and date stamp for when something is received. Attorneys also want to track the chain of custody for items moving through the firm. In legal, financial and real estate activities, documents must be tracked and delivered in a timely fashion.

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations need to know the time of day a parcel arrived and the purchase order number associated with it. Medical files issued by hospitals, labs, and physicians need to be accurately tracked and accounted for, following strict requirements to safeguard patient privacy.

Colleges and universities face a tsunami of inbound parcels ordered by students. Here, the challenge is to get the package to the recipient as quickly as possible. Space is at a premium, and security is another primary concern. Students are also likely to track when their packages arrive at the school, putting even more pressure on the mail center when they receive packages to notify students that they can pick them up as quickly possible.

A Range of Benefits

Against this wide scope of inbound parcel management needs, technology can deliver an impressive variety of benefits. Software and handheld scanners ensure that packages are handled quickly and efficiently. You can gather data and capture signatures, and document it all securely in a digitized, closed loop process. All information is available for future reference and easily searchable in a digital environment. There are no manual logbooks, no creating Excel files, and, therefore, no manual data entry. The chain of custody is automatically recorded and you can easily look up tracking information by name, tracking number, date, or any other specs you can choose. Since all data is electronic, it is sharable and scalable.

Most importantly, the new technology eliminates the need for the old manual process using log books, pencil, and paper. In that “system,” individuals had to write down 20+-digit tracking numbers, carrier, and recipient names and dates, then generate an email manually to every recipient. The likelihood of errors was high and the process is extremely time-consuming.

We recently worked with a leading information technology, consulting, and business process services company whose main hub office received a minimum of 50 “trackable” parcels a day. Their cloud-based solution gave them location and chain of custody information, combining software, barcode technology, and handheld devices to automatically log the date and time of receipt.

This solution also records each time an envelope changes hands, capturing signatures and tracking the entire delivery process. The company reduced logging time by two-thirds, and their office manager reports, “We can now say with confidence, the package was delivered to the recipient.” Benefits even extend to the scheduled import of employee lists and contacts, keeping them updated in a completely automated fashion.

Today’s challenge is to manage the inbound parcel environment more efficiently — and more effectively. Technology is providing the capabilities to make this possible. And with cloud-based SaaS solutions, even the smallest of organizations can afford the most advanced solutions on the market today.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll explore the growing expectations of consumers and businesses with respect to inbound shipping.

Tom Hazel is North American Channel Director, Pitney Bowes Shipping Solutions, where he is responsible for managing the Distribution Solutions & Carrier Management product portfolio for the United States and Canadian field organizations and Inside Sales Channels.

Editor's Note: This originally appeared in our sister publication, PARCEL, but as we know mailers are also seeing an increase in their inbound mail and packages, we thought it was pertinent to this audience, as well.