If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that people work everywhere. This will impact the future of mail because while documents still need to be generated, it is not efficient to do this when working out of your home, in small offices, in a flex office space, and without the proper equipment, staff, and expertise. There are new technology and services that can make this easy by either pushing mail to internal onsite production facilities or to third-party providers that can streamline your production needs. Let’s explore both options to give you a better understanding of what is available.

How the Services Work

There is typically a simple interface that connects the originator of the mail piece to onsite or offsite production mail facilities. Large repetitive jobs can be preset by the vendor so they are configured once and stored for the future. Other projects that could be anything from a single piece to hundreds of thousands and can be configured on demand and as needed with a simplified virtual print driver that can configure jobs easily.

To manage the production needs from many different types of documents and user requirements, the envelopes are standardized to a large single or double window to accommodate the destination and return address. This eliminates the need for preprinted envelopes being stored and managed. Also, if you have documents that do not conform to this type of address layout (for example, insurance documents) a cover sheet can then be created in the correct format to be added before the core document.

Since the mail is created through this electronic system, controls can be added that add value to the output. These include the following:

  • Mail Integrity: By placing 2D barcodes on each page, you can make sure the proper number of sheets are being inserted. This is especially important in variable page mailings like invoices or statements.
  • Address Validation: This ensures that each piece matches the USPS database.
  • Mail Automation: This speed items through the postal system.
  • Savings/Postal Discounts: By having items come out with USPS barcodes, in specific sort order to qualify for automation rates, or by consolidating higher volumes of mail and bringing to a presort service, you have access to greater savings and discounts (as shown in the chart in Figure 1).

  • Visibility/Mail Tracking: This provides full visibility to what has been mailed, including renderings of the final output and dates of delivery.
  • Multi-Channel Output: This allows for sending documents electronically via fax, text, or email. With email delivery, the documents could be attached, or there could be a secure web portal where the documents could be retrieved.
  • Historical archive lets you see past mailings for years to come.

The Virtual Print Driver

The key to making on-demand mail services work is the simplicity of the interface to share data and to define the job requirements. There are new virtual print drivers that can make this easy. When you go to print a document to your local printer, a dialog box comes up that lets you select what printer you want to use, how many copies, etc. The mailing virtual print driver works in the same way. When you hit print, you would select a virtual printer from this same menu. Once selected, a mailing screen would appear that would define how the item is to be prepared. Here are the main items that you would need to select:

  • Job name (if it was preset from previous mailings).
  • Where does the address appear that needs to show through the window of the envelope?
  • Is there a variable number of pages per document set (such as an invoice where someone gets a one-page document and the next customer receives three pages) and what is the item that changes per set to identify the end of one document and the start of the next?
  • Are there additional inserts/business reply envelopes that need to be added?
  • The size of the envelope that needs to be used.
  • Is the document to be printed in color or black and white?

Onsite or Offsite

One of the main decisions you will need to make is, do you have this work sent to an onsite production facility or do you use an outsource provider? To help answer those questions, here are some items to consider:

  • Do you have any internal production facilities that can process mail for the field locations? Do they have the proper equipment, technology, staff, and expertise? Are they able to process mail at automation rates and/or do you have a relationship with a presort service? Does your inserter have the ability to read barcodes to insert variable page documents with integrity to make sure the right count is going into each envelope? Can you scale as volumes increase by taking on mail from other locations and departments?
  • Is there a risk to outsourcing your mail from a client or compliance requirements? Some industries have higher regulations and need to ensure control. Many of the outsource providers will have high levels of security through HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, or SSAE18 certifications but it should still be validated around your specific needs.
  • What is the cost difference of insource vs. outsourced mailings? There are many items to consider in that analysis regarding staff, real estate, equipment, postage, supplies etc. that need to be considered.
  • How is a solution going to managed? This has to do with communicating the value to your field locations, education on what is available, managing questions, and reporting on usage and cost. We have found there has to be some central management in place to oversee the program or it will not be successful in the long run.
  • Could there be a hybrid model where offsite mail services are used for specific jobs, to manage peak periods or for disaster recovery?

Regardless of the direction you choose, there are many software options, for internal mail or the providers and costs associated with outsourced providers. We recommend doing a formal bid with multiple providers to find the best solution at the lowest cost.

The good news is, there are now ways to mail from anywhere with an internet connection. Imagine needing to send out marketing mailings or invoices while at home, and with a few clicks and it is done. This will allow your organization to mail with the highest integrity, at the lowest postage costs and with the deepest levels of visibility to get your projects out the door in the fastest ways possible.

Adam Lewenberg, CMDSS, MDC, President of Postal Advocate Inc., runs the largest Mail Audit and Recovery firm in the United States and Canada. They manage the biggest mail equipment fleet in the world and their mission is to help organizations with multi-locations reduce mail and parcel related expenses, recover lost postage funds, and simplify visibility and oversight. Since 2011, they have helped their clients save an average of 58% and over $61 million on equipment, presort, avoidable fees, and lost postage. He can be reached at 617.372.6853 or adam.lewenberg@postaladvocate.com

This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.