From Mail Center to Digital Information Hub

Neal-Art_0917At a time when businesses are challenged to manage their document workflows smarter and more cost effectively, the mail center may be slow in addressing such objectives as increasing productivity and adding value. One solution is for enterprises to transform their mail center operations into more automated, digital information hubs that digitize and electronically distribute the mail to employees while ensuring security. This approach allows employees to receive their information quicker, which in turn enables the company to move faster and smarter.

However, mail management typically is not a core competency for many organizations. Consequently, they lack the resources and skills to stay current on the latest technologies and best practices. The result: most businesses are not managing the evolution of their mail centers into digital information hubs successfully. If this includes your company, I will spotlight potential ways to ease the pain.

Best-of-Breed Technology 

Because many enterprises lack the resources to continually support their mail centers with the latest technology, productivity and cost-effectiveness can suffer. The key to avoiding this scenario is to implement best-of-breed mail center technology. Whether managed internally or outsourced, if done right such an initiative can substantially reduce the time and cost of processes and increase the accuracy of deliveries for physical mail, materials and digital content. Here are a few of the technology solutions that can help drive effective mail center management:

  • Mail tracking software that provides complete custody control of all accountable envelopes and packages. Web-based applications can be customized to a company’s organizational structure and business processes as well as integrated with courier and internal business systems to provide visibility into delivery status.
  • Automated sorting technology, which ideally is end-user configurable and features optical character recognition, barcode reading and sorting capabilities. The best systems are scalable to fit a wide range of mail volumes and space restrictions. They also provide automated inbound and outbound processing, which can save time and labor and provide critical volume data and significant postal savings.
  • Office print management services that help ensure knowledge workers can print, copy, scan and fax from any location. If considering outsourcing these functions, an organization may want to confirm that its managed services provider offers state-of-the-art systems that use technology to monitor the equipment and supplies. Additionally, the provider’s mail center services staff should be on call and available within minutes should a problem be detected.
  • Digital intake center, a hybrid mailroom and scanning system that uses specialized mail scanning technology and workflow techniques to convert physical mail into digital information immediately upon receipt.

Leveraging Digital Intake Centers 

I will expand a bit on the last bullet point because when it comes to automation and innovation in mail center workflow, more and more businesses are leveraging what we refer to as a digital intake center. This hybrid mailroom/scanning system approach offers substantial gains when it comes to improving the flow of information and streamlining processes within the enterprise.

One such benefit is the ability to save money and increase cost efficiency. With a digital intake center, companies can significantly reduce the manual labor and processing costs connected with mail delivery. The key to unlocking these advantages is digitizing and distributing mail electronically, which enables organizations to virtually eliminate fine mail sorting and distribution costs. This can also help reduce the volume of nonessential and personal mail, freeing mail center personnel to focus on other value-add activities. Additionally, a digital intake center can enable an enterprise to realize a variety of other cost-saving benefits such as vendor discounts for faster paper invoice processing. Here are three other critical benefits of digital intake centers:

  • Improve process efficiency. It is a constant challenge to make sure that each piece of mail that a business receives is sorted, classified, repackaged, tracked and shipped to the intended recipient. For many organizations, this process involves dozens of full-time workers, duplicative work and unnecessary workflow stops. A digital intake center however, whether created and managed internally or in conjunction with a managed services provider, can help eliminate these inefficiencies by scanning inbound mail immediately upon receipt, while simultaneously indexing and classifying each piece of mail. The digitization and “straight through processing” boosts efficiency and enables the instant delivery of business information to the intended recipient or business workflow.
  • Reduce risk. A digital intake center can help make business mail more secure than ever, only accessible by its intended recipient or workflow. One option is to team with a managed services provider that can create a controlled intake environment, which can only be accessed by badged employees and monitored 24/7 by surveillance cameras. Once the mail is received, it is processed, time-stamped and added to the desired workflow with a clear audit trail. This gives the company’s security team confidence that the right systems are in place to maintain compliance with strict audit requirements.
  • Enhance customer response time. When customers have a question or a problem that needs resolution, they expect fast response times. A digital intake center can enable a business to meet this challenge faster than ever. Whether a client inquiry is received in paper or digital form, a digital intake center solution gives an organization the ability to process inbound mail and route it to the appropriate recipient or workflow instantly. This helps ensure that customer response times are as short as possible, which in turn helps maintain high customer satisfaction.

Case History Example 

Based on the concepts discussed so far, let’s go from theory to practice in the form of a brief case history example demonstrating how one company realized dramatic gains by streamlining its mail center operation.

A leading financial services company saw an opportunity to achieve higher efficiency levels in package tracking, inventory control, and document and records management. The e-commerce side of the business realized rapid growth that ultimately identified serious inefficiencies affecting the business’s revenue and customers. The company engaged a managed services provider, which took the initial steps of assessing the optimization of the 11,500 packages a day that fed into the supply chain management system supporting customer service and order processing, re-engineering corporate mail to reduce labor, postage and courier expenses and automate the capture of documentation, managing the warehouse of 50,000 boxes, turning the corporate switchboard operation into a customer service center, and restyling the corporate reception area to better welcome visitors.

The results were significant in terms of cost savings, productivity gains and improved customer satisfaction levels. This includes a drop of 24 percent in the cost of shipping and couriers from the home office hub. In the mail center, implementing best practices saved $200,000 per year in postage expenses, and process re-engineering saved another $1.5 million in indirect labor costs. Finally, the mail center now also serves as a customer fulfillment center, providing fulfillment for the catalog and advertising department, at a rate of 16,000 items per day. This eliminated the need to expand the fulfillment facility at a cost of millions of dollars.

These are just some of the automation and innovation possibilities that are helping to redefine the corporate mail center as a digital information hub. The key point is that mail management is evolving in ways that can yield business benefits ranging from cost savings and improved efficiency to lower risk and superior customer service. If your enterprise is considering outsourcing, look for providers that can provide end-to-end service including: mail center staff, digital mail system and installation, imaging hardware, mail processing workflow design based on Six Sigma performance management methodologies, customer service support and comprehensive reporting. Leveraging these kinds of solutions, whether managed internally or outsourced, can better prepare your business to continually improve, today and in the days ahead.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Workflow.

is a certified enterprise content management practitioner (ecmp) and director of corporate communications for Canon Business Process Services, a leader in managed services and technology.