Mail services within government entities have always been labor-intensive operations with manual sorting, stacking, and traying of both inbound and outbound mail. Because of the change in how states run elections, this manual work has never been more important. Unfortunately, besides causing a surge in mail volume, COVID-19 also impacted mailroom staffing. Governments had to handle the work while some of their experienced employees were sick at home. Finances were strained as well, as local governments dealt with the combination of COVID-related expenses and lower tax revenue because of commerce shut-downs. Some government entities were better prepared than others. Local, state, and county governments that embraced automated mail sorting and processing technology reduced the impact of fewer employees working fewer hours. Automation provided a way for state and local governments to keep up with the demand for mail services and deal with budget cuts and a labor shortage. Other labor-dependent government mail operations struggled. Mail Services Needs a Digital Workflow Digital workflows have the potential to reduce costs, often while boosting customer satisfaction. Private businesses adapt quicker than government agencies and have revolutionized their workflows with digital automation. Though governments have made progress in moving some repetitive, labor-intensive functions to online services, opportunities to digitize processes still exist. Government workers spend more time providing personal customer service than their private industry counterparts, driving up labor costs. A Harvard Business Review study estimated that it costs between $7 and $13 for every live service a government provides. Digitization and automated transactions could yield vast savings. Digital Mail Delivery How do remote government workers, whether working from home or in dispersed agencies, receive mail-in applications, correspondence, and the myriad of daily inbound government forms that need processing? The answer is digital mail delivery. In facilities that have adopted a digital workflow, digital mail technology scans the mail and archives the images on secure servers. Pre-defined business rules determine what happens to each mailpiece. It could be that the mail center opens and scans all First-Class Mail, while they set Marketing Mail aside for later physical delivery. Other mail, identifiable by the address block or other envelope markings, could be automatically routed to specialized departments for processing. The address on the mailpiece can determine the disposition of many items. In other cases, the scanning and sorting software will look up the physical location of an employee’s workspace by matching the addressee’s name printed on the envelope to an organization database. Mail for some departments may be held awaiting further instructions or packaged for courier delivery. The business rules can define many scenarios, depending on the needs of the company. Lack of Postal Knowledge Workers The talent pool of workers in the paper, print, and production mail industries has declined for years, and opportunities for industry training, education, and certification have recently dwindled. The premiere mailing industry event, the National Postal Forum, was reduced to a virtual presence for the second consecutive year because of COVID-19 concerns. Exacerbating the situation, local Postal Customer Council events, where mail training is administered, also transformed into virtual affairs. The pandemic has strongly curtailed postal training in 2020 and 2021. Grooming new unskilled employees for jobs in the mailroom has become a challenge. Automated mail sorting and processing technology reduces the level of postal knowledge required to manage inbound and outbound mail. With automation, more mail center jobs can be easily shared among available employees or assigned to temporary workers when a shortage of permanent mail center staff occurs. Vote by Mail Voter preference surveys show that vote-by-mail is here to stay. The job of accepting, validating, sorting, and counting completed ballots as they are returned will continue to be a task governments must tackle. Speed, security, and accuracy are absolutes in election mail. Fortunately, vote-by-mail technology is scalable for larger state governments as well as city and state mail volumes. Systems like Tritek’s Correct Elect solution automatically monitor the ballot acceptance process. The key to a successful vote-by-mail program for governments with labor and budget constraints is deploying automated mail center technology. Compared to human reading, sorting, and tabulating, automation is 10 to 20 times faster. Wake Up Call The COVID-19 crisis had devastating consequences for state, county, and local governments. Service cutbacks, labor reductions, and a shrinking tax base all contributed to the issues. Local governments may receive some funding from Congress but will still look for ways to recover from the pandemic’s effects. In addition, the government workforce is not what it once was. The government has often been slow to embrace technology, especially in the mail center. Now they have little choice. An environment with fewer knowledge workers and high vote-by-mail ballot volumes demands requires a new solution. Digital technology in the mail center provides an answer for the cash-strapped state, county, and local governments.
In most organizations, inbound mail presents two problems. (1) The huge variety of formats (letters, flats, periodicals, newspapers) makes evaluating and sorting inbound mail a slow manual process. (2) Routing the mail to the right people at their current internal mail stations is often accomplished by hand, using outdated lists, notes, employee knowledge, and trial-and-error. When we talk to companies about mailing costs, they almost always focus on outbound mail. They want to discuss obvious expenses like printing, inserting, and postage. Those are important areas to assess, but incoming mail also contributes to the business cost of communications. For large or geographically dispersed organizations the challenges of sorting, routing, and distributing inbound mail are significant, as are the costs. Tritek Technologies has studied this problem and made several observations that have influenced our industry-leading inbound mail processing solutions. See Tritek’s Multi-Level Inbound Mail Sorter in action. Watch the video HERE. Inbound Mail – Unique Challenges Typical corporate mail centers have invested in automation for their outbound mail production with folders, inserters, tabbers, inkjet addressing machines, and sorters for letters or flats. The inbound side of things, however, is labor intensive. Per piece labor dollars for incoming mail far exceeds the labor costs of producing outbound mail, but it doesn’t have to remain so. Advancements in text and handwriting capture systems combined with intelligent software can resolve addresses on incoming mail and route it to the correct recipients. Add innovative document feeding and transport systems and organizations can bring automation to incoming mail processing operations. Companies can lower labor costs while simultaneously increasing accuracy and speeding delivery. Unlike outbound mail, where the mail producer controls the format and placement of postal addresses on the mailpieces, inbound mail has no standardization. Senders don’t abide by a common set of addressing rules. Some senders may include corporate mail station codes, building identifiers, or department names. Other mail arrives bearing only an individual’s name and the corporate postal address. Even worse, employees named on the mailpiece may have changed jobs within the organization or left the company causing mailroom employees to make on-the-spot decisions about where to send the mail. Delivery to Recipients Automatically delivering inbound mail to correct individuals requires sophisticated software. Specialized routines can recognize variations in spelling, connect individuals or job titles with departments and mail stops, and access current information on employee hires, departures, and transfers. This software must recognize that Robert Smith, Rob Smith, Bob Smith, R. Smith, and Smith, Robert might be the same person. If the organization employs more than one Robert Smith, inbound software must use additional information and rules to determine which Mr. Smith should receive a mailpiece bearing his name. Before the inbound sorting software can make such decisions, the system must extract addressing information from the mailpieces. This is no small task as address labels are printed in various fonts, sizes, and print density. They may appear on the front or back of a mailpiece, and in any orientation. Address block capture systems like those built into Tritek’s equipment can pull data from address blocks regardless of print quality, format, or location without human intervention. Inbound Mail Solutions Material Handling Issues Inbound material presents transport issues. Organizations will receive pieces as thin as a postcard or as thick as catalogs coming into the mailroom for distribution. The material may be enclosed in envelopes, bound on a single side such as a magazine, slipped into interoffice envelopes with buttons and strings, or encased in poly bags. Mailpieces may be smooth or textured, flat or irregular. Mechanisms that feed, separate, and transport this exotic collection of items must be versatile and forgiving. The system handling incoming mail must locate and read address blocks on each mailpiece. The object is to match the extracted data with the corporate database of employees, and determine the internal courier route and mail stop. All these processes must occur in a fraction of a second as mailpieces move through the machine and exit into appropriate bins. Justification for investing in automated inbound mail sorting and distribution extends beyond labor savings. Manual sorting takes time. Important materials may be delayed as couriers must leave on their routes at designated times. The mailroom won’t deliver the leftovers until the next run, which could be the following day. Such delays can cause lost business opportunities, customer satisfaction issues, missed meetings, or other negative consequences. Mis-routed mailpieces cause even longer delays as the pieces are returned to the mailroom for re-distribution. Choosing the right automated inbound mail processing solution can decrease the adverse effects of mail distribution inefficiencies. Related Quick Read: Solving Corporate Inbound Mail Challenges Most mail center operations don’t account for inbound mail distribution and delivery costs separately. They may not know how much their inefficient operations are costing their companies. After careful analysis, many organizations realize a custom automated solution is a wise financial move. Download permanent and portable inbound mail processing equipment specifications HERE.