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Is Data Processing Automation Right for You?

Bob Schimek
Posted by Bob Schimek Senior Director of Postal Affairs Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 22:03

Schimek applies his 26-plus years of mailing industry experience to provide product management and strategic direction for Quadient’s mailing business, formerly known as Satori Software. As Senior Director of Postal Affairs for Quadient, Bob Schimek serves as primary liaison between Quadient and USPS on technical matters affecting the company’s mailing solutions, which include CASS and PAVE certified software, integrated 48-month NCOALink processing and post-sort solutions. 

Customer Experience Update
Is Data Processing Automation Right for You?

As the economy continues to recover, many in the mailing industry are fully aware that mail volume is not.  The U.S. Postal Service® results as of the end of July (10 months into the Fiscal Year 2017) confirm that total mail volume is down 3.3% over same period last year. The electronic diversion continues to eat away at First-Class® mail volume.  USPS Marketing Mail® is being impacted by mailers that are using more technology to better target their best contacts and connect the physical mail piece to a digital experience to increase ROI without increasing mail volume. 

A recent State of the Industry Update from Idealliance noted that “companies of all sizes and types compete to enhance current capabilities and build new ones”.  One of the struggles for companies is finding the necessary time and capacity to make these necessary investments.  Many companies find themselves burdened with legacy systems that consume the time of available resources, leaving little time to focus on new investments.  For Print Service Providers (PSPs) that offer mailing services, many of these legacy systems can be found in the Data Processing (DP) department. 

Data Processing is one area that tends to be cloaked in a “black box” and still operates much like it did 10 to 20 years ago.  Since many companies use slightly different terminology, let’s first define what is meant by data processing.  It’s the business process of taking in your customer’s data, checking that it is complete and what is expected, then transforming, parsing, correcting addresses (via a CASS Certified™ service) and otherwise getting the data into the form it needs to be for printing and mailing. There is also USPS® presorting and distribution entry planning. The process ends with the output file being sent to document composition, which is often a different department.  For jobs that require a considerable amount of DP, it can take days, even over a week, for DP departments to clear the output file.

In order to get a customer file through the process, DP teams have written custom scripts in DOS® or FoxPro® (and many other scripting languages). The process is characterized with file-in/file-out for each step, manual quality checkpoints, fixes/corrections and queues with other jobs being processed. The extended time to process jobs typically comes from these manual steps, and the larger the job, the longer it takes. When the DP department gets busy, bottlenecks quickly emerge and things really slow down. At this point, companies have to abandon investment in new technology to keep the business running.

Not only is this process slow, but there is an associated high cost. The job scripts need to be maintained and updated, human error needs to be corrected, and there is a sizable time investment to program and set up new customers and jobs. Compounding these challenges, each DP person writes their scripts their own way, which makes reuse and job sharing across the team difficult. Companies have also expressed that many in their DP workforce are nearing retirement age, and having a new person pick up their work is virtually impossible and cost-prohibitive.

Market-leading PSPs (those that are actually growing) are making the investment to eliminate all the custom scripts, FoxPro utilities, file-in/out processing and manual checkpoints.  This investment is resulting in dramatic improvements in throughput and processing time.  All these steps can be fully automated in one continuous flow where routine jobs can automatically flow through the DP department and into the composition department.  

Some examples of actual customer improvements include:

• A daily 60 – 75 minute job was reduced to 3 minutes

• A job that took 8 hours to program and run was reduced to 1 minute

• A frequent daily job was reduced from 20 minutes to 1 minute

These are not special, one-of-a-kind results, but rather commonplace when DP is moved to automation with lean processes, industry expertise, and modern technology tools.  One customer even commented that they believe they have doubled their DP capacity without adding people, and they have not yet fully automated their operation.  

These gains remove the bottlenecks in DP that consume resources and limit the ability to invest in new technology and expanded services that create the opportunity for the business to grow.  

The following are 5 indicators that automation might be right for your business:

  1. You have a data processing department, they use custom scripting, and it takes hours or days to process any given job
  2. You’ve turned away business due to turn-around time (needs to be right now) or job data manipulation complexity (don’t have the tools to get it done)
  3. There haven’t been any significant improvements in time savings or efficiency in the DP area for a long time, if ever
  4. It’s difficult to see or understand what process steps need to occur in DP — it’s a “black box”
  5. Growth is impeded due to DP being at capacity and requiring additional personnel to grow

By taking a new automation approach to your DP operation, you too can achieve upwards of 90% improvement in processing times that these leading companies have achieved.  This investment can become a key lever to help your company grow while maintaining or even reducing costs along with enabling the ability to invest in new technology and service offerings.