Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

The Value of Integrity

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 25, 2016 8:06:56 AM

I was talking with the president of a company that provides statement processing for the healthcare industry. He’s put production controls in place, including barcodes, scanners and internal audits, to ensure the integrity of every mailpiece. Taking it a step further, he’s hired external consultants to review his entire process.

The process he’s established means a higher cost-per-piece than some of his competitors. The external review will be expensive. But, in his words, “very necessary to ensure patient confidentiality.”

Substitute the word “patient” with “customer”, and his words can be applied to everyone who processes mail. It doesn’t matter if you work for an insurance company, bank, school, the government, or any type of firm; you should be installing controls to make sure your system provides the highest level of integrity. The correct piece, with the correct address, goes into the correct envelope, with the correct postage, at the correct time.

The products to improve the integrity of the mailing process have been available for several years. Used with barcodes, scanners can track every piece as they move through the process. Cameras can be added to equipment to check for print quality, logos and keylines. Software products allow you to monitor what is happening on the shop floor in real time.

Audit controls add expenses to your bottom line. Scanners, cameras and software mean spending more money to run your operation. In an industry where people focus on “cost-per-piece”, is it worth it?

I toured a laboratory that produces eyeglasses. The senior vice president of manufacturing walked me through the entire process – from receiving the order through the shipping department. The process included:

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Operations Management

Details, details, details

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 3, 2016 5:00:00 AM

“Perfection is in the details” – Leonardo daVinci

magnifying_glass.jpgPerfection may be unattainable, yet perfection must be the goal we all strive for in our operations. Not 99% accuracy, or even 99.99966% accuracy (Six Sigma’s goal), but 100% accuracy.

Setting unreachable goals isn’t an exercise in futility. It’s a proven method for raising performance to a new level of excellence. Becoming a fanatic about details will help you achieve more.

To effectively use a detail-oriented approach in management, a manager must take on the role of a leader who:

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Operations Management

Deja Vu All Over Again

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 26, 2016 5:00:00 AM

“We’re not selling a product, but a process.” These words say a lot about the changes impacting the print/mail industry.

I first heard this comment in 2001 – 15 years ago – at an Xplor Northeast Region meeting in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. The speaker was Roger Gimbel. At the time, Roger was the president of Xerographic Reproduction Center Inc. (XRC), one of six divisions that comprise the 500-employee parent company, Global Document Solutions. XRC was the largest on-demand printer in Manhattan. But as Roger explained, output isn’t the most important part of his business; process is. His company’s expertise extended beyond print to systems integration.

After hearing Roger’s talk I published this paragraph in a newsletter the following month:

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Operations Management

Faster Isn’t Always Better

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 13, 2016 5:00:00 AM

In the mid-1990s, I was working at a financial services company. One of my internal customers was a department responsible for producing fund pricing reports. The company’s system would receive information from the stock exchange mainframe computer at the end of the trading day. Using the stock prices, the company could calculate the values of all the managed funds.

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Operations Management

How Do You Measure Up?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 20, 2016 5:00:00 AM

During most of our customer engagements, we usually hear variants of the same question:

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Operations Management

Performance Measurements for Employees

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 8, 2016 7:51:48 AM

“What's measured improves” - Peter F. Drucker

Well documented policies. Quality control procedures based on lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. Job information files that track piece-level information throughout the print and finishing processes. Full-service intelligent mail to trace pieces as they move through the US Postal Service.

All attributes of a high-performing operation.

All useless without a high-performing staff to execute.

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Operations Management

The Real Costs of Poor Address Management

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 2, 2016 5:30:00 AM

Following best practices for maintaining and updating mailing addresses seems to be a logical aspect of good business management. However, when we recommend process improvements to clients that will improve their address databases, we’re often faced with pushback. The most common reasons:

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Operations Management

Trends in Print and Mail – Top 10 Posts of 2015

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 5, 2016 5:00:00 AM

A new Postmaster General. The long-awaited Appeals Court ruling on the Exigent Rate Case. Another rate increase. And more inaction by Congress on President Obama’s nominees to the US Postal Service’s (“USPS”) Board of Governors.

These are just a few of the subjects that dominated the mailing industry in 2015, and were covered by our blog – Trends in Print and Mail. Articles about the US Postal Service and rate changes generated the most interest. The readers’ comments on our website and in the LinkedIn groups helped add to the conversation.

2016 looks to be another interesting year. It’s likely that First Class Mail rates will actually decrease this spring. A comprehensive postal reform bill has started to gain interest – in Congress and the national media. With presidential elections taking place, and absentee voting by mail increasing, the USPS will be under close scrutiny. We’ll be sharing our insights and opinions as these events unfold.

In case you missed them, here are the 10 most read posts from 2015:

Senate Causes Crisis for US Postal Service: A Call to Action
The citizens of this country deserve to have a full Board of Governors for the USPS. (Note: This blog generated almost 10 times the number of views as an average post.)

Preparing for the First USPS Rate Change of 2015
Here are 5 steps every mail operations manager can take now to prepare for the first USPS rate change (Competitive Products) of 2015.

Court Ruling Impacts Future Postage Rates
The United States Court of Appeals’ decision supports the Postal Regulatory Commission’s approval of a temporary exigent rate case, while dismissing calculations of the financial losses of the USPS.

2015 Postage Rate Case Update
There have been several events that will impact mailers as the US Postal Service implements the first postage rate case of 2015.

Impact of the US Postal Service New Standards
Mailers need to prepare for the new, slower USPS delivery standards.

Effective Address Management Part 7: Processing Return Mail
Mailpieces that are returned to your company add no value to the relationship with your customers.

Postal Regulatory Commission Ruling on the Exigent Rate Case In English
The PRC orders that the exigent postage rate increase will remain in effect until the USPS recovers an additional $1.91 billion.

Twenty Questions To Ask When Purchasing Equipment
In addition to legal questions and pricing information, here are 20 questions you should ask when purchasing equipment.

The Mismeasure of Mail
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." - attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. Focusing on Single Piece First Class Mail is a distraction from the real issues facing the USPS.

It’s Process, Not Product
Leverage the new tools available to you, and take your first steps to achieve Total Process Management.

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Time to Reflect

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 23, 2015 5:00:00 AM

It’s hard to believe it’s the holidays again. Soon, we’ll be gathering with family and friends for festive dinners and annual get-togethers. Of course, being in the mail business, you’ll be preparing for the big year-end statement runs and handling a lot of packages for co-workers.

It’s also a good time to reflect on the past year and contemplate next year. What awaits us in 2016? There’s an old saying that fortune favors the well-prepared, and the well-prepared learn from the past. Seriously consider what has happened, how you reacted, and what you’d do differently next year. Oscar Wilde said, “Only the shallow know themselves.” To which I’d add, “But only a fool wouldn’t try.”

First, conduct a review of your operation. Gather your monthly status reports and weave a story of what you’ve accomplished. Although you probably do this as part of your own annual performance review, you may focus only on the positive (in order to secure bonuses and raises). I’m suggesting that you also delineate your failures, or things that you wanted to accomplish, but didn’t. This doesn’t mean you should dwell on the negative, but you need an honest assessment.

A nice tool is a simple three-column spreadsheet listing your unit’s goals, the results (success or defeat), and the impact on your operation. Discuss this assessment with your staff and determine what could be done to be more successful. List those goals that will carry over to next year, and what new challenges the team hopes to overcome.

Next, look at your staff. Again, these aren’t formal performance reviews. Rather, evaluate key people as part of the team that produced success over the past year. Make sure you reach out to people and thank them for their efforts. I know you thanked them at the time of the success, but nobody gets tired of hearing what they’ve done well.

Of course, no one in their right mind would leave you. However, one or two members of your staff may be thinking about finding a job elsewhere. What can you do to help them stay? Or if appropriate, help them move on? Steer these workers toward the resources available within your company, and remember to share your personal stories when you made similar decisions at a similar point in your career.

Now that you’re done looking at others, it’s time for the real challenge - looking at yourself. Self-assessment is no easy task, and shouldn’t be treated lightly. Seek out a place where you won’t be disturbed (away from work and home).

An excellent place that you might overlook is your public library. An interesting thing about libraries is that they’re full of books that you may never have a chance to read. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to read all those books. What a fantastic reminder that there’s so much we don’t know, and so much we’ve yet to learn. So shut off your cell phone, grab a pad of paper and a pen, and find a quiet spot in the stack of books.

To start your self-assessment, make a checklist:

  • What have I done to improve myself?
  • What were my professional goals at the beginning of this year?
  • What steps did I take to achieve those goals?
  • What roadblocks did I encounter, and how did I handle them?

Consider each of these questions from a professional and personal point of view. Ponder whether you would have made the same decision with the knowledge you have today. If you conclude: “I would have done things differently”, then determine your motive for making the “wrong” move last year. For your successes, describe those key actions that led to your success. Perhaps you can find a way to mimic those actions to accomplish next year’s goals.

Did successes from one aspect of your life negatively impact another part of your life? Maybe you completed that project, but it meant spending too many hours away from home. Hard work and long hours are often necessary, but so is balance. Time is a valuable currency; make sure to spend yours wisely.

Now, contemplate your future. Where do you want to be a year from now? Maybe you’d like to get a promotion, or achieve professional certification, or submit an article for publication in a trade magazine. It’s possible you’re thinking about an even bigger step: a new job. There’s a lot involved with each of these decisions. You’ll need to conduct some research, study reference material, and draft a resume or article.

Most importantly, to reach your goals, you’ll need to create a plan with measurable action steps and deadline dates. Be as detailed as possible, and include target milestones. If you’re really bold, share the plan with someone, and discuss your progress on a regular basis with this person. Schedule a date for this same time next year to conduct another complete review.

We often choose not to make significant changes because of fear. Traditionally, print/mail managers have spent their entire careers at one company. With the shifts in the economy and the multitude of mergers, this may no longer be possible. Approach these challenges as opportunities.

A good friend of mine recently changed jobs after 17 years at the same company. The apprehension of starting a new job was balanced by the prospect of designing and implementing new systems. While he still faces many of the management and political issues that existed at his old company - they’re usually the same no matter where you go - he’s very upbeat, and confident he’ll succeed. It’s great to see the improvement in his attitude.

Conducting a self-assessment may not sound like the most enjoyable way to spend the holidays—especially with all the other pressures—cooking, buying gifts, and year-end reports. But can you think of a better gift for yourself and your operation?

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Operations Management

Disaster Recovery Planning – Do It Now

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 16, 2015 5:00:00 AM

It may be warmer than usual in New England, but weather in other parts of the country caused the temporary closure of several U.S. Postal Service facilities in outher parts of the country. Notifications helped alert mailers to adjust their outbound and inbound mail operations. But for many companies, these outages highlighted their own weaknesses and unpreparedness.
The lack of a disaster recovery plan is unacceptable in today's environment. It's futile to argue that any company won’t be impacted by weather, natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Everyone must consider what they will do if all or part of their operation can’t function due to outside forces.

Most companies have some sort of Information Technology (IT) recovery plans. These plans range from nightly back up with offsite storage of data; to fully redundant, mirror IT systems established at different locations. However, startling few companies have complete document processing disaster recovery plans.

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Mail Security / Operations Management