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Aug. 8 2006 05:26 PM

I am in a unique position of meeting thousands of shippers. And here�s what I like best about my job: I get to visit companies, big and small, and see how they use package management technology to improve the efficiency of their operations. And it�s been a wild ride these past few years: technology has brought us a long way in a short time.
Remember when control over incoming packages ended at the mail center door or the loading dock? Debbie Moss of Drive Financial Services does. �We manually logged all incoming contracts when they arrived,� says Moss, the company�s Manager of Support and Legal Services. �But the system didn�t allow us to track contract movements inside the company.� Drive Financial, like many other companies, has discovered that an incoming package management solution helps ensure packages go this �last mile� of delivery successfully and efficiently. Now, Moss says, she can�t imagine running the business any other way.
How do companies like Drive Financial �get good� at managing incoming packages? Here is a scrapbook of ideas based on my experience, including a couple of new technologies that are pushing delivery performance higher.
Set and Track Performance Objectives
Whether you�re using an in-house team or a contract service for internal delivery, setting and tracking performance goals is critical. The following questions can help you set performance goals and rules of the road:
            � How quickly will we deliver each day�s packages? What is our goal (X hours/minutes)?
            � How do we track whether this goal is being met?
            � How do we confirm that packages have been delivered to the right people?
            � How do we track costs?
The right technology can aid performance measurement. Once Drive Financial put a package management and delivery system in place, it was able to easily track the efficiency and timeliness of the mail center�s 16-person staff. The staff delivers mail and packages at three set times each day. They must process and deliver expedited packages within 45 minutes of arrival on-site.
Reduce Delivery Time with Portable Data Collectors
Once the goals for delivery time are in place, how do you meet them? Again, this is where technology can assist. Donnell Coleman, Assistant Site Manager at Sears headquarters inHoffman Estates, Illinois, and his nine-person team rely on barcode scanners and portable data collectors to sort each day�s packages within 45 minutes of their arrival and deliver them within 180 minutes. Not such an easy task when you�re delivering more then 1,500 packages per day to a 200-acre campus with seven six-story buildings that house 6,000 employees.
Years ago, they had an in-house computer system, but maintaining it turned out to be a full-time job. Now, with their package management system, Coleman and his team scan the barcodes on incoming packages into one of three computer stations. They verify the manifest from the carrier and print off labels that indicate where the recipient is located. They use portable data collectors to capture the signatures. �Anything with a barcode is time-sensitive to people at Sears,� Coleman says. �This system helps us get it delivered to them quickly.�
Coleman says the package management system has reduced the number of �Where�s my package?� calls by two-thirds. The few people who do call, Coleman says, get an answer right away. �We know exactly what department, floor and person it was delivered to,� he says. That accountability is important to Coleman because he and his team are contractually obligated to meet the 180-minute package delivery time.
Document with Photos
A scan, digital photo or Web cam log of a package can be valuable for several different reasons, including tracking. At Drive Financial, for example, mail center employees create electronic images of contracts and supporting documents to support their tracking throughout the company � and to various lenders that provide loans for Drive�s customers.
Some package handling systems now offer barcode scanners with digital picture-taking capabilities. This function allows you to take a picture of a package, send an e-mail to someone with an image of the package attached and save the images of the package in history to view at any time. That �someone� could be the carrier�s claims administrator if you want to secure reimbursement for a damaged package. If the package is suspicious, the photos can be sent to security for review or to the addressee with a note asking if such a package was expected.
Log Activities En Route
In Six Sigma Quality improvement circles there�s a saying: �You can�t improve what you can�t measure.� New logging features in package management systems enable you to do an even better job of measuring the time associated with various activities on a delivery or other mail center-managed route.
With route activity logging, you can automatically record the date, time and location of the transaction, which means you can track your team�s performance against a pre-determined delivery schedule. And that information can help you identify bottlenecks in pickup and delivery functions. You can also record other activities � for example, recording when copy paper or other materials have been delivered to a specific location. Users can log the type of activity being performed and any other notes required for reference. Information, as they say, is power.
Provide Accurate Reports
For Marisa Tirado, reporting is a requirement of her job. She�s the mail center coordinator at Soka University of America, a private liberal arts college in Aliso Viejo, California. She�s used an outbound shipping management solution since the university and its mail center opened in 2001. She added an inbound system in 2004 after seeing a demonstration at the Pitney Bowes User Group Meeting.
�I have to do monthly reports on how much mail came in and went out and track those against department accounts,� Tirado says. �I just enter the date and the kind of report I want, and the system gives me all the information.�
Like Sears and Drive Financial, Soka also improved the efficiency of delivery with an inbound solution. Tirado and her staff have reduced package-receiving time from two hours to 30 minutes and have substantially decreased inquiries about lost packages.
Delivery Forecast: Greater Visibility
I hope you�ve enjoyed your tour through my scrapbook of inbound technology successes. What can you expect from package management technology in the near future? Here are a few predictions I�d like to make:
            � Greater desktop visibility into package status
            � More user-friendly tools for package management
            � Systems that use wireless and RFID to further increase accuracy and efficiency
Johanna Boller is Director of Product Line Management for Pitney Bowes Distribution Solutions. She can be reached at