Analogue meets digital: the future mailroom

Publication date

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Approval date

As one of the last areas of a business’s operations to feel the full force of digitisation, what is the future of the mailroom? Dave Howell reports.

The mailroom has continued to be an essential component of many estates. Even with the advances in digital communications, physical mail shows no sign of slowing. Indeed, direct mail continues to prove its commercial value: Royal Mail estimates for each £1 spent, businesses gain £3.22.

For facilities managers (FMs) considering their mailrooms, digital communications have of course impacted these services. However, what is clear is that email and social media are seen as parallel communications channels and not replacements to physical mail. Each communications channel reinforces the other.

Technology has touched the mailroom as automated sorting and document scanning have become commonplace. FMs have seen how digital technologies have affected other areas of their estates. Moreover, with a significant push by the Government to further embrace digital systems, the mailroom will accommodate more technologies in the future.

Public sector estates are at the forefront here. However, FMs are having to manage what can be highly complex environments that are spread over what can be sprawling estates. Rationalising how mailroom services are delivered isn’t a simple exercise.

The paperless office has stubbornly failed to materialise, with FMs striving for at least a “paper lite” policy that sees more document digitisation with the mailroom forming a significant component of these initiatives. Also, with GDPR now in force, balancing paper-based documents and digital workflows needs careful consideration.

Analogue meets digital

Croner-i Facilities Management spoke with Ryan Higginson, Vice President and UK/ROI Country Leader, Global SMB Solutions, Pitney Bowes.

How is the mailroom embracing digital technologies?

“The high-pressure environment of the mailroom is driving innovation as businesses look to reduce costs, improve workflows, enhance processes, boost efficiencies and achieve faster time to value. The mailroom is still the hub of the business, and digitising mailroom technologies has had a transformational effect on their operations in the following ways.

  • Automated processes are replacing manual processes, minimising error, accelerating delivery times and improving the flow of mail throughout an organisation.

  • Software simplifies the process of tracking incoming mail, reducing the number of lost or undelivered mail items within an organisation and improving visibility with real-time data. This is also reducing the number of queries mailrooms are receiving, freeing up their time to deliver a better client experience.

  • Shipping APIs are reducing time and complexity, ensuring best value for outbound shipping; FMs can identify which shipping services are available for the best rates, and this accuracy eliminates any guesswork as businesses know the exact shipping cost.

  • Digitisation is driving compliance, minimising risk and improving document integrity; intelligent mail systems recognise inaccuracies and errors, halting processes and flagging issues.

  • Cloud-based shipping platforms are improving collaboration across organisations, with staff able to access a single platform regardless of their location.

  • Technologies are ‘right-sized’, so smaller organisations can benefit from engineering technology found in industrial mail systems but on a smaller scale. Many of these technologies are modular and SaaS based, with the flexibility and scalability to grow as a business grows without the need for further investment.”

What pressure points are facilities managers feeling today when managing their mailrooms?

“The volume of parcels being shipped has reached unprecedented levels. Fuelled by e-commerce, 2300 parcels were shipped every second in the 13 key global markets in 2017, according to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index. In the UK alone, we shipped 3.2 billion parcels in 2017 - that’s over 100 parcels every second, and over 6000 every minute. This volume is showing no signs of slowing down. We estimate global shipping volume to surpass 100 billion parcels in 2020.

“Processing this volume in a time-efficient, cost-effective and compliant way puts enormous pressure on facilities managers. Managing this is hugely challenging, especially as for many organisations, the number of parcels shipped fluctuates from season to season — even from day to day, with the global e-commerce phenomena like Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“This makes careful planning crucial regarding staff and investment in technologies. Added to this is the need to deliver a great customer experience, which is top of most company’s objectives and a key driver behind digital transformation programmes. Cross-border shipping places further pressure on already overstretched facilities operations, adding new challenges and extra complexity. Shippers face a complex web of regulations, taxes and duties which differ from region to region.”

Are private mailroom service providers now a real force in the UK’s mail system?

“The transition of the physical mailroom to digital service is creating greater interest in the provision of mailroom services by more vendors in the UK. Vendors, traditionally focused on the provision of print services, are beginning to find it difficult to deliver further cost improvement having trimmed the cost of the printed page to the minimum.

“Expanding their service provision to exploit the digital opportunities in the mailroom with services to support the automation of delivery to recipients, or the ability to support their client’s compliance strategies to negate data breach events are helping to add increased revenue opportunities.”

Facilities managers are always looking to cut costs. What’s your advice when looking for a mailroom service provider?

“A mailroom service provider should work in partnership with an organisation and take time to understand its plans for growth — delivering a solution that fits now but won’t be fit for purpose in 12 months is no good. It’s surprising how often some providers do this. Make sure the provider asks the right questions, knows whether you have multiple locations and multiple users, and understands any seasonal fluctuations in volume. Does the mailroom service provider expect their technology providers to similarly appreciate your business?

“Find out how integrated they are with different carriers — does their technology offer you a choice of carrier rates and delivery times? What visibility does the technology give you regarding cost reporting? Ask to see case studies and find out whether you can speak to a client in your industry. Ask about after-care — how do you get help if you need it? Don’t be afraid to ask your partner about their business operations — how are they going to bill you, for example? Could you self-service through a web portal?”

What do you think the future of mailroom services looks like from the perspective of facilities managers?

“Digital technologies and automation have reinvented the mailing industry. Mailrooms have become slick, streamlined operations unrecognisable from just a couple of years ago. The pace of change will continue to accelerate. I think we’ll see increased choice and some exciting advances in digital shipping platforms — more APIs and SaaS-based platforms, for example. The role of facilities managers has evolved into physical and digital operations managers.

“What’s interesting is the ripple effect this has across other organisations and sectors. Many of our clients are in the higher education sector, for example. With large numbers of students shopping online, facilities managers at student residences have to process high volumes of inbound parcels. Digital shipping platforms are helping them manage these volumes swiftly and efficiently.

“The ripple effect can also be felt across the enterprise, as business decision makers shift their expectations as consumers to the commercial environment, expecting express shipping and full visibility of a parcel’s journey. This adds even greater pressure to overworked facilities teams, so digitisation and automation have become more important than ever before.”

An entirely digital mailroom has yet to become a reality. For FMs, managing mail is multifaceted with no simple solution. A bespoke approach is often taken as no two estates are the same.

There is little doubt that more digital services will impact on the mailroom. FMs need to keep an open mind and watch as trends develop across their estates and workforces. This will inform how their mailrooms need to evolve.