Technology in the Mailroom

While it’s true that technology is bringing the campus mailroom into the 21st century, it’s specifically a result of Web-based tools. Here are the stories of two universities’ mailroom advancements.

Mail Chargeback System Saves Time and Money
The University of Virginia in Charlottesville boasts 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The Mail Services department processes mail for more than 400 departments, to the tune of approximately 8,000 pieces of mail and at least 500 billing transactions per day. Once upon a time, the department generated monthly paper billing statements for all this mail, and, of course, had to wait to recover their costs.

About five years ago, the Mail Services department implemented a Mail Management System by interfacing Pitney Bowes equipment with the University’s Oracle financial accounting system. It posts all mail charges on the department’s Website. “You can see today how much it cost yesterday to mail your department’s mail,” said Jack Parker, Mail Services manager. “It’s delineated by mail class and day.”

The chargeback system is a real plus. “Before, various departments were always calling us about their charges,” said Parker. “It was labor intensive, and we had to go back and look at records. With this system, we hardly get any phone calls.”

In addition, the system has resulted in a more efficient and effective Mail Services operation, including the department recovering its costs in a more timely manner, the elimination of printing and delivering paper bills every month, and reduced time to process the mail. Unfortunately, Parker noted, he hasn’t tracked cost or labor savings with the new system.

Parker and Melissa Pelletier, of the University’s Business Operations department, presented a paper at Southern Association of College and University Business Officers (SACUBO) about the Mail Services department’s conversion to a chargeback system. It provides a comprehensive statement of the problem, solution, and benefits. If you’d like to know more, it can be found at

Package Tracking Improves Efficiency
Capital University is a private school located in Columbus, OH, with 3,713 undergraduate and graduate students. It’s definitely a lot smaller than the University of Virginia, but mail still must be processed daily. That’s where Cynthia Harp, Mail Services manager and a board member of the Central Ohio Postal Customer Council (COPCC), enters the picture.

Harp keeps things running smoothly by providing comprehensive online mailing information. For example, if the Admissions department wanted to do a mailing, the different ways of sending mailing lists to the Mail Services department can be accessed on the Website, thus saving multiple phone calls and time by increasing the likelihood of getting the information sent correctly the first time.

Another tool Harp uses is online package tracking. “We have a tracking system in place that assigns a number to every package that comes in,” she said. “We can check a package status for anyone who calls. Unfortunately, we don’t have it available yet for anyone outside the department to check; we’re working on that for the future.”

The system prints a ticket for every package. Those tickets are put in student mailboxes or delivered to specific departments, depending on where the package is going. Students bring their tickets to the mail center to collect their packages and sign for them. “We collect live signatures on Palm Pilots for every departmental package delivery,” said Harp. “The Palm Pilots are brought back to the mail center, where the live signatures are downloaded for record keeping. In both instances, a second ticket is printed that confirms delivery has been made.”

Harp hopes to implement an e-mail package notification system. This April, she is expecting a systems upgrade. Then she plans to import e-mail addresses for everyone in the database. “The system would automatically send an e-mail to anyone who has a package to pick up,” she said. “That person will print the notification and bring it to us to collect his package. It will save a lot of phone calls and the redundancy of double-labeling everything.”

Harp also hopes to make another Web-based improvement in the future: a Web-accessible order form for mail list mailings. “I envision a place where someone can go online, fill out a form providing instructions for the mailing, and attaching the file at the same time,” she said wishfully. “There is constant change, and we simply haven’t gotten to completing that goal yet.”

To help Harp stay accountable, she uses a benchmarking tool provided by the National Association of College and University Mail Centers to track how much money and time is spent per letter. “It’s great to be able to tell your supervisor how much is being spent,” she noted. “And, if you can show every year that you’re reducing how much it costs to process mail, it helps you keep your operation running efficiently, as well as get the recognition you deserve.”

Getting Involved to Get Ahead
If you’re looking for ways to improve your campus postal services or even to simply become more informed about mail services, Capital University’s Cynthia Harp suggests getting involved with professional organizations. The two she recommends are Postal Customer Council (PCC) and National Association of College and University Mail Centers (NACUMS).

The Postal Customer Council ( has more than 200 local councils across the country. According to the organization’s Website, “Regular meetings, educational programs, mailer clinics, and seminars keep members abreast of the latest Postal Service developments. Members also work closely with local Post Office locations to make mail service more efficient, resulting in improved delivery and greater customer satisfaction.”

Harp belongs to the Central Ohio Postal Customer Council. “The organization is a liaison between businesses and postal services,” she said. “It’s a great way to network, and it provides a wealth of information.”

Harp also recommends the National Association of College and University Mailing Services (, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to serving the interests of college and university mailers.

With seven regional groups, one of NACUMS’ specific goals is to maintain communication channels, so mailing professionals within the college and university community can share ideas, concerns, and more, with the U.S. Postal Service, Postal Rate Commission, USPS Board of Governors, and other bodies.