The University Record, January 11, 1993

New technology will decrease cost, speed delivery of mail

By Mary Jo Frank

A mailer's worst nightmare: carefully crafted letters flowing aimlessly in the land of the undeliverable, doomed to never reach the students, parents, graduates or donors to whom they are addressed.

Unfortunately approximately one out of three business letters nationally is undeliverable as addressed because of errors in addressing, the addressee has moved or the wrong zip code was used, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Automating the nation's postal system by using optical character readers (OCRs) and barcode sorters (BCSs) should reduce the amount of undeliverable mail, speed up delivery time and save mailers and the Postal Service money, according to Sue Howison, manager of Mail Service.

University units will have to change how mail is addressed if they want to take advantage of the savings and faster delivery afforded by the new technologies, Howison says. The U-M mails out more than 13 million pieces annually.

Mail Service is coordinating the University's switch to barcoded addresses, which will save units money whether their mail is handled by Mail Service or presorted by outside vendors. Mail that is properly barcoded and presorted saves the Postal Service 30 to 40 steps in the sorting and delivery process, Howison explains.

The postage on a one-ounce first class letter can be reduced from 29 cents to 23.3 cents if properly barcoded and presorted. Discounts for third class mail range from 2.3 cents to 8.6 cents per piece; barcoding also will speed up delivery.

As of March 21, all letter mail submitted for automation discounts, except for Business Reply Mail, must have an 11-digit, 62-bar Delivery Point Bar Code (DPBC). The DPBC represents an existing zip + 4, plus two additional digits that uniquely identify a specific delivery point---usually the last two digits of a residential address. DPBC will allow the mail to be automatically sorted by the sequence of the route walked by the postal carrier.

Mail that isn't readable on optical character readers and doesn't have bar codes will require mechanized or manual processing.

Howison notes that an efficient U.S. postal clerk can hand sort 800 to 1,000 pieces per hour. Machines can sort more than 36,000 pieces per hour.

If it is machine-readable, mail first passes through the OCR, which converts the numeric code to a bar code. A bar code sorter then reads only the bar code and sorts the mail to its final destination.

Mailers who bar code their mail skip the initial processing steps and go straight to the bar code sorter.

To help units prepare mailing lists for barcoding, Mail Service has obtained "Coding Accuracy Support System" (CASS) software to correct all addresses, including providing proper abbreviations, and giving error messages for those addresses that can't be updated. Once a mailing list is certified, more than 98 percent of the addresses on the list can be processed using the DPBC. Mailing lists only need to be updated annually. However, the software is updated quarterly, Howison explains.

CASS certification of mailing lists is particularly valuable for third class mail, which usually is not returned unless an address correction is requested. Undeliverable third class mail is destined for the trash, without the mailer being notified.

Most lists can be certified in less than an hour, Howison says. Mail Service is charging a fee for certifying mailing lists, depending on the size of the list.

James P. Peters, senior systems analyst for Purchasing and Stores, has used the CASS software to certify a 4,000-name list maintained by News and Information Services and a 200-name list for UMTel. Plans are under way to certify a 40,000-name list maintained by the Payroll Office and a 500,000-name list used by the Development Office. The Development Office list will be done in chunks because of the volume, Peters explains.

Mail Service can certify mailing lists generated by DOS and Macintosh computers and can receive the lists on disks or through electronic mail, Peters says.

To make arrangements to have a mailing list certified or for help on preparing mail, call Howison at 764-9227.

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When designing new mail pieces or envelopes, Mail Service Manager Sue Howison asks that units check out their plans with Mail Service to make sure the new envelopes conform to Postal Service guidelines, avoiding the waste of tossing out obsolete envelopes.

Following the Postal Service guidelines regarding envelope size and placement of type will ensure that mail pieces can be read by optical character readers and barcode sorters.

Mail Service offers the following suggestions when addressing daily mail:

---Type mailing labels or addresses on envelopes in capital letters. Address labels must be applied straight, not slanted.

---Eliminate all punctuation except the hyphen in the zip code and provide the return address in the upper left corner of the mail piece. The return address should include the street address of the building.

---Do not leave more than two open spaces between elements of the address (city and state abbreviation or state abbreviation and zip code).

---Use standard address abbreviations and the zip + 4.

---Avoid using logos, seals and lines on the address side of mail pieces. Nothing except the delivery address should appear in the bottom 2 3/4-inches of the letter size envelope including logos, seals and lines. The bottom 5/8 inch and 4 1/2-inches from the right side of the envelope is reserved for the bar code and must be kept clear.

---If you choose to use a street address and P.O. Box, they should be on the same line with the delivery point last (to the far right). The next to the last line is the delivery address line.

---Black or dark blue ink on white paper provide the best contrast for the optical character readers. Dot matrix printers do not produce automation quality print. Characters must not be close together or touching.

---Type used for addresses should be 10 or 12 point. If type as small as 8 point is used, it should be printed in all upper case to satisfy the OCR's minimum height and width requirements.