Mail.dat: Are You Missing this Critical Link?
Mail.dat® files, when paired with software that reads and manages these files, allows mailers to get the most from their mail production and postage information by sharing that data with internal and external systems.When used effectively, Mail.dat becomes the bridge that not only links a variety of in-house lettershop applications but also links the lettershop to its clients. Lettershops, regardless of size, cannot afford to shortchange themselves by avoiding Mail.dat, which directly benefits the bottom line by increasing operational efficiencies and by attracting new business with key value-added services.
Mail.dat is an industry standard file that describes mailings based on specifications set by the IDEAlliance® (http://www.idealliance.org/maildat). Because Mail.dat files are standardized, mail owners, list processors, lettershops, and transportation companies may-with the right Mail.dat software-easily transmit and decode the mail production and postage information that the files contain. With Mail.dat files readily available, all parties involved in a mailing may prepare in advance, allocating the proper resources for each job.
Software vendors have developed solutions that use Mail.dat files in new ways to solve various problems encountered in mail production, documentation and transportation. For years, large mailers have used these programs to generate postage documentation that describes what is actually mailed and to optimize their transportation plans based on freight cost or delivery speed. Chances are, the presort software you currently use can produce Mail.dat files or could be upgraded to add this functionality.
Once you are able to produce Mail.dat files from your presort software, you should invest in Mail.dat software that allows you, at minimum, to edit Mail.dat files to create postage statements that reflect what is actually mailed-after all, changes post-presort are almost routine. Mailers of all sizes also benefit from a Mail.dat software solution that stores postage data over long periods of time and prints valuable postage and management reports based on this data. Your Mail.dat software should print reports that include check request reports, mailing and shipping registers, analysis reports, and reports for your customer service, accounting, and production departments.
One of the more intriguing uses of Mail.dat is to pass postage information from a presort program to another system that manages lettershop operations and does business management. Ideally, your Mail.dat software should provide the link between your presort software and the business management software that you use for project, production, and warehouse management.
For example, your Mail.dat software should generate the data to update the final postage to your postage accounting system for internal auditing purposes. Although postage information is not usually stored directly in the Mail.dat file itself, postage is implied and can be calculated by a good Mail.dat program. Regardless of whether your internal applications are home-grown or commercial products, like PRO-MAIL® or PrintStream®, your Mail.dat software should be able output the final postage information, saving you time on data entry and increasing accuracy. Mail.dat software should also verify postage statements as they are returned from the US Postal Service. This prevents accidental changes and deletions and triggers the output of the final postage statement data.
Smaller mailers and non drop-ship mailers should also take advantage of innovative Mail.dat solutions that allow them, for example, to prepare floating batch or itemized manifests of First-Class and Standard mailings with non-identical piece weights. Your Mail.dat software should be able to reduce the postage by the exact amount of the spoilage as detected by intelligent inserters. If spoiled pieces are reprinted and mailed in a later mailing, your Mail.dat software should allow you to remove the spoiled pieces from the original postage statements and should provide you with documentation that justifies this reduction in postage, which can be substantial!
Drop ship mailers require a Mail.dat solution that can schedule drops, print the necessary statements and Drop Ship Clearance Documents, and pass the final data to the mailers' business management software to complete work tickets for these mailings without manual data entry. Entry point optimization and copalletization are other capabilities frequently available.
The concept of Mail.dat software as "middleware" is reinforced by another potential lettershop application: sharing postage information with lettershop clients. Mail.dat software should automatically create PDF's of all its postage statements and place them in a separate folder for each lettershop client. The best solutions can even add either a CSV or XML data file of the underlying postage data and upload these files to each client electronically.
Share Your Postage Data with Clients
Have you ever wondered what your clients do with those round-stamped postage statement copies that you send them as proof of mailing? Mail owners who want to do postage analysis and budgeting often have one or more employees dedicated to keying the postage data into databases or spreadsheets. Now you can automatically supply your clients with their postage data in a format they can readily import into their accounting systems for postage reconciliation and budget planning.
Mailers and list houses have been providing transportation companies with Mail.dat files for a long time, but if mailers were to receive Mail.dat files back from their transportation companies, instead of a spreadsheet, mailers could use this file to create all the final documentation without having to do any data entry! They could even print reports to help with production based on final entry plans and trailer numbers. Increasingly, mail owners want more than a round-stamp assurance from the lettershop that their piece was mailed. Mail owners want to know where their direct mail pieces are in the process and when they will be delivered in order to coordinate all of their marketing efforts-such as radio, print, and TV-to coincide with delivery. Two-way Mail.dat data exchange between transportation companies and mailers will grow in importance as mailers begin to require accurate induction scheduling information from the transportation companies to meet new Advance Shipment Notification requirements for participation in the US Postal Service's Confirm and Entry Information Programs. These USPS programs provide mailers with the tracking information they now require. In order to gain new business and increase customer satisfaction among current clients, lettershops should embrace Mail.dat and the USPS Confirm and Entry Info Programs.
These are just some of the reasons why Mail.dat software will sooner or later be used in almost every lettershop. Those who start now will gain competitive advantage by realizing greater efficiencies and by offering more value-added services-like electronic postage data transmission and entry info-to their clients.