Magazine article University Business

Keeping You Posted: Tecnology, New Partnerships and an Updated Outllok on Service Propel Campus Mailrooms into the 21st Century

Magazine article University Business

Keeping You Posted: Tecnology, New Partnerships and an Updated Outllok on Service Propel Campus Mailrooms into the 21st Century

Article excerpt

After working in an antiquated mailroom in a windowless basement of a dorm, Linda Barrows was thrilled to occupy space in the brand new, centrally located Center for Communication and Creative Media on the campus of Champlain College in Vermont.


Her process has been upgraded as much as her digs.

In the "old" days, her team sorted all mail by hand. "When packages came in, we had a clipboard and printed out a sheet that would hold the names, who the packages were going to, who it was coming from, and the date it came in," says Barrows, the mailroom and switchboard manager. She would handwrite "you've got mail" slips for student mailboxes. Packages were kept in a mailroom in a tiny closet.

Now, the mailboxes are gone, tracking and notifications have gone digital, and students pick up mail at the center.

The mailroom is becoming a more visible and important part of auxiliary services at colleges across the country, with some institutions overhauling their facilities completely to accommodate the new technology that streamlines service.

But many campus mail centers have a long way to go before reaching that 21st century standard.

One piece of evidence: Since Vanderbilt University's 2015 mail center remodel, Mickey Anglea, associate director for business services, has gotten more than 60 inquiries from other schools. "They're all looking at ways to improve service to the customer," says Anglea.

Not surprisingly, pieces of regular mail are way down. But the extreme upsurge in package deliveries creates big challenges. Vanderbilt processed 195,000 packages in 2016, compared to 80,000 in 2008.

The volume surges in the fall, as students order books--and everything from sheets to clothing to phones--online. Why pack and travel with items that could just meet you on campus?

The mailroom at East Tennessee State University sees tour to five times the packages each fall compared to the rest of the year, says Don McCarry, director of postal and passport services.

For most mailrooms, managing the barrage of boxes is a processing nightmare.

With the help of technology, sophisticated package notification and pickup solutions, and external partners, however, campus are working to meet the challenges of serving students in the age of Amazon.

Signed, sealed, delivered

One. Box. At. A. Time. Using a DOS-based system, that was how Haverford College in Pennsylvania processed packages, says Geoffrey Labe, director of conferences/events and campus center services at the 1,200-student school.

At peak times, printing or writing out paper slips and getting them into mailboxes for eventual pickup could take days. And it left an unfathomable amount of packages to languish, unclaimed.

A few years ago, eager for change, Labe found Pitney Bowes' SendSuite, a handheld-device-based system for scanning packages via a barcode. "Every time a package is processed, the student gets an email saying that package is available for pick up," he says. Students sometimes arrive within minutes, scanning their IDs to retrieve the package.

The mail center also got revamped from the bottom up. Old metal immovable shelves were replaced with shelving units on wheels. Those units have barcodes showing where particular packages are being held until students retrieve them from the mail window.

To accommodate the inevitable package avalanche at the beginning of each semester, Labe thinks outside the box: He'll rent a truck for a few weeks and have it parked at a nearby loading dock.

Many institutions, including Vanderbilt and East Tennessee State, place smart locker systems outside the mail centers for 24/7 access.

McCarty reports that East Tennessee's sophisticated package locker system from TZ Limited also scans packages when they arrive and at pickup. The university's 4,400 students get access via an app or their ID card, and the lockers--with 140 doors of various sizes--can hold more than 350 packages. …

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