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A Different Approach to Service: Internet of People and Technology

Ramesh Ratan headshot

When you hear the term “service” in the electromechanical fields, most people would envision a blue-collar professional who may be very adept at his job but has limited experience and/or education. He shows up, does the job, and departs. It’s a very reactive, task-centered approach to service.

Bell and Howell has a different approach that views service as a technology business rather than an add-on or the traditional definition of a service business as a commercial enterprise that provides work performed in an expert manner by an individual or team for the benefit of its customers. In our approach, technology enables people and people enable technology.

We recognize that technology augments human capability in ways beyond simple automation or artificial intelligence. Technology can enable us to do more than we could before. Think of exoskeletons that enable operators to lift heavy crates with ease, or Web-connected appliances that email you when a malfunction is sensed.

Beyond just fixing a machine, we believe the difference in the way we approach service is rooted in the interplay between people and technology. In true mechatronics, an expert technician possesses the knowledge and understanding of the machine in context. He or she knows that if this device fails, it impacts machines up and down the production line, which would negatively impact operations and productivity.

At the practical level, a lot of our competitors approach service through regularly scheduled “P.M. downtime.” Similar to an annual physical that humans undergo, the machine is taken offline and examined at least yearly for wear and tear and preventative maintenance. Everybody believed an annual checkup was sufficient but what ends up happening the rest of the year is that the equipment is in “break/fix mode” and only addressed if it fails.

Bell and Howell’s maintenance cycles are much more frequent, perhaps quarterly or even monthly. Although it may seem excessive or unnecessary to some, this approach is much more beneficial and economical because it leads to more productivity. If you drive your car 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year, you don’t change the oil annually. You have your vehicle serviced more frequently based on usage, not the calendar.

We can use data and analytics to improve service and perform “predictive failure maintenance” before you even know you might have an issue. This makes your operation more productive and reduces the cost of per-piece operation.

Getting back to how people can enable technology, our technicians report back to us upon completing a visit and increase the knowledge base of the organization. They know they don’t operate as individuals but as part of a team of more than 700 electromechanical experts throughout North America that share and transfer knowledge to one another.

Our technicians have had service dispatch applications (SDAs) for a while, first through BlackBerries and soon iPhones and other smart devices. This allows our men and women in the field to use the app as an extension of themselves. Through GPS, video, barcode scanners and tags, this helps us to enable not just the “Internet of things” but the “Internet of people and technology.” It’s a unique concept that empowers the mutual exchange of information that makes both our people better through technology, and our technology better through our people.

As Bell and Howell evolves from our historical printing and mailing foundations to eCommerce, parcels and beyond this approach will help Internet-enabled connectivity across our lines of products and services. With enhanced knowledge, our technicians can now fix a wide range of products from printing and mailing equipment to 3D printers, currency counters, and much more.

Neither humans nor technology can optimally solve problems on their own. It’s the interplay between human judgment and technical data that combine to enhance operations. Machines will never replace human instinct, intuition and interaction, and that’s one of the reasons why Bell and Howell will continue to invest in its human resources for the betterment of our company and our clients.

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Building the National eCommerce Infrastructure

Brian Bowers

At the recent National Postal Forum in Anaheim, California, I presented my thoughts on how technology and cooperation will be the keys to realizing a vision for a national eCommerce infrastructure.

In 2013, use of mobile devices to access the Internet surpassed that of desktop devices. Today, 52% of Americans purchase products online. eCommerce is expected to grow 30% in the next three years. Cottage industries are growing at around 18% to 25% per year, generating even more parcel and package traffic. What’s driving this? The answer is Millenials, who are willing to spend money on lifestyle products and to get them fast.

As more consumers make online purchases, shippers handling bulky but light packages decided to make their systems more efficient and went to dim-weight pricing methods. Packaging and package density were to be the new norms. However, this model doesn’t seem to be working. The thought was that the change in pricing would change behaviors, but it didn’t. People want their products and want them now, regardless of higher shipping costs.

Meanwhile, the USPS started to more aggressively market itself as a courier. In today’s world economies, they are now pushing their greatest strength: the last mile. They grew in number of packages delivered by 18% over the previous Christmas period. In addition, if the item is less than 1 ft. x 1 ft. x 1ft., USPS doesn’t price it by dim-weight.

Market needs are driving efficiency in transportation networks all the way back to the distribution center. With same-day delivery as the ultimate goal, we need to look toward greater automation and speed from truck to stock and stock to truck. Current labeling technologies relying on optical scanning need to be reviewed. I suspect that radio frequency identification (RFID) tags will become the norm, and operations like Walmart have been doing it for a long time.

Barriers to Growth
In every growth opportunity, there are barriers. Lack of cooperation and capital investment are two of the greatest barriers to eCommerce. Companies have competed against each other for so long that they fear cooperation will lose them market share, despite the fact that market share is going to fluctuate anyway. Companies must start cooperating. Even the USPS is cooperating with companies like FedEx to take advantage of their strengths.

Commitment to capital investment is simple to comprehend. Companies must invest to stay competitive with new technologies and new concepts.

We are truly in a global economy now. This means there will be more business going internationally between countries and being processed by various customs authorities. Thank goodness for the Universal Postal Union’s efforts to help simplify this with standard addressing and labeling. About 70% of the world’s population lives without standardized addressing. That issue clearly needs to be resolved.

Optimizing Technology
We use QR codes today with letters and flats, so why not use them with packages and parcels as well? QR codes are just a part of the omnichannel marketing strategy. We use QR codes as hyperlinks to websites, so why not as hyperlinks to apps?

Geocoding has been around for a long time and is currently used in many applications for dynamic routing of trucks and people. Also, geocoding is the basis or foundation for geofencing. What if we now use geofencing to alert drivers that a pickup is needed because a person just entered his or her order online? What if the package the driver was delivering would chirp or glow when nearing its destination. This is all possible when tying various technologies together.

So if we tie geocodes and QR codes together with GPS, we get augmented reality, which already exists on smartphones apps that can use the phone’s camera, QR codes, and your GPS locator to guide you to the next great deal. Something similar could be done to help drivers deliver parcels.

RFID technology has been around for a while. There are two types: active and passive. Obviously, the active would need to have a power source to allow it to be read. That is possible now with certain inks and technologies.

The benefits to RFID technology are that hundreds of items can be registered simultaneously; they are less sensitive to soiling and damage; they can store significantly greater data; they have up to 10X faster read speeds; tags are re-writable; and they provide data integrity/security. The drawbacks are that RFID tags are relatively more expensive; a global standard for delivery use does not exist; bulk reading is impacted by certain metals/liquids; and there are concerns regarding employee tracking.

Improving Delivery
To remain competitive in this industry and to meet customer demand for instant gratification, we need to find new products and services. These can include same-day delivery of online orders, better secure delivery options, dynamic re-routing, and even late-evening and weekend deliveries.

The big couriers and the USPS have examined parcel lockers in different locations, and there are benefits to both shippers and recipients. That expensive product ordered can be locked away and picked up when you want, as opposed to having it left at your door or with a neighbor. I believe that a parcel locker network will exist shortly.

Amazon and other companies are even exploring delivery by drones. It’s too early to tell if this will catch on, but does warrant monitoring.

Putting it All Together
Technology will play a huge part in the network. RFID tags embedded in labels would report when packages are transferred from distribution center to truck and then to the final destination. The trucks would have GPS and readers on them to report automatically back to the system. The driver would be notified where on the truck the item is located to make it easier and faster to retrieve. Rerouting based on geocodes will be in place. Auto feedback to the courier, customer and OEM will also be in place. The parcel locker has to become an agnostic network for all to use. The software will need to reach out to all presorters, couriers and the USPS to notify them and deal with rates.

To make this all happen, a new level of cooperation must exist. Brokers may be needed at the intersections of the networks to keep certain data private and secure. Competitive data will be protected and not shared.

Linking all of this is a ton of software. For scheduling purposes, software is already being used to track where drivers are, when pickups are made, and how much mail is coming in. There is already software available to deal with combined delivery services and sharing of delivery revenue/expenses.

The opportunity is there: $327 billion to be spent on eCommerce in 2016. Now it’s up to us to build the right infrastructure to seize and grow that opportunity.

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Independent Maintenance Services from Bell & Howell

(The following is from an article on


Bell and Howell has been evolving at a fast pace since its acquisition by Versa capital.
The “New Bell and Howell” is succeeding at what many enterprises would love to do: Reinvent the company to be highly relevant in today’s marketplace by identifying and leveraging their base skill-sets.

By strengthening their mailing offerings and now adding new services and products this “New Bell and Howell” is an entirely different company than the Bell and Howell of just a few years ago.

In this article, Jim Feely, Bell and Howell’s vice president of service, discusses the company’s expanding focus as an independent service provider with Andy & Julie Plata, Co-CEOs of the OutputLinks Communications Group.

Julie: Greeting Jim. Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Jim: As the vice president of service, I have management responsibility for Bell and Howell’s service organization. Over my twenty seven years in business, I spent about twenty two of them in service and five in sales.

I originally served at Bell and Howell in a senior sales capacity. I left the company five years ago to serve as Fire Chief of the Durham Highway Fire Department and to run my own printing business. Then I rejoined the company two years ago to be part of the “New Bell and Howell” and expand the service organization’s offerings to a wider market.

Andy: That’s quite a background – sales, firefighting, print shop owner and now equipment service. It will be interesting to see how those experiences can apply to your new objective of expanding Bell and Howell’s service offerings. Tell us about what you are doing now and where you are going with this services expansion.

Jim: We have reinvented Bell and Howell service as an independent services business that is no longer tied just to the mailing and parcel industry. We are now servicing a variety of different products from cash dispensing machines to wide format printers and even robotics.

We are working hard to expand our service brand by proving ourselves as an excellent independent, single-source service resource.

Julie: What do you mean by reference of single-source provider?

Jim: Many companies have an objective to reduce the cost, administration and data-loss risk by consolidating services with a single vendor whenever possible. Since our proven team operates on a 24/7 basis and our technicians have a wide range of service experiences, contracting Bell and Howell to service much or all of their equipment is the perfect solution to the stated objective.

Julie: What are Bell and Howell’s primary value propositions that would help a company choose you for their important service functions?

Jim: Good question and we have a great answer.

Bell and Howell has one of the largest dedicated service organizations in the industry with a large geographic national footprint in the US and Canada. So multi-location companies with equipment spread across the country (even in rural areas) would be under a single Bell and Howell service agreement.

We have a dedicated customer call center that’s available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Customers love that they have only one number to call, any time of day or night for service

We offer a variety of very flexible service plans to meet our customers’ needs. In some cases customers want us to be resident, onsite, to be able to respond immediately. Since many of our customers require non-conventional hours for service, they can feel comfortable to call us at any time to be there.

Customers can order parts and supplies online through our website, anything the customer needs for the equipment we service can be ordered through our website.

Julie: What tools do you use to ensure the high level of services that companies require?

Jim: Bell and Howell is an SAP user as well as an SAP partner. So we understand the product well and put it to work benefitting our customers. Our SAP system tracks every call that comes in, the response times and problem resolution.

We use customer surveys and our call center data to monitor the level of service customers receive to insure we meet our promise of excellence to the customer.

The goal is to continually enhance the quality of our service by accessing immediate feedback from our customers and our technicians.

Julie: What do your customers see as the benefits?

Jim: As the executive in charge, I consistently monitor our response times. We commit to 4 hour response, and we’re averaging less than 2 hours.

Customers recognize downtime is expensive. So the high level of service we provide to enhance uptime at a lower cost is what our high demand customers require and appreciate.

Andy: Will the refurbishment center you are opening in Wisconsin benefit your non-Bell and Howell maintenance customers?

Jim: The answer is, yes. We will refurbish Bell and Howell and non-Bell and Howell at the center or even in the customer’s location.

Customers who are looking to minimize capital expenditures costs and increase the productive life of their machines by years are the perfect fit for our refurbishment services.

We will make their equipment look and run like new plus provide ongoing maintenance for a considerably lower cost than their other alternatives. Our goal is to extend the life of the customer’s equipment which is of great appeal to customers who want to conserve capital.

Julie: As we close, please share with us the primary questions you and your sales team use to qualify a prospect for independent maintenance?

Jim: Here they are:
• Has your service environment evolved as fast as your operations have evolved?
• Has your equipment service been getting a better, more flexible, all inclusive, and less expensive?
• Are there too many service providers having access to your facility?
• If a trusted, single service company could bring your company lower costs with greater security and uptime, would you be interested in discussing the opportunities?


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Eight Reasons to Learn More about Plain Paper Factories

Pete Jones

Plain Paper Factories are quickly becoming the next evolution of print and mail operations. There are several reasons that print and postal environments benefit from this automated approach to mailpiece creation.

The majority of direct marketers use some level of personalization in their campaigns, but
InfoTrends research shows that fewer than 10 percent of them use data-driven messaging on the outside of the envelope. The days of multiple forms and envelopes that sit on a shelf until needed is quickly receding. Instead, fully automated print-to-finished mailpiece technology is taking the place of stored inventory and adding full color variable data printing on the fly.

Here are eight reasons to take a closer look at Plain Paper Factories:

1. Reduce inventory and storage costs – A Plain Paper Factory allows you to eliminate storing preprinted envelopes and forms. With Bell and Howell’s Inveloper system, these are created on the fly using rolls of paper. View a video here.

2. Enhanced color options – Quickly add inkjet color to the outside of the envelope for increased transpromotional opportunities and cross-selling/up-selling.

3. Flexible consumer envelope styles – Plain Paper Factory systems support multiple mailpiece styles for maximum flexibility (tear off, zipper, traditional, etc.). This includes the capability to create windows with glassine and custom flap shapes.

4. Efficient processing – When compared with traditional web presses, changeover time is extremely efficient, measured in minutes rather than hours, or even days for some operations.

5. Faster time to finished piece – Because there are no envelopes to fill, Plain Paper Factory systems run more efficiently by practically eliminating jams. The paper elements are joined together smoothly, running inline with no machine or module stoppage.

6. One machine supports many applications – No need to invest in more capital to meet the service level agreements (SLAs) and mailpiece size variations of multiple customers. One machine can run the full range of envelope sizes as well as new sizes and styles.

7. Sorting to ZIP density on-the-fly – Printing to 5-digit accuracy allows for both postage savings and inline commingling.

8. High-impact marketing – These systems allow for virtually limitless color composition options for each mailpiece. You can get multivariate testing rather than being restricted to stock envelope A/B testing.

In summary, Plain Paper Factory solutions can save time, costs and space, increase efficiency, provide enhanced flexibility, and deliver more impactful and personalized messaging. It’s imperative that your marketing messages are highly effective and generate the highest response rates at the lowest cost possible. Plain Paper Factories can help you achieve those objectives.

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