June 1, 2019
By Sukumar Sambasivam and Thanneer Malai for Beta News
Every company these days is on a path to digital transformation, using technology to rise above the competition and show customers it is modern, efficient and optimized for success.
But as companies work through this transformation, they often uncover processes that have fallen behind the times and seem impossible to fix — either because these processes are tightly interwoven with other core business processes, or because it’s not clear where to even begin.
Despite a willingness to modernize legacy processes, many businesses struggle with:
These challenges are not unique, and to solve them sometimes requires turning to an outside resource. In one specific case, the mail-sorting division of a commercial print and logistics provider located in the Midwest realized its legacy solution optimized postal sortation (co-mail) needed to be modernized.
The Co-Mail Challenge
Co-mailing is the process in which a logistics provider (usually a printer) combines the mailing of a magazine or catalog from several publishers. The United States Postal Service offers substantial discounts for any physically bundled bulk mail it receives for delivery if it meets certain requirements related to volume and destination. In order to meet those requirements, the co-mail process combines the volume from several publishers and shares the discounts, thereby helping publishers send large quantities of mail across the country.
The printer’s business stakeholder realized the division’s legacy solution was no longer effective. The system was siloed, meaning the mail-sorting division could not take advantage of other operational advancements within the organization, because its legacy solution was not modern and diverse enough. The outdated system also was unable to scale to the company’s current needs, which was inhibiting the company from accessing additional streams of revenue.
A New Approach
While the mail-sorting division business stakeholder had several profit-making ideas, there was significant lack of understanding of their business value or vision among the internal teams.
Additionally, the methodology and practices the printer division was using were not modern; for example, they were using the Waterfall approach for life-cycle development, a structured software development methodology that can be quite rigid and is an outdated process.
Finally, the division had no data scientists on the staff who could help reveal hidden challenges and opportunities, and provide context around changes and decisions.
After partnering with a technical solutions firm, the first step was to create a strong partnership with all stakeholders in order to dive deep into their business needs and operational challenges. The partnership allowed its partner, Apexon, to understand where the business needed to go and then turned the business stakeholder’s vision into actionable systems. This was the most critical part of the process, and understanding this division’s particular needs required a lot of data and analysis.
The team brought in a skilled data analytics expert who could deal with large amounts of data using certain products and scales to help the business stakeholder back up his mission with strong technical data and analytics. This helped frame the context of inefficiencies and operational roadblocks.
Bringing in Agile and Scrum
To bridge some of the gaps in methodology, the company shifted the division from traditional development methods to Agile and Scrum processes.
Agile helps continuous iteration of development and testing in the software development process. In this model, development and testing activities are concurrent, unlike the Waterfall model. This process allows more communication between customers, developers, managers, and testers, and allows businesses to see results and implement ideas much faster, getting better value out of every quarter. Scrum is another Agile methodology that uses an incremental approach to work in order to complete projects more quickly.
The company brought in user experience (UX) experts to interview not just the end-users, but also the employees using the co-mail system, to learn what all stakeholders wanted, and come up with a new, more user-friendly application that made everyone happy.
Other areas of improvement included implementing quality assurance testing and automation to reduce workloads.
The technical solutions firm partnered with the commercial print and logistics provider’s mail-sorting division to design, architect, develop and test a modernized solution, using its expertise in data analytics, mathematics and computer science, along with best practices on scrum, UX, technical excellence and legacy modernization.
With its new application suite, the mail-sorting division division has been able to maximize revenue and increase efficiencies. It now can scale faster, as well as integrate with other business units within the division, which in turn generates more revenue for the business.
Driving Toward Modernization
It’s no longer possible for a business in the 21st century to resist modernization, and most companies realize that — yet even with the right mindset, it can be difficult to determine where to start, what to do and how to do it.
Modernization — and the ability to scale and produce results faster — has accelerated the co-services division’s ability to develop the differentiators it needed to attract new customers, and this result is possible for other businesses in all industries.