Having just gone through another postal rate increase, governments more than ever are looking for ways to trim their mailing costs. Virginia's Department of Treasury has found some.

An integrated check-printing and distribution system helps the department prepare and mail checks more efficiently, allowing it to get more done without adding staff. And by helping Virginia take better advantage of automation discounts from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), the system has reduced postage costs by $180,000 to $200,000 per year.

The Department of Treasury prepares and distributes checks for six state agencies: Social Services, Taxation, Accounts, Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Employment Commission and the Virginia Retirement System.

For many years, the state's Comptroller's Office used two Troy impact printers to produce these checks. Someone then carried the checks from the Comptroller's second-floor office to the Treasury Department on the third floor, where the checks were signed and inserted in envelopes. Then, in the basement, a mail preparation system added bar codes to the envelopes and sorted the pieces to qualify for USPS discounts.

With this highly manual process, it generally took one to two days to print a set of checks and send them out the door, said Kristin Reiter, director of the Treasury's Operations Division.

The search for a more efficient solution began when Treasury decided to move from impact to laser printing. The Troy printers were antiquated and maintenance was expensive, said Robert Farley, director of information systems at the Treasury Department.

Once Treasury decided to buy new hardware, the search began for up-to-date software. Not only did the department want to keep up with the times; it also needed to make its systems Y2K compatible.

Don't Touch Legacy Systems

Millennial concerns also dictated a major criterion for the new system: It had to work with the state agencies' legacy systems exactly as they were.

"We did not want to require a lot of software changes on the part of the check-producing agencies, because they were just not staffed at the time to do that. All their focus was on Y2K," Reiter explained.

The system the Treasury Department chose in 1999 included two 4135 MICR printers from Xerox and equipment from Moore Business Systems to fold and seal the self-mailing check stock. It also included print formatting software from Red Titan Ltd. and postal automation software from Firstlogic. Enterprise Document Distribution Associates (EDDA) served as the systems integrator.

Virginia implemented the system in two stages. From July 1999 through June 2000 it introduced the Xerox and Moore equipment but continued to use its old mail preparation system. Then, from February to June 2001, it added Firstlogic's Postalsoft automation system.

The new system receives check data from the agencies in exactly the same format as before.

"The EDDA and Red Titan Software sort of reverse engineered the old printing codes out of the Troy print stream and put it in a format that the Xerox printers would accept," Farley said. "That required no programming changes from the agencies, other than changing the method of delivery from writing it to tape to sending us the files."

One Click Process

Instead of requiring three separate operations to print checks and prepare them for mailing, the new system does it all in a single process.

Once the software prepares the check file, "a single selection of a file and a single click of a button cause everything else to happen," said David Hunt, president of EDDA in Marietta, Ga.

Postalsoft compares the city, state and ZIP code for each address to a current database and makes any necessary corrections. It sorts the check records by ZIP code and carrier route so the printed mail pieces come out in the right

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer