A year of work in progress – day 197

Day 197 – 18 November 2014

If it is possible to love a machine then for me our folding and inserting machine is it. Why? Because it has taken a job that nobody thinks about, that everyone does but is no one’s responsibility and has turned it into cash.

I’m telling you this because today the supplier has asked if they can show some prospective clients around Tanfield

Every so often, perhaps not as often as I would like, I go back to the floor. (I still haven’t found a better expression.) My belief is that no matter how hard you try you can never truly understand your business until you experience it. Many of the decisions that we make are taken as far from the customer as possible and we expect our people to struggle to deliver them.

During Customer Service last year I got the opportunity to work with Susan on our fantastic folding and insertion machine. I spent an afternoon filling the feed hoppers with envelopes and insertions and the print runs and taking the pristine finished product and stacking them in the mail boxes ready for collection. Susan was very kind to me as she set the machine on 4. It goes up to 12 but I could not keep up with it. I couldn’t fill it quickly enough to keep it going. It was incredible.

Local government has had five years of recession. It has been the best of times and the worst of times. Austerity has been a huge opportunity to drive change through the authority. It has given us the mandate to make changes that would not have been achievable in good times.

And this is where our lovely machine comes in. Mail is not an important function. It is a vital function. It is still one of the major ways in which we communicate important information with our customers, council tax, benefits etc. A letter still has greater gravitas than any other form of communication. In many ways like ICT, mail is something that goes on in the background that people expect to happen and is done as an add-on to other people’s roles. It is an often unseen function that has no value but really has enormous value and a lot of cost.

Using clean mail we have saved a fortune. The machine has paid for itself in less than fifteen months. We started off with general mil and are now working on hybrid mail, being able to mail documents from your desk top. But this opportunity is about so much more than money.

Firstly our approach to mail has improved quality. We don’t send letters to the wrong people. We don’t put the wrong inserts into envelopes. Secondly it has helped to tie the organisation together. It shows how corporate services can squeeze value out of unseen, background activities. It can relieve pressure by removing services without perceived value from areas whose focus is elsewhere.

There is opportunity everywhere.

I did some other stuff today as well. I had a Durham / Northumberland meeting via video conference, a catch up with Shirley from the Institute of Customer Service and a demonstration of a Telehealth system. In the evening I went to the Dynamo board.

Learning points for today: November is the quietest month for hairdressers; clicker is the internationally recognised word for the TV remote and not a bleeper; I might be warming to video conferencing and; giving instructions blind is a skill I had to develop quickly.

Today’s enjoyment rating 8/10 – a mini first day back.

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