To be successful, a company must be willing to make changes, to grow. This kind of thinking has kept Lehigh Direct, a division of Lehigh Press and now a subsidiary of von Hoffman, flourishing since 1924. We offer a variety of direct mail, pre-press, lithographic and printing services. This mentality was also the impetus behind the recent formation of a new department at Lehigh - digital technology services.

The digital technology services department at Lehigh offers address list processing services to customers running direct mail campaigns. The department's goal is to process these lists as efficiently as possible so that their full potential is realized. This means ensuring that duplicates and records with incomplete or erroneous information are eliminated or, where possible, corrected. Such practices cut down on misdeliveries and go a long way toward ensuring that Lehigh customers end up with successful direct marketing efforts. Operational costs can also be slashed by applying postal pre-sorting routines to the data, which allows customers to take advantage of postal discounts.

A postal discount can translate into considerable money savings. Typically, the finer the pre-processing, the higher the discount. For example, as much as $90 per thousand pieces can be saved on first-class mailings by pre-processing to the carrier route level.

When I was brought on board to head the new programming efforts at digital technology services, I was charged with designing a high-performance yet cost-effective solution for the department. At the beginning, we used Microsoft Access; however, as data volumes increased, Access was unable to keep up with growing business demands. I knew we needed a solution that would also provide speed, ease of use, flexibility and broad functionality. Fortunately, I didn't have to search too long for the right data management products. Among the tools I chose is SyncSort. Familiar with the product from previous experience at other jobs, I felt that it could easily meet the challenges in digital technology services.

Productivity gains have been considerable since installing SyncSort, which now runs along with Group 1 and Data Junction (now Pervasive) on a Dell Power Edge Server, with a Windows 2000 operating system. We are now able to handle a lot more data, much faster. For example, a 2GB file containing 6 million records would have taken Access at least 20 minutes or more to process, but now completes in approximately two minutes. These are significant numbers when processing large amounts of data, all day, every day.

SyncSort has become an integral part of operations at digital technology services. The SyncSort product is called as an executable from the Data Junction process designer. A processing application reads records from the source file, reorders them according to the specified sort key and writes them to a target file. I also utilize the SyncSort summarize feature, which aggregates records with duplicate sort keys into a single record, to count how many different codes appear in a given file. An important step that occurs during the postal pre-sorting phase is the appending of ZIP+4s to the address records by Group 1. SyncSort processes files both before and after the postal pre-sorting. We go through the GUI and set up the individual fields, the ZIP code field, the ZIP+4s, and then add those to the sort keys. Group 1 has a sort processing utility built into it, but it's very slow. Instead, I tie SyncSort with Group 1 and call an executable to process files. I then use the filter feature to split the files by ZIP codes for output.

As one of the final steps, we merge the processed files with Mail.dat files. We manipulate the files so that they will make sense from a mailing and production standpoint. When all these processing steps are completed, the customer's address lists are ready to be used for a mailing.

Digital technology services now smoothly handles jobs that range from one to 13 million records, or approximately 4GB. No matter the job size, we get a 10 to 20-fold productivity gain. It's phenomenal. The fact that digital technology services now has a versatile, high-performance tool that can process high volumes of data is the key that affords the department opportunities for future growth. With the technology now in place, I feel well equipped to face any challenges that may come our way.

SyncSort from Syncsort Inc.

SyncSort is a high-performance application accelerator that improves the performance of multiple applications and reduces elapsed time for a broad range of applications. It speeds ETL transactions by up to 90% and facilitates data mining, clickstream processing, data warehousing, legacy migration and more.

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