Distribution and dispatch

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Introduction

Distribution and dispatch is the last step in developing documentation, and can be thought of as the publication stage (following printing - although there may be dispatch activities prior to printing, such as delivery of copy to the printers). Nowadays, most publication is on-line, but this is not always the case, and so a grounding in hardcopy distribution and dispatch is always a useful thing to have.

Distribution methods

There are a number of options for the distribution of hardcopy (physical) publications. These can be broadly categorized as:

  • Sea mail;
  • Air mail;
  • Ground transport;
  • Courier (hand-carry).

Sea mail

Sea mail is a good option for heavy documentation (such as a large number of copies of the same publication) that needs to be sent overseas. The advantage is that it tends to be cheap (or at least much cheaper than air transport). The disadvantage is that it tends to be very slow. Shipping from Europe to America (or vice versa) may take six to eight weeks, or even longer, depending on the schedule of the shipping line.

Air mail

Air mail provides a faster (than sea mail) way of distributing publications. Most transport companies (such as FedEx, DHL, and so on) can provide a 'next day delivery' (or worst case, two-day delivery) to almost anywhere in the world. America is only a six-hour flight from the United Kingdom, although transit times increase (sometimes significantly) depending on whether the final destination is a major hub of the transport company, or a more remote location.

The disadvantage of air mail is that it tends to be significantly more expensive (again, in comparison to sea mail). However, most transport companies offer a number of pricing schemes, depending on exactly how quickly the package (publication) needs to be at the destination. Next day delivery may be twice as expensive as three-day delivery, which in turn may be twice as expensive as 'next week' delivery.

Ground transport

Ground transport here refers to train or truck. It therefore only really applies within the same continent (or at least land mass), and is often only used for intra-country dispatch. Most commonly, the service used is the standard in-country (and often government-administered) postal system). Often, this is perfectly adequate for distribution of non-time-critical publications. However, care should be taken with 'critical' publications (such as copy being sent to the printer, or the only copy of a transcript that is being sent to the publisher. Here, end-to-end tracking is recommended.

Courier

Here, courier is used to refer to the hand-carry of documents or other publications, rather than the use of a 'courier' company (DHL and FedEx also claim to be courier services). If you need to absolutely guarantee the delivery of a publication to an individual (for example, due to contractual obligations, or because it is extremely sensitive - either in terms of content or timing) then using a courier may be a good option. For example, should a company have developed a new process or recipe that they want to keep secret from their competitors, using the local postal service to send it from Corporate HQ to the plants may be unwise. By contrast, paying a courier to hand-carry it may be a wiser option, and not necessarily a more expensive option (when compared to using FedEx or DHL), even where this involves flights

Dispatching copy to printers

Don't leave to the vagaries of the postal system. Send by courier (e.g. DHL, TNT, etc.), or hand-deliver if nearby.

Distributing finished documents

Consider the need to track who has copies, for sending out updates

On-line documentation

Consider the ability of all users to access the documentation. This is especially important for company Intranets, where not all employees may be connected or have access to all areas.

Consider speed/bandwidth issues. A Macromedia Flash presentation may look impressive, but if the Sales force have to access it via a hotel-room dial-up connection, they are unlikely to be impressed at waiting half an hour to download it.

Consider local content servers, caching, etc.

Consider the format of on-line documentation - will all users have access to the correct types of reader? Do they require plug-ins, can they get these and install them themselves, etc.

Sending documents abroad

Consider:

  • How it will be sent: Air Mail or courier or sea freight. Possibly fax. Consider electronic communication.
  • Bear in mind that it may be a statutory requirement that the documentation accompanies the product
  • Customs declarations. Prohibited goods (i.e. export of technologies)
  • Local requirements (i.e. all measurements must be in metric for South Africa)
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