Written by Mailers Hub Managing Director, Leo Raymond
In perhaps the most well-attended such event in recent years, thousands of participants descended on Baltimore (MD) in late May to attend the 2017 National Postal Forum. As is customary, the official opening of the multi-day convention featured the Postmaster General speaking at the Monday morning general session. That speech is often the vehicle for highlighting key initiatives, commenting on the agency’s business condition, or announcing changes to mailing standards or prices having broad industry impact.
However, playing off the Forum’s theme of “Make Informed Connections,” PMG Megan Brennan instead used her time before the assembly to promote two of the agency’s major programs: Informed Delivery and Informed Visibility. Both were set in the context of broader USPS efforts to integrate digital commerce into mail-related activities, to meld the digital and hard-copy worlds, and to keep mail relevant in a society that is increasingly oriented toward digital communication. Of course, both programs are possible because of the mailing industry’s increased adoption of Full Service mailing, based on the use of data-rich intelligent mail barcodes (see Miscellany on page 10). To employ what the resulting volume of IMB mail provides, the USPS has built a robust network of scanners on mail processing machines, hand-held devices used by mail processing and delivery personnel, and other tools to capture millions of scan events daily and transform this data into useful information in nearly real-time. The result is a pervasive overview of mail movement, including projections of workload and anticipated delivery, to support both better management of internal USPS operations and greater visibility of the mailstream for postal and industry observers.
The USPS is clearly betting heavily on Informed Delivery as a key ingredient in its digital strategy. After what some saw as inconclusive testing in the metropolitan Washington and New York areas – participation was relatively low, and many industry concerns were not fully resolved – the program was rolled-out nationwide this year without fanfare. If initial indications are accurate, however, public acceptance of the program is increasing despite the absence of promotion. In her speech, the PMG stated that 10,000 people are enrolling in Informed Delivery daily, and that the total number of participants now has exceeded two million. As if to underscore the agency’s interest in advancing the program, postal staffers roamed the Forum’s exhibit hall with hand-held devices that accepted sign-ups on the spot.
Informed Visibility, the sibling of Informed Delivery, had its own boost from the PMG’s speech, and was presented as the tool that mail users – especially marketers – could use to coordinate their advertising campaigns. Using the data gleaned from in-process scans of IMB-bearing mailpieces, trays, pallets, and other containers, and the information presented by mailing service providers through their electronic mailing documents, the USPS built its “surface visibility” network to monitor mail movement literally from the point of entry to the mailbox, and identify where mail movement is running smoothly and where it isn’t. (In the latter case, the agency claims to now be better enabled to take effective action to correct “pinch points” and other delays and, in turn, reduce adverse service consequences.) With the underlying data systems in place to support the information needs of internal USPS users, making relevant subsets of that information available to mail owners and mail presenters was relatively straightforward – building the customer-facing Informed Visibility platform. As the USPS has touted, seeing the movement of mail through the system and knowing its anticipated delivery enables senders to better coordinate the presentation of related information to addressees through other media. In concept, email messages and hard-copy mail could be synchronized to be more effective than either would be alone. Just as the Postal Service is hoping Informed Delivery will do, it’s hoping Informed Visibility will advance the integration of hard-copy and electronic messaging, educate marketers on the continuing relevance and value of mail, and – of course – slow the loss of mail volume and revenue.
What wasn’t mentioned
Attendees at the PMG’s speech also noticed what she didn’t discuss or even mention – issues like postal reform legislation, recent labor agreements, postal finances, possible changes to the ratemaking process, price or preparation changes that the USPS may propose later this year, or any other of the usual topics than have been covered in past years’ PMG speeches at the NPF. Instead, the focus was on the “informed” services – and nothing else. Whether this was to emphasize them, or to avoid the other topics, or both, wasn’t explained, of course. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to conclude that a more positive focus on what the USPS is doing to preserve the mail was seen as a better use of the PMG’s time than reviewing other topics that are already well-explored and that really wouldn’t benefit from yet another rehashing.
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