• on Jul 9th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment
    Detail from Iron Mountain, Michigan
    Post Office Mural

    Some Americans may be aware that Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general of the United States, appointed by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. But, unfortunately, our history lessons have otherwise overlooked the Post Office’s contribution to the development of the nation. A new paper entitled Postal Service Contributions to National Infrastructure describes some of the ways the Postal Service was used to support national infrastructure growth. For example, did you know?

    • In the early years of the nation, highly subsidized newspaper rates led to the growth of a national media culture.
    • Funding to transport mail supported a stagecoach industry that carried passengers across the nation. This model was later repeated in the early airline industry when mail contracts supported passenger air transportation.
    • The start of rural free delivery at the turn of the 20th century forced farmers and communities to improve the condition of rural roads as a condition of service.

    In these ways, the Post Office Department helped conquer the great distances of the country, fill infrastructure gaps, buoy burgeoning technologies and industries, and bind the nation together. Postal policy decisions also generated important debates about the appropriate roles of the government and the private sector. In the 1840s, a new age of low postal rates and two-way communications was initiated in part because of private sector competition to the monopoly, and the United States was a latecomer to Parcel Post compared to other nations because of concern by the railroads and small rural stores over the incursion into their areas of business. By the 1960s, the Post Office was struggling with inefficiency and a large deficit. The President’s Commission on Postal Organization (known as the Kappel Commission) argued that the Post Office should run more like a business. Since then, the Postal Service’s secondary role in contributing to the expansion of the national infrastructure has lessened. Today, the decentralized and fragmented nature of the digital age may be creating new infrastructure gaps and under-served citizens. Is there again a place for the Postal Service in serving the nation’s infrastructure needs? Or is the Postal Service’s role of supporting new infrastructures behind it? What do you think?

  • on May 29th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment
    When online, how do you know who you’re really communicating with? Does that affect your shopping or banking habits? Do you know people who don’t use the Internet much because they are afraid of identity theft? The latest statistics from a Pew Research Center study demonstrate the pull of the Internet: •80 percent of Americans are users, whether through personal computer, tablet, or smartphone; •many of those users do not conduct any kind of commerce; •30 percent have not made a purchase online; •and 40 percent do not bank online. Would a more secure approach to online identity raise those figures? The Office of Inspector General’s new paper Digital Identity: Opportunities for the Postal Service examines the world of digital identity as well as many existing digital authentication solutions, including pilot projects, and potential roles for the Postal Service in the digital identity ecosystem. The paper posits that there is a need for a trusted and neutral body to identify, authenticate, and certify users in a straightforward manner that reduces sign-up friction and maintains privacy with very clear, concise, and enforceable policy guidelines. The Postal Service, given its national presence, physical infrastructure, and history of protecting privacy, could operate in a number of roles: •As a Trusted Third Party Online – The Postal Service could verify individual or business addresses (with permission from each user) for other organizations to facilitate eCommerce or other online transactions. •As an Identity Provider – The Postal Service could offer its own digital identity service, an opt-in service verifying attributes of consumers, businesses and organizations. •Providing in-Person Verification Services – The Postal Service could expand the work it already does for passports and offer in-person verification of mailing addresses through its network of post offices and postal carriers. What do you think? Is there a role for the Postal Service in digital identity? Share your thoughts below!
  • on May 14th, 2012 in Strategy & Public Policy | 3 comments
    Do you ever wonder about the future? Will flying cars ever arrive? Are video phones here at last? Will the end of paper finally come? Businesses can greatly benefit from knowing a little about future possibilities. At a time of great social and technological transition, understanding what might lie ahead can help businesses – like the Postal Service - prepare themselves to adapt. Deutsche Post DHL, the logistics and delivery company, commissioned a study to look at the world in 2050. The study, Delivering Tomorrow - Logistics 2050, was prepared with the help of a firm of futurists and foresight experts. Through interviews with key experts, the study’s authors determined 14 key factors that could influence the future of logistics such as income growth and trends in trade regulation. Then, they investigated potential outcomes for these factors. The possibilities were combined into five potential visions of the future: • Untamed Economy – Impending Collapse – World income grows rapidly, and globalization continues. The sheer pace of the growth threatens to strain natural resources. Logistics firms are critical for transporting goods through a logistics supergrid. • Mega-efficiency in Megacities – People live in urban metropolises that have managed to solve many of the problems of dense urban growth such as traffic jams. Rural areas are left behind as economic activity becomes increasingly concentrated in these giant megacities, which are connected by logistics firms. • Customized Lifestyles – A revolution in 3-D printing lets people make goods very near where they live. This allows for an incredible increase in customization and individualization. It also means that there is far less need to transport goods across the world. • Paralyzing Protectionism – Globalization falters as countries retreat into protected regional trade blocs. Even the Internet splits apart. Technological development lags, infrastructure crumbles, and resource scarcity slows economic growth. Regional logistics champions carry goods, and customs clearance takes weeks. • Global Resilience – Local Adaptation – Natural disasters, crises, and attacks make resilience and redundancy critical. Businesses use adaptable technology, such as production facilities that can turn off and on as needed. Redundancy is expensive so standards of living are lower. Trade is regionalized rather than global, and logistics firms focus on security rather than timeliness. What do you think of these visions of the future? (Keep in mind the short descriptions above only hint at the full scenarios in the paper.) What role will the U.S. Postal Service play?

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