• on Nov 11th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 10 comments

    Innovation is a hallmark of the digital revolution yet for many companies innovation remains hard. The popular book The Innovator’s Dilemma notes that companies often either ignore a disruptive technology or if they recognize it, they try to manage it like their traditional business. The book says companies need to recognize the disruptive technology and then set up a separate unit to manage it.

    The U.S. Postal Service finds itself struggling to innovate in a rapidly changing communications market. Yet, stakeholders agree that innovation is necessary to transform the Postal Service into a 21st century provider. The Postal Service has indicated a willingness to try new things, as allowed under the current law, but the time it takes new ideas to become a product or service is often too long in this fast-changing market. Some stakeholders have suggested the creation of a small, dedicated innovation unit that would have the authority to make partnership decisions and the flexibility to bring innovative products and services to market quickly. The major postal reform legislation now before Congress includes a provision that could essentially lay the groundwork for such a unit.

    The Postal Service actually tried small, cross-functional business units in the late 1990s. It had an international business unit that was given considerable autonomy and an Expedited Package Services (EPS) group located completely outside of headquarters in Atlanta. The EPS group was given freedom to pursue new partnerships and parcel services. Insiders might argue over how much of the credit EPS deserves, but in its short life, a number of package services were revamped or unveiled, including Parcel Select, Carrier Pickup of residential packages, and the groundbreaking contract with FedEx to provide airlift for Priority Mail. These separate units probably had some flops too, but innovation means taking risks and being allowed to fail occasionally.

    Do you think a small, agile, cross-functional “innovation unit,” led by a chief innovation officer, would help the Postal Service launch new products and services? Or does a dedicated innovation czar create a bottleneck that is inconsistent with the spirit of having innovative thinking permeate the entire organization? Would an “incubator” or “innovation lab” approach be better? What institutional changes might be needed to promote innovation? Does the current regulatory environment allow the Postal Service enough latitude to innovate effectively?

  • on Dec 19th, 2011 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 7 comments
    With mail volume decreasing, the U.S. Postal Service is coming up with new ways to reach out to potential customers. As one of the latest and most effective trends in customer outreach, more and more businesses are embracing social media outlets to engage the public. Presently, the Postal Service has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but is the agency using them effectively? According to the Postal Technology International, September 2011 issue, effective use of social media is at the heart of many successful businesses. With so many potential customers spending time on social media websites they have become an increasingly important means of reaching people. Consumers use social media sites to seek advice from their online peers and communities about what products and services are best. Companies have the opportunity to find out what consumers are saying about them, so they can gain insight into what people want in a product or service. It is widely accepted that social media is most effective when used as a two-way communications platform, for example, when the company not only issues its messaging and listens for remarks from customers, but when the company uses the platform to respond to customers directly, engaging with them on specific issues. Also, many companies are now advertising their products and services on social media sites to tap into a group of consumers who spend a significant amount of time on the Internet. How can the Postal Service use social media to increase its customer base and revenue? This blog is hosted by the OIG's Network Processing team.

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