• on Oct 8th, 2012 in Delivery & Collection | 10 comments
    The digital revolution has changed communications, and with it, the operations and finances of the U.S. Postal Service. It also has brought deep changes in the way we design networks and analyze systems. Many organizations rely on mathematical modeling to test ideas before they become operational, conserving money and time. The Postal Service, facing limited capital and resources, has also adopted this practice. It is discovering how important these tools are for assessing strategies for designing the future mail network. The Office of Inspector General has explored some of the main components of the postal supply chain - retail, mail processing and transportation, and delivery – using a systems modeling approach. This approach has allowed the OIG to use objective methods to determine how the network could be redesigned to meet current needs and future demands. This research also helps us to understand some of the challenges in developing information-based decision models for the Postal Service. A primary challenge in any modeling effort is collecting the necessary information. Without this data, the model cannot fully assess the efficiency of the operations it is modeling, and develop an optimal network solution. Postal information systems can be a complex array of the hundreds of highly varied and specialized information systems that are often developed and maintained under separate contracts. Simplifying this landscape also could enable more insightful analyses to better guide decision makers. As the Postal Service considers how it can best serve the public through its products and services, modeling efforts can help it to evaluate different proposals for change. As we develop better efficiency standards with more rich data sources, we can not only better evaluate the efficiency of operations and system design, but we can better explore how operations may be changed to meet the needs of new environments.
  • on Sep 3rd, 2012 in Products & Services | 9 comments
    As the U.S. Postal Service remakes itself into a leaner organization in the face of a communications revolution, it still remains a powerful medium and an important part of the nation’s infrastructure. A smaller Postal Service will still be huge, with more than $60 billion in projected revenue. It will not disappear tomorrow. A lingering concern remains, however, that the Postal Service is becoming less relevant to younger Americans. A recent public opinion poll by The New York Times and CBS supports this conclusion. According to the poll, only 30 percent of people under 45 say they use the mail “all the time.” While daily reliance on the Postal Service is still high for older generations, these poll results raise questions about the organization’s long-term future if physical mail does not play a role in the lives of younger Americans. A Pew Research study shows these younger generations turn to the Internet and smart devices for their news, entertainment, and to connect with friends and family. The Postal Service and traditional hard-copy communication vehicles will find it hard to win customers that have grown up as digital natives. Still, other polls suggest that hard copy and direct mail remain an important part of the media mix, even for those under the age 35. A 2011 survey by Pitney Bowes indicated that marketers under the age of 35 are more likely to use direct mail in their marketing mix than their older counterparts. Package delivery also remains an opportunity for the Postal Service as younger Americans are more likely than older generations to shop online. What do you think is the best way for the Postal Service to serve a younger demographic? Should it attempt to promote its traditional products to younger Americans and tout the benefits of hard copy as a complement or supplement to digital? Should the Postal Service instead focus on expanding its digital offerings? Is there another strategy?
  • on Aug 27th, 2012 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 18 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service owns more than 213,000 vehicles, the largest civilian fleet in the world. Many of these vehicles are reaching the end of their operational lives, prompting the Postal Service to wrestle with how best to address its long-term vehicle needs. A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that the organization’s current financial situation poses a significant barrier to vehicle replacement or refurbishment. Attention has primarily been given to the Postal Service’s delivery fleet of left-hand drive trucks and minivans, which make up almost 85 percent of its entire fleet. However, the Postal Service also operates a large fleet of tractor trailers to haul mail from one processing facility to another or to stations and branches. Many of these trucks have exceeded their usage expectancy. The Postal Service has about 1,800 tractors and almost 3,900 trailers. The trailers come in various sizes to accommodate different-sized docks and to navigate various locations. Some locations, such as New York City, cannot accommodate the larger 53-foot trailers. It would cost roughly $135,000 to replace each tractor and another $45,000 to replace a standard-sized trailer. Trailer specifications are unique to the Postal Service, making “off the shelf” purchases impossible. In addition, the Postal Service needs to refurbish the tractors to meet the emissions standards in each state. These standards and the deadlines for achieving them vary by state. The cost to retrofit the existing fleet would vary depending on the standards needing to be met. With its current cash crunch, the Postal Service lacks the capital to invest immediately in upgrading its fleet. Yet an overhaul of the fleet of some kind is needed. Are there alternatives to replacing the fleet of tractor trailers? Could the Postal Service hire contractors to perform the work now done by its own fleet? Contracting out is the most common way the Postal Service acquires transportation. The Postal Service already contracts with 15,000 highway contract route (HCR) suppliers to cover more than 1.2 billion miles of mostly long-haul mail transportation. Or is contracting out not feasible given the Postal Service’s unique and varied needs for its tractor trailer fleet? Should the Postal Service lease new trailers and have Postal Service Vehicle drivers perform the work? Or, could the Postal Service consider new financing arrangements, such as taking a bank loan like a private transport company does, which would allow it to purchase trailers over time? Or does replacing the fleet all at once through a competitive bidding process provide the Postal Service with the strongest purchasing power? If so, how should the Postal Service pay for this replacement?

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