• on May 18th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    If you are even remotely digitally hip, you probably know that “big data” is a hot topic. But it is far from a mere fad. Big data — which refers to large, complex datasets combined with sophisticated, powerful analytics — has definitely been having a big impact on not just scientific research capabilities, but commercial activity as well. Amazon, Walmart, and eBay are just a few businesses using big data to better target products and services to consumers.

    Could big data help the postal industry? Earlier this year we jointly hosted a forum with the Universal Postal Union to discuss that and many related questions. Postal experts and big data experts from all over the world attended, and they agreed that, yes, big data can provide extraordinary opportunities for postal operators — including the U.S. Postal Service — to improve operations as well as current products and services, and even create new ones.

    It’s not a quick and easy process, though. The forum established that a clear and coherent big data strategy must first be articulated – one that answers questions like, “What will you use the data for?” and “How will you ensure privacy?” Some of the first steps in this strategy include buy-in from top leaders of the organization in addition to development of partnerships with other stakeholders to share data sources. Also, internal changes must be made, such as taking an interdisciplinary approach involving data experts and marketing whizzes to build a digital culture within the organization.

    All of this happens one step at a time, and our new paper, International Postal Big Data: Discussion Forum Recap, details each one of these steps. It also includes information on big data pilot-trials that some postal operators have launched and the particular operations and services their big data experiments have involved.

    What do you think? How does your company use big data? How do you see the Postal Service using big data? What concerns would you have about the Postal Service using data analytics to develop new products or services? Where do you see opportunities for the Postal Service to partner with the private sector?

  • on Oct 18th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment

    Last month, the U.S. Postal Service awarded the contract for a pilot program for a cloud-based identity management system called the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange (FCCX). Using a closed communications network, or "digital pipelines", the Postal Service will deliver digital packets ("envelopes") of secure identity data between government agencies and private or public identity providers. The idea is that a person could use an identity from one of many providers, such as a financial institution or utility, to access different government websites, as long as the identity met a required level of security. This should be far more convenient than logging in to separate services with multiple identities and passwords.

    Government and identity provider participants in FCCX have not been finalized. But the Veterans Administration is on board, and other potential participants, such as the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, and Social Security Administration, have been working with the Postal Service on the requirements and standards for the pilot.

    Once the digital pipelines have been established, they can be applied to a number of processes that require secure communications. For example, the Internet of Things, the networked interconnection of everyday objects, may include high-risk communications, such as between medical monitors and medication dispensers, mobile payment sites and financial institutions, or electric meters and power companies. The Postal Service recognizes the potential value of playing an enabling role and has made a move to secure a position in the digital world. Nextgov.com reports that the Postal Service has recently filed for a number of digitally oriented trademarks to cover services in data encryption, secure communications, and electronic document management.

    What do you think? Can the Postal Service bring greater security and privacy to online communications and transactions?

  • on Feb 25th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 18 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service is a key player in a year-long trial of a unique public-private partnership effort that would let citizens securely and voluntarily sign up for online services at multiple agencies using a number of different digital identities. The user would then use whichever password and identity is most convenient – whether the identities are issued by the government or a private company – to log in across multiple government agencies. As the most trusted government agency, and with a 200-year history of security and privacy in delivering mail, the Administration tapped the Postal Service to manage the technology behind the Federal Cloud Credentialing Exchange (FCCX) pilot project. The Postal Service would be taking on a digital version of its role in the physical world, delivering sealed packets of identity data securely between government agencies and identity providers. Press reports on the pilot project suggest that if it is successful, people might one day be able to change an address online by logging into the Postal Service website with the same passcode or smart card that they use to file taxes with the IRS and buy books on Amazon. But to start, the Postal Service is expected to begin working with suppliers to try the service on test customers, ID providers, and government offices. The FCCX will not store any personal data and will be designed to prevent agency personnel and other participants from tracking citizens’ activity across agencies. This effort represents the Postal Service’s first move into supporting federal e-government services, a move it is well-positioned to make. It also could serve as a template for providing other online services that promote security, privacy, and certification. Recent reports of hacking by foreign entities into the data centers of major news organizations and corporations have again reminded consumers of how vulnerable their online data can be. While many of us prefer the convenience of online bill paying, shopping, and communicating, concerns are growing about the threat this poses to privacy and security. How can the Postal Service transfer its trusted role in the physical world to a role in facilitating commerce and e-government services in the digital world? What opportunities might the Postal Service have in providing solutions to these online security and privacy concerns?