• on Jan 13th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    What if the U.S. Postal Service tapped the vast array of available digital information technologies to enhance sales, operations, and new business development? The possibilities, it would seem, while not endless, are fairly extensive.

    That’s the conclusion of a just-released white paper from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), which collaborated with IBM to take a high-level view of digital information gathering to see where the postal industry might benefit. The white paper, Enriching Postal Information: Applications for Tomorrow’s Technologies, identifies those opportunities most relevant to the postal industry. We found more than 50 potential postal applications where gathering digital information could enhance the Postal Service’s sales, operations, and new product development, as well as improve its internal safety and security controls. Such items include banking services, traffic information, and assistance to elderly citizens.

    A few highlights from the paper:

    • Cutting-edge organizations see digital information technology only as a means to satisfy market demands and control costs. Such organizations are focusing on mobile handhelds, barcodes, and Radio Frequency Identification applications to collect data about their customers and operations. Many are consistently researching and investing in a wide variety of information gathering technologies. For example, UPS invests more than $1 billion annually to design customer-centric applications, customized scanning tools, and advanced communication devices, as well as, to increase internal efficiencies.
    • The Postal Service is also exploring the potential of mobile devices but on a much smaller scale than UPS. For example, the Postal Service recently gave cell phones capable of texting and gathering real-time GPS data to about 95 percent of its street letter carriers. The information being collected should improve delivery efficiencies via better route designs, day-to-day adjustments, and monitoring delivery times. The Postal Service is planning to deploy 75,000 full-service digital mobile carrier devices by the summer of 2014.

    So what information would you like the Postal Service to gather for you? How would you put it to use? Are there any areas of information technology that concern you? 

  • 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 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?

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