• 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 May 12th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    Maybe you’ve seen the television commercial with a clueless couple sending their household items up in a hot air balloon to be stored “in the cloud.” It’s funny, but also holds more than a grain of truth. Many of us don’t fully understand the cloud. So we might not realize its promise or potential hazards.

    Cloud computing uses remote Internet servers to manage, store, and process data or content. If you use Facebook or Shutterfly, you are using cloud computing. These kinds of cloud computing applications are attractive because they help users free up computer space, keep better track of their photos or music, or organize their files.

    Businesses and federal agencies are also relying more on cloud computing because it reduces costs and increases efficiency of services. You just turn on the application as you need it, or “on demand.” Some people have compared cloud computing to a utility, such as an energy company. All you do is plug in and you are ready to go. The energy company handles the details of generating electricity at the power plant and the customer just turns on the switch and uses it.

    But cloud computing also comes with risks of data leaks and loss of public trust. This is especially vexing for government agencies, which have turned to the cloud to help them do more with less. The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) has attempted to guide federal agencies in their cloud computing contracts with a memorandum that included areas of information accessibility, data security, and privacy concerns, among others. The U.S. Postal Service recently updated its handbook, Cloud Security, and established information on security policies and requirements to protect its information in a cloud computing environment.

    Recently we audited 13 Postal Service cloud computing contracts and found the contracts did not address information accessibility and data security for network access and server locations. Why? Because these contracts were established under the Postal Service’s older handbook and did not have the stronger controls of its newer Cloud Security handbook. They would have benefited from the Cloud Security guidelines on information accessibility and data security gaps, our report noted.

    If not implemented correctly, cloud computing runs potential security risks, such as the loss of customer information, and could hurt the Postal Service’s reputation as a trusted agency, which in turn would harm its brand. Yet cloud computing can streamline processes, reduce spending on technology infrastructure, and improve flexibility, among other benefits. The key will be employing the right security controls.

    Share your thoughts on cloud computing and what role the Postal Service might play. Do you have privacy or security concerns in maintaining information in the cloud? 

  • on May 5th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 0 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service’s workforce demographics add an extra layer of challenges to an organization that already has plenty. We recently blogged about the Postal Service’s brain drain – the loss of institutional knowledge due to a large number of workers retiring. This week we look at the additional challenge of creating a robust corporate succession plan when nearly half of the Postal Service’s executives will be eligible to retire by 2015.

    Succession planning is a major undertaking at many organizations. But it’s especially difficult when the pool of candidates is shrinking. The Postal Service has been downsizing for the past decade – 200,000 fewer career employees since 2004. It has an urgent need to identify and develop top talent for future executive positions. Without a sound plan, the organization faces significant operational disruptions. Our recent management advisory on the topic noted that the Postal Service has established a sound Corporate Succession Planning (CSP) program to identify and develop top-performing employees for new or expanded executive roles. We found the Postal Service has incorporated many best practices of successful organizations, such as laying out a strategic vision, getting buy-in from top leadership, providing early career development, encouraging diversity, and emphasizing retention. Further, potential successors said the program met their expectations and was effective in developing them into leaders.

    We encouraged the Postal Service to move quickly to approve developmental activities so potential successors have the skills they need when leadership positions become available.

    Share with us your experience. If you are in the private sector or with a different government agency, how does your organization handle succession planning? Do you see the effects of this plan on training and retention? If you are a postal employee, how can the Postal Service ensure it has a successful executive succession plan when attrition is such a factor?

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