• on Mar 31st, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 5 comments

    That ethereal voice was enough for Ray Kinsella to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield in the movie Field of Dreams. But is this approach a sound business model for same-day delivery providers? It seems to be the model they are following: provide same-day delivery in anticipation that customers will eventually consider it standard practice – and actually want it.

    Study after study shows consumers shop online mainly because of low prices and free delivery. Consumers consistently rank “fast shipping” toward the bottom of their reasons for returning to an e-tailer’s website. And yet e-tailers, brick-and-mortar stores, startups, and even the U.S. Postal Service have embarked on the quest to provide same-day delivery service.

    Amazon, Nordstrom, and Walmart are among retailers offering same-day delivery in select markets for orders placed by a certain time. Startups such as Deliv and Instacart are getting in on the action, providing same-day delivery services for retailers in malls or for grocery stores. And, in an interesting convergence, eBay and Google have partnered with traditional retailers not only to deliver their products within hours of a receiving an order, but also to sell them online through consumer-friendly platforms.

    The Postal Service stepped into this market with a short-lived pilot project in San Francisco and now a refined test in New York City. FedEx and UPS do not appear to be jumping in wholly with a same-day service aimed at the retail e-commerce channel, instead offering individual customers some a la cart same-day options.

    Overall, the prices providers are charging for same-day delivery range from about $6 to $10. This is roughly in line with the value consumers place on these services, according to surveys. The price point is good news for consumers, but raises questions about same-day delivery’s sustainability. According to some analysts, many of the same-day services are money losers. Still, as the late Steve Jobs understood well, consumers’ preferences change as offerings are refined. Demand for same-day delivery could increase in the future, which means those already in the market could have an advantage over late entrants.

    Share your thoughts on same-day delivery service. Is this something you want? Are you willing to pay extra for it? If so, how much and for what types of products? Where is the best opportunity for the Postal Service in this market?  

  • on Mar 24th, 2014 in Labor | 6 comments

    When long-term, experienced workers leave companies, they take their know-how with them. It’s called “brain drain” and it happens at organizations of all sizes and kinds, most notably companies with a large number of baby boomers getting ready to retire and industries that are restructuring. The newspaper industry comes to mind, as does manufacturing, as does the U.S. Postal Service.

    Since 2004, the Postal Service has reduced the number of career employees by more than 200,000, primarily through attrition, early retirement incentives, and some contractual changes. This is part of its ongoing effort to right-size its workforce to better match the number of employees with a declining workload. Many of those who left were seasoned workers who took with them a wealth of experience and knowledge essential to running a vast and complex organization.

    Given that nearly 31 percent of current employees are eligible to retire now, and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe plans to shrink the workforce by 10,000 positions in fiscal year 2015, it’s likely this brain drain will continue for a number of years. Is the Postal Service adequately prepared for this loss of institutional knowledge? What more could it do to ensure it has a comprehensive approach to collect, maintain and disseminate this information?

    Our recent audit, Postal Service Knowledge Management Process, looked at the subject and determined the Postal Service could do more. Notably, by mimicking the best practices of eight large organizations we reviewed, including the General Services Administration and Walmart, the Postal Service would be able to ensure important knowledge and expertise stay within the organization. These practices include conducting exit interviews aimed at gleaning key information; designating a knowledge management officer; developing knowledge maps that offer visual representations of the organization’s pockets of expertise; and conducting mentor-based training.

    Are you concerned about the flight of human capital from the Postal Service? Do you think it should do more to preserve the knowledge of its most experienced workers? What are your ideas for the Postal Service to retain and share valuable knowledge and expertise? 

  • on Mar 17th, 2014 in OIG | 2 comments

    “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

    So said former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who could be considered a forefather of Sunshine Week. No, not some Spring Break in Florida for government workers, but an annual initiative held the week of James Madison’s birthday to promote open and transparent government. The term “operating in the sunshine” means conducting business in a for-all-to-see way that enlightens and empowers people to play an active role in their government – one of the key elements of a democracy. Sunshine also serves to curb misdeeds or abuse.

    The sunshine concept took many years to evolve. It gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, when news reports of federal abuses and “enemies lists” prompted Congress to pass legislation to open up government to greater public view. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Government in the Sunshine Act, and the Privacy Act were some of the products of a push for good government.

    Another sunshine initiative was the 1978 Inspector General Act, which created IGs in 12 of the largest federal agencies to detect and prevent fraud and misconduct in agency programs and to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations. The law has been amended over the years to increase the number of agencies with IGs to 73, including the Office of Inspector General for the Postal Service in 1996. Right off the bat, we took the concepts of openness and transparency to heart. Shortly after setting up the agency, we launched a website and started publishing reports online. In fact, we’ve posted so many reports on our website that you would have to comb through 143 pages of summaries just to find them all. (Fortunately, we have a search function that makes it easy to find what you want.)

    We created a webpage to notify stakeholders of audit projects before they start so we can gain your insights on those projects. We launched this very blog 5+ years ago to open a dialogue with you on issues affecting the Postal Service. Finally, we have fielded lots of FOIA requests, – formal, written requests for records maintained by the OIG. We handled 36 in FY 1998. Last year, that number topped 600 formal FOIA and Privacy Act requests; more than 4,500 total in our 18-year history.

    At a time when the future direction of the Postal Service is at stake, how government does business is of heightened public interest. (The Postal Service is considered part of the government.) And that is arguably at the root of the sunshine concept. It’s your government; you are entitled to know how it is carrying out its mission.

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