September 6, 2013 (Report Number DP-AR-13-010)

The U.S. Postal Service developed its Intelligent Mail Program 10 years ago to provide better information about mail as it moves through the system and to improve efficiency by using information-rich, standardized barcodes to track mail as it is processed. The main component of the program is the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb), one of a suite of four barcodes used to generate data. The IMb uniquely identifies letter and flat-sized mailpieces. Other barcodes in the suite include IMb for trays; IMcb for containers; and IMpb for parcels.

The Postal Service is anticipating increased usage of the IMb as mailers prepare for the coming requirement that all automation mail include full-service IMb. As IMb usage increases, so does the data it generates. Our audit determined the Postal Service lacks a comprehensive plan for continued development and use of IMb data. First, the Postal Service developed the IMb database structure and made decisions about storage capacity, processing speed, and timely availability of data without considering the needs of all IMb data users. Also, current plans for using IMb data have grown beyond the original vision, meaning data storage capabilities and system upgrades were needed to support the requirements stakeholders identified after initial development. The Postal Service envisions developing an information technology infrastructure to scan and track letter and flat-sized mailpieces as they travel through its processing network. However, without a comprehensive plan, the program applications in development may have limited functionality and may not meet all users’ needs, such as real-time mail tracking.

We recommended management develop a comprehensive IMb data plan utilizing data governance principles for the collection, storage, and use of IMb data. The plan should include input from all business users, an assessment of all costs, and milestones for the life of the IMb program. Management disagreed with our conclusion that the Postal Service has not had, and does not have, a comprehensive IMb plan. Management said the plan resides with the chief information officer, and it put forward project investments as evidence of the plan.

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What's inside the Intelligent Mail Barcode?