It has been a dozen years since the U.S. Postal Service introduced the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) to sort and track individual letters, cards, and flats. In many ways, the IMb has lived up to its early promise of many tools in a single barcode.

A series of 65 vertical bars carrying 31 pieces of mailpiece data, IMb is more versatile than previous barcodes because it allows many services to be requested and embedded within one barcode. Among the information it captures is the presort level of the mailpiece, the service type (class of mail, any automation discounts, and service requests), the mail owner or mailing agent, and a serial number that uniquely identifies the mailpiece to facilitate tracking.

That is a lot of useful data, which USPS scans and then filters to its data analytics platform, the Informed Visibility system. Like its name suggests, Informed Visibility ultimately provides customers with greater visibility into their mail.

When first introduced, USPS marketed IMb as a technology that would create efficiencies, increase visibility, and provide new data points that could be used to improve costing data. Similar goals were also part of the Postal Service’s business case, which included supporting costing strategies and product pricing.

Our recent audit report found USPS could do more with IMb data in the Informed Visibility system to improve the accuracy and reliability of cost estimates for First-Class Mail letters. During site visits we identified a few nonstandard or unexpected mail flows for First-Class Mail letters that resulted in alternative or additional processing steps. For example, plant personnel sometimes ran letters on flats processing equipment when letters are too large or thick for letter processing machines and flats machines are idle.

Leveraging the IMb data would allow the cost model to capture these types of nonstandard mail flows, which are not now being explicitly modeled.

Why is this important? Because the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission rely on accurate and reliable cost estimates to make informed operational and pricing decisions.

We recommended the Postal Service develop a strategic plan to assess how IMb and IV technologies can be used to support and improve costing.

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