• on Jul 27th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 7 comments

    People aren’t dying like they used to. Thanks to medical advances and better lifestyle choices, Americans are living a lot longer. In fact, those who are 65 or older account for 14.1 percent of the U.S. population, or about 45 million people — the highest percentage ever, according to the Administration on Aging. By 2020, seniors will account for 16.1 percent.

    As the number of older Americans increases, so do their needs. Not all of those needs are being met. But the U.S. Postal Service could change that.

    Budget constraints in recent years have forced many providers of elderly wellness services – anything promoting physical, emotional, or even financial health – to shutter physical locations and move online. But, according to the National Council on Aging, 41 percent of older Americans do not use the Internet at all, meaning more than 18 million seniors might be cut off from programs they need most.

    With its vast network of post offices and letter carriers, isn’t the Postal Service well-positioned to partner with a wide range of wellness service providers who want to reach seniors on the other side of the digital divide?

    We hosted a forum with wellness professionals and postal employee representatives who essentially explored that question and concluded that, yes, there are numerous opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations. We provide details of the discussion in our new paper, The Postal Service's Role in Delivering Wellness Services and Supplies.

    Among the possibilities:

    • Delivering groceries to homebound people, including those without Internet access
    • Letter carriers alerting a social services organization when a senior along their route might need help
    • Wellness organizations offering services, such as helping people manage their social security accounts, through unused postal clerk windows
    • Mobile health units stationed in Post Office parking lots

    Each opportunity would allow wellness providers to connect with more elderly individuals, and also help the Postal Service realize new revenue through fee-sharing or rental income while fostering goodwill with individuals and communities throughout the nation.

    Tell us your thoughts: What kind of wellness services would you like to see involving the Postal Service? Which of those services do you think are the most important?

  • on Jul 13th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 2 comments

    More than half of people on this planet do not have an address, according to a Universal Postal Union (UPU) report. Without an official address, they have difficulty applying for government services, social benefits, or, in some cases, even obtaining a train pass. They cannot open bank accounts and may not be able to get health care.

    To a significant extent, a large majority of these 4 billion people cannot enjoy their full rights as citizens because they often lack an identity. “As a person’s identity is often tied to having an address, various UN organizations and other international organizations support initiatives to strengthen national address infrastructures,” the UPU report said.

    The UPU initiated its Addressing the World program more than 5 years ago to emphasize the importance of address systems to a nation’s infrastructure, especially in developing countries where a lack of street names and property numbers hinder the ability to provide public services to residents and businesses.

    And a poor addressing system also carries an economic price tag. Costa Rica estimated its lack of an address infrastructure cost it $720 million a year, the UPU report noted. Since instituting its national addressing project, Costa Rica has improved emergency services, urban planning and zoning, its postal service, and tourism, which was especially affected by a lack of street signs.

    Here in the United States, the U.S. Postal Service offers general mail delivery to individuals with no fixed address and those with no identification. Mail is delivered to a post office and held for pick-up. The Postal Service works with the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, which strives to end homelessness.

    In October, the UPU will hold its first Global Addressing Conference to discuss innovative solutions to addressing challenges, including ways to develop and implement addressing systems quickly and at low cost. In particular, the conference will consider ways to use technology to reach those goals.

    Recent efforts suggest technology will certainly guide solutions. Irish company GO Code has found success in using a location’s geo-coordinates (it’s longitude and latitude coordinates) to help the Hope Foundation assign a unique address to each dwelling in Calcutta slums. Universal addressing solution what3words uses a unique combination of three words to identify a 3 meter by 3 meter square anywhere on the planet. And Natural Area Coding, which uses a grid system to assign 10-digit codes to locations, bills itself as the ZIP Code for the 21st Century because it provides a single, international standard.

    Do you consider addresses to be part of a nation’s infrastructure? What other ways could technology be used to help with addressing challenges?

  • on Jun 29th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 2 comments

    You know you’ve made it when your company name becomes a verb. That’s where Uber is right now – as in, I’m going to Uber over – following in the footsteps of other companies-as-verbs, such as FedEx and Xerox.

    Uber, the technology company that matches car service to rider, has successfully disrupted the entrenched taxi industry. And now pundits are wondering what might be next for the successful upstart. Recent news articles in Marketwatch and Forbes say it could be the package delivery industry.

    The Forbes opinion piece lays out an intriguing scenario: “Imagine you’re about to leave your office for the day and your phone vibrates with a text from Uber: ‘Your next door neighbor Stella has ordered a dozen cupcakes from the Courageous Cupcakes shop next to your office. Would you mind dropping them off at her house? We’ll credit your account $7.50.’” The author goes on to suggest this type of transaction could be repeated millions of times a day and for any and all types of purchases/goods – the hardware store, the automotive store, the department store, and so on.

    The Forbes piece then asks, “Imagine what would happen if a large ecommerce company used local distribution coupled with Uber rather than centralized distribution and FedEx?”

    Imagine indeed. It’s certainly intriguing and altogether feasible. But Uber, and companies based on a similar model, first have to address some issues that could hinder long-term success. First is a tightening labor market. As the economy expands and better-paying jobs are created, Uber may find it hard to staff drivers. And courts are likely to consider cases asking whether drivers are employees or independent contractors. Also, Uber will have to do a better job addressing passenger privacy and safety concerns. Recent press reports suggest female passengers, in particular, are uncomfortable with Uber having so much information about them.

    Even if this Uber scenario is just a notion, it reminds us that package delivery has become an attractive and competitive business. As consumers do more of their shopping online, everything from groceries to pharmaceuticals to clothing is being delivered to homes and businesses. Traditional package delivery companies find themselves competing with new entrants such as Deliv (sometimes called the Uber of the retail world) and Postmates, a company that operates a network of local couriers. And, don’t take your eye off Amazon.com. It is reportedly testing an Uber-like app that would let it use regular people to deliver packages.

    So, does Uber-like delivery sound like a feasible idea? What impact do you think the service could have on traditional delivery companies? As a consumer, do you see benefits from this service? How else could sellers and traditional package delivery companies serve the growing consumer demands of same day and even same hour delivery?