• on Jul 21st, 2014 in Delivery & Collection | 12 comments

    The Internet may have eaten into the U.S. Postal Service’s First-Class Mail volume and revenue, but digital devotion does bring good news, too. Package shipping is on the rise, due in large part to the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping. The Postal Service’s future could brighten considerably because of this expanding market, but is the Postal Service prepared to compete effectively in it?

    Our new white paper, Package Services: Get Ready, Set, Grow!, essentially probes that question and comes up with several intriguing findings. As our auditors have noted, the Postal Service has done a good job of managing package growth in terms of mail volume and workhours. But it could do more. And it will have to, not only because UPS and FedEx are offering modernized, end-to-end products and services in response to customer demand, but also because some e-tailers, like Amazon, are expanding to offer their own shipping and delivery options.

    Last year American businesses and consumers spent more than $68 billion to ship packages domestically; the Postal Service accounted for almost two-fifths of the total volume but less than one-fifth of the total revenue. That worked out to an average $3.37 of revenue per package for the Postal Service. UPS’s and FedEx’s average revenue per piece for their domestic packages were $9.39 and $9.70, respectively. The main reasons for the disparity? The Postal Service excels in lightweight and last-mile package delivery, which generate comparatively lower revenues.

    The white paper says the Postal Service could increase its revenue-per-package average by adding new services that customers want. For example:

    • Improving tracking service and package-return service
    • Offering email and text alerts to parcel senders and recipients
    • Specifying time-windows for delivery

    What do you think? How could the Postal Service expand its dominance in lightweight packages to higher-revenue packages? What package services would make you use the Postal Service more than you do now? How much online shopping do you do compared to in-store shopping?

  • 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? 

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