• on Oct 18th, 2013 in Strategy & Public Policy | 1 comment

    Last month, the U.S. Postal Service awarded the contract for a pilot program for a cloud-based identity management system called the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange (FCCX). Using a closed communications network, or "digital pipelines", the Postal Service will deliver digital packets ("envelopes") of secure identity data between government agencies and private or public identity providers. The idea is that a person could use an identity from one of many providers, such as a financial institution or utility, to access different government websites, as long as the identity met a required level of security. This should be far more convenient than logging in to separate services with multiple identities and passwords.

    Government and identity provider participants in FCCX have not been finalized. But the Veterans Administration is on board, and other potential participants, such as the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, and Social Security Administration, have been working with the Postal Service on the requirements and standards for the pilot.

    Once the digital pipelines have been established, they can be applied to a number of processes that require secure communications. For example, the Internet of Things, the networked interconnection of everyday objects, may include high-risk communications, such as between medical monitors and medication dispensers, mobile payment sites and financial institutions, or electric meters and power companies. The Postal Service recognizes the potential value of playing an enabling role and has made a move to secure a position in the digital world. Nextgov.com reports that the Postal Service has recently filed for a number of digitally oriented trademarks to cover services in data encryption, secure communications, and electronic document management.

    What do you think? Can the Postal Service bring greater security and privacy to online communications and transactions?

  • on Sep 23rd, 2013 in Products & Services | 22 comments

    Until the early 1970s, citizens applying for passports had to wait in long lines at one of 10 U.S. Department of State passport offices or at a federal or state court. The traveling public was not happy about the inconvenient locations of these offices or the hours’ long wait to submit an application, and they let their elected officials know. The solution allowed post offices to accept and process passport applications on behalf of the State Department. The passports were then mailed directly to the applicants.

    This arrangement has proven to be a highly successful marriage of government services. With many post offices offering passport services, it has become far more convenient for citizens. Today, customers can go online to find the nearest post office with passport services and also find the number to call to make an appointment. (Most post offices require customers to make an appointment for passport service.)

    The execution fee for a passport is $25. In fiscal year 2012, the U.S. Postal Service processed 5.7 million passport applications for revenue of $142 million. With the additional services it offers, such as passport photos and return postage, the Postal Service’s total revenues from passport services in 2012 was $182 million. It is a nice chunk of change for a service the Postal Service does not need to market aggressively. Still, the Postal Service has seen a significant decline in passport revenue over the past 4 years. In 2008, it earned $283 million from passport services.

    The decline in passport revenue could be attributed to a few things. First, the weak economy has undoubtedly reduced international travel over the past 4 years. It could also be that 2008 was an especially strong year for passport revenue because changes taking effect in 2009 required a passport to return to the U.S. from travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. However, postal staff reduction and facility closures could also be playing a role. Customers have complained about waiting too many days or weeks for a passport appointment at their Post Office or about being directed elsewhere for service.

    Why do you think passport services revenue has declined so dramatically in the past few years? Is there a way the Postal Service could improve the process? What changes could it make to maximize passport revenues?

  • on Sep 9th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    Anyone who would argue that social media is not a critical communications tool for businesses and organizations probably still listens to 8-track tapes and uses an abacus. Social media – when done right – can increase transparency, facilitate collaboration, promote brand awareness, build community, and help an organization solve problems. A recent audit report from the Office of Inspector General recognizes the U.S. Postal Service’s early efforts in social media, but also cites opportunities for the organization to strengthen its social media presence.

    Social media is generally recognized as online tools that integrate technology, social interaction, and content creation. Social media pioneers, such as American Express and Nike, found the best way to reach customers was to engage them directly and have a “conversation” with them. A number of federal agencies have found success with social media in promoting their missions or particular programs, or alerting citizens to important events and activities. Early adopters such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with its spectacular space imagery, and the Transportation Security Administration, with a clever use of Instagram, have large and loyal followings.

    The Postal Service entered the social media scene in 2009 with the launch of a popular Stamps Facebook page. From there it broadened its social media presence with Business and Human Resources recruitment pages on Facebook and LinkedIn efforts, our report noted. The Postal Service finally ventured into Twitter, YouTube, and smaller social media sites, including its philatelic Stamp of Approval blog, in 2011. Today, it has a web presence on 18 social media web pages, but it is still developing a centralized blog about wider Postal Service policy, mission, or products.

    The Postal Service could use social media to better communicate with stakeholders, our report determined. In particular, the Postal Service could solicit input from stakeholders, or tailor a conversation with specific industry groups using targeted creative blogs or other social media sites. The Postal Service could also link its various social media sites for easy customer navigation. Our report recommended the Postal Service consider designating a social media liaison in each of its product and services group to provide more dynamic response to customer feedback.

    For an organization grounded in hard copy communications, the Postal Service is highly supportive of social media. It has a plan in place to ramp up its social media presence and engagement, and strengthen its sharing of feedback and analyses. Do you see areas the Postal Service could explore? As a postal stakeholder, are you inclined to use social media to learn about Postal Service products and services? How does your company use social media to engage customers?

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