This is the third topic in our "Five Elements of a Postal Solution" blog series. Link to last week's topic.

Link to Friday's recap.
Link to Thursday's blog by John Payne.
Link to Wednesday's blog by Dan Combs.
Link to Tuesday's blog by Steve Ressler.

Recapping the week - March 19, 2012

This week our panel of prominent commentators examines whether or not the Postal Service can integrate its potential digital role(s) with its physically-based business. The Postal Service has been a trusted third party intermediary since the eighteenth century. But now, in the twenty-first century, it faces unprecedented challenges. Digital technology is developing rapidly and changing the nature of communications and of many businesses, especially those based in brick and mortar. As a brick and mortar-based communications backbone of the nation, the Postal Service is doubly affected by the disruptive technologies of the digital revolution.

While approaching the question from different perspectives, our guest bloggers are adamant: They all agree that there are multiple digital roles for the Postal Service in this brave new world. Further, they state that without taking on these new roles, the Postal Service will not survive. Among opportunities discussed are:

oDigital communication and storage
oDigital identification as well as digital and physical authentication
oEnforcement against digital fraud
oOther mobile applications to minimize customer time in Post Offices

Tactically, they suggest that lessons can be learned from retail banking, which has responded to customer demand for more mobile applications, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which partnered with private sector providers to help individuals transition to digital transmission of tax returns.

Strategically, the Postal Service must become more customer-focused and work on short-term opportunities leveraging and protecting its traditional role, while looking for longer-term opportunities. Steve Ressler, Founder and President of, says that “the future is moving online” and that the health of the US Postal Service depends on its becoming a provider of trusted delivery solutions regardless of channel. He also advocates secure digital storage for sensitive information, an application which is being requested by some consumers now. Dan Combs, CEO of eCitizen Foundation, highlights new uses of the Postal infrastructure and the Postal Service’s legal standing in offering both secure communications and specific credentialing services. He stresses enforcement as being a unique competitive advantage. John Payne, CEO of Zumbox, urges the Postal Service to “remember the consumer”—and consumers’ needs for convenience—or face extinction.

Comments on this week’s blog to have to date offered a range of ideas, but most have had a common theme: The Postal Service has to change with the digital age and take advantage of at least some of the opportunities that leverage its core strength as a trusted branch of government with a wide-ranging geographic presence and long history of delivering secure communications from point-to-point and person-to-person. However, not every commenter agreed that public-private partnerships are an effective tool for implementation or that the Postal Service culture can adapt to its potential digital roles.

The OIG would like to thank this week’s guest bloggers for their key insights on digital issues. In next week’s blog we will discuss what should be the appropriate pricing regime for the Postal Service.
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Guest Blogger John Payne, CEO of Zumbox - March 22, 2012

John Payne
Remember the Consumer!

For most people, their relationship with the USPS is as follows:

1.The USPS puts some unknown quantity of mail into your mailbox six days a week
2.You periodically check your mailbox
3.You sift through your mail, pulling out the important items and trashing or recycling the rest
4.Rinse and repeat

The really sad thing about the process above is that it hasn’t improved . . . . ever. In fact, if anything, we simply have more unwanted mail to deal with today, which just exacerbates the problem. In an age where consumers are demanding that more information be delivered digitally, across multiple devices, can the USPS improve the aforementioned experience?

For the USPS to stay relevant in the digital age, the answer has to be YES. The USPS needs to think more about what the consumer wants, and let that line of thinking dictate future product strategy. Today’s consumer wants to visit the post office less (or any store, for that matter), and do more on the go, at their convenience.

One industry that has similar features, and has embraced this line of thinking, is the retail banking industry. The retail banking industry has seen its customer base demand more and more products that keep them away from branches. It is natural to fight this change, but the retail banking industry has instead, developed extensive mobile applications to help its customers reduce their visits to branches. A recent report from comScore supports this view. Today, you can deposit checks, pay bills, transfer money, check balances, etc., all from the comfort of your phone.

While the USPS has a mobile application, it is generally limited to shipping information, or looking up the nearest post office location. With all due respect, 99% of my interaction is with my USPS delivery representative at my home. If the USPS wants to spend time on mobile applications, or new features on their website, ask this question first, “how is this feature materially improving the consumer experience?”

A recent article with the title “Three keys to saving the U.S. Postal Service” misses the mark as its three keys are all non-consumer centric. In contrast, an opinion piece in the New York Times summed it up nicely. “Like other retailers, the Postal Service needs to sit down with its customers and talk to them about how it can serve them better, then come up with new, innovative products and services that will be competitive in today’s marketplace. If it does not do this, it will not survive, whether it cuts costs or not.”
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Guest Blogger Dan Combs, CEO, eCitizen Foundation - March 21, 2012

Dan Combs
Answering the title question requires a couple of precursor activities. First is accepting that any separation between the digital and physical worlds is artificial and misleading. There are numerous reasons that we want the physical and digital worlds connected, for instance enforcement. When someone does bad things in the digital part of our world we want to be able to find the physical person responsible. The two, the physical and digital, for some time to come, are inextricably bound together. Second, the “traditional role” of the Postal Service needs re-conceptualization. While the Postal Service receives and delivers physical packages, letters and others, this concept is too narrow and simplistic to capture the value provided by the Postal Service. More appropriate would be a concept that includes creation and operation of an infrastructure for secure, enforceable communication among the U.S. population.

Based on the above, the Postal Service is faced with a number of opportunities. The focus here is on near term opportunities building on existing work or capabilities. There are a number of gaps and needs between the physical and digital portions of our world. Currently, one area of particular focus is the identification and authentication of individuals. Generally, this involves the collection and verification of information, attributes about an individual, issuance of perhaps a credential or token such as a password or smart card, and some activities binding or connecting the token to the holder. The Postal Service has an organization, personnel, infrastructure, enforcement capability, and current operations to meet several related needs. Some of these are as follows:

1.Intake and/or Registration
2.Attribute verification
3.Binding of attributes to individuals

Intake and registration: current practices often include the checking of physical documents in a person’s possession, sometimes the scanning of documents, collection of a picture or other biometric, and the checking of this and other information. The Postal Service has lots of physical infrastructure, established locations that could serve well to play some role in intake/registration processes for credential issuance perhaps building on current Passport related services. This infrastructure could fill a gap by providing a trusted institution that is relatively very accessible for the U.S. population.
Attribute verification: much work is underway to develop the means for verification of attributes of individuals, the connecting of those attributes to individuals, and use of such attributes in transactions. One critical attribute is the address, especially connecting a physical address to an individual or transaction. The Postal Service acts as an authoritative source for U.S. addresses and could well provide address related value added services for digital interactions. It also does not seem a huge leap to anticipate that there may well be a need for parallel capabilities for virtual addresses, particularly when a connection between a virtual address and a physical address is desired. The Postal Service seems well suited to take advantage of opportunities to provide address-related services and to play a part in attribute verification.

Binding to individuals: often there is a desire or requirement to take some measures to ensure that an attribute, a document, or a credential is connected to a particular individual. One way of doing this leverages an in-person visit. For instance a person appears at a physical location, perhaps presenting a document such as a birth certificate claiming it as his or her own, or a credential is delivered to the individual, for example the driver’s license issuance event. During these in-person appearances something may be done, such as the taking of a picture or fingerprint, as evidence that a particular person was there, that helps to connect the individual to the documents and transaction. The Postal Service has a substantial infrastructure distributed across the country, personnel conducting similar activities currently, a supporting organization, and other related capabilities.

Enforcement: the digital portion of our world is a difficult environment for many enforcement organizations. Often their scope and capabilities are inappropriate for pursuing and prosecuting digital crimes. The Postal Service has a long history both of developed law and enforcement capabilities that snare criminals. Recently, the Postal Service has performed with distinction in operations and collaborations to identify, pursue, capture and prosecute criminals using digital means in their criminal activities. This is a vital need for the future growth and operation of the “digital world.” The Postal Service is particularly, if not uniquely, qualified to fill this need.

These are a few of the opportunities available to the Postal Service, based upon existing operations and capabilities. Building upon these could well lead to further business opportunities consistent with the traditional role of the Postal Service as updated for our changing world.
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Guest Blogger Steve Ressler, Founder and President of - March 20, 2012

Steve Ressler
Fix My File Cabinet Please
As I write this in my home office, my file cabinet is staring right at me. The file cabinet is a mess - it's bursting at the seams with financial statements, health records, stock certificates, property taxes, and gobs of receipts. If you are like me, you are always fighting a losing battle trying to keep it organized.

In 2012, I do not want to live like this - I want to live in a digital world and I want the USPS to help me solve my file cabinet problem. I no longer want to receive important information in paper but at the same time I'm never quite sure how to handle sensitive digital information. Do I just store my tax pdfs just on my hard drive? What if it fails or I'm not properly backed up? I do not want to just store my health record in my Dropbox or iCloud and I'd rather not be tied to just one provider. Should I email my property tax statement to my broker when putting my house on sale - how do I know if he received it? Do I feel comfortable knowing that my email provider may be reading the contents of the document? In the end, where's my trusted solution - where's the equivalent of my online savings box (trusted and secure) and registered mail?

The USPS should be in the business of providing the American public with trusted delivery solutions regardless of channel (digital or print). The future is moving online and USPS can play a great role as an official convener. There are lots of companies that are starting to address these problems but they lack the mission of USPS - which is creating trusted, official solutions at affordable prices. USPS does not need to even build all the tools themselves - they can model their efforts off of IRS e-filing where government created an ecosystem of trusted private sector providers to help transition individuals to electronically submitting their tax statements at affordable prices. Good for government, good for business.

So how do we make this happen? If you've read Clayton Christensen's book The Innovator's Dilemma, you know innovation is hard and often the biggest roadblocks are internal in your own office. The USPS's future depends on becoming digital postal solution provider so they need to invest it - create a team of 20-30 folks, get them authority to make partnership decisions, locate them outside of DC, and give them a grand mission that is true - help make USPS relevant in the digital age.
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What Opportunities Exist for the Postal Service to Integrate Its Traditional Role in the Digital World?
This is the third topic in our "Five Elements of a Postal Solution" blog series.

The Internet and the digital economy are fundamentally changing the worlds of communications, transportation, and commerce. Since the dot-com boom and bust of the early 2000s, the digital economy has continued to grow at a staggering rate, as both consumers and businesses adopt electronic processes across multiple channels. New digital technologies have been “disruptive innovations” for traditional businesses. These disruptions to business models, in combination with the great recession of 2008 to 2009, have had a significant impact on postal organizations all over the world, resulting in an overall decline in the volumes of personal, business, and advertising mail.

As the digital revolution rages on, Americans need to consider what role the Postal Service should play in this evolving environment. Over the past 237 years, the Postal Service has provided a secure, universally accessible platform for physical commerce and communications. Can the Postal Service extend its trusted role as an intermediary to the digital realm? Should the Postal Service help consummate a match between consumers and application developers through a Postal Service sponsored digital platform? If so, which types of applications should the Postal Service in collaboration with government and private sector partners offer? One of the Postal Service’s advantages has been its geographic reach and physical platform. How can its digital role be integrated with the physical one?

We’ve asked the following guest commentators to discuss this topic over the next three days:
•Steve Ressler, Founder and President of, on Tuesday, March 20.
•Dan Combs, CEO, eCitizen Foundation, on Wednesday, March 21.
•John Payne, CEO, Zumbox, on Thursday, March 22.

We hope you can join the debate. Please check in throughout the week for their thoughts, and share your comments along the way. On Friday, March 23, OIG will summarize and conclude the discussion on this important topic.

Our Guest Bloggers

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Steve Ressler
Dan Combs
John Payne

Steve Ressler is the Founder and President of, a 50,000+ member “Knowledge Network for Government,” which utilizes social media to connect public sector stakeholders and encourages the sharing of best practices and innovative solutions across all levels of government.

Dan Combs is CEO of the eCitizen Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes and develops Citizen-Centered Solutions. Previously he worked on the GSA’s e-Authentication Initiative and as Director of Digital Government for the State of Iowa.

John Payne is CEO of Zumbox, a digital postal system connecting large transactional, financial and government mailers to consumer households for the delivery and storage of digital postal mail via the Internet.

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Comments (17)

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  • anon

    Practical comments , I am thankful for the info - Does anyone know if my company could possibly grab a sample a form copy to work with ?

    May 19, 2016
  • anon

    Thank you for allowing that video! I trust you get my point!

    Apr 10, 2012
  • anon

    So gee C.R. Is this transition going to be executed by the USPS's current compliment of technikal management appointments. At least those evident from my post.

    Apr 09, 2012
  • anon

    It is reassuring that Americans can envision many services going forward for the Postal Service that represent a broad spectrum of traditional hardcopy products, new digital services and hybrid services. These are just manifestations of the core value add features that the Postal Service represents. The Postal Service delivers a set of value add attributes for transactions that give us a solid foundation for national commerce that makes its resilient to fraud while reducing the costs of conducting business. If look beyond the physical things that represent the Postal Service such as offices, various types of mail, facilities and the vehicle fleet, you have the core attributes that the Nation has needed in varying degrees since 1776 and continue to need even today in an age where business is done remotely and a digital divide creates real economic and service discrimination. The Postal Service’s enduring core value-add includes: •Trusted Third Party status that you can rely upon them to protect the security and privacy of your transactions and not to divulge the transaction’s content while protecting the transaction from theft •Legal proof of delivery services for transaction accountability and non-repudiation including postmarking providing proof of date of mailing •Universal service thereby eliminating any location based discrimination •Enrollment agents for government such as US Passport to improve the quality of user authentication •Universal standardized addressing infrastructure enabling the building of business applications and the maintenance of contact lists over time •Legal protections over sanctity of postal handled transactions with investigative authority to identify bad actors and refer them for prosecution •Being American and Federal whereby they are not subject to being sold to another organization with different goals, foreign or domestic, nor are they subject to variability from state laws There is almost an unending stream of applications and uses where these attributes can help us conduct commerce safely on the Internet. The Postal Service’s value-add needs to be used to address these digital age national challenges: •Right to remain anonymous from unauthorized tracking while still being held accountable for my actions •Reasonable guarantee that my information and my correspondence will not be data farmed by unauthorized parties •Ability to have access to and use the communications channels that the majority of American also enjoy without discrimination •Visibility into who is using my address or my name and to protect myself from unauthorized use •Capability to equal access to offers and information that is generally available to the general population •Providing a safety net of places and people for in-person services as the Nation may need such not everything can be digitized and in-person events can be used to anchor follow-on cyber transactions The Internet while providing new threats also provides a wealth of new rich means for enhancing existing services and providing new services that were not practical 10 years ago. The ability to deliver real-time correspondence and service everywhere is a game changing capability that the Postal Service like the rest of government and the Nation needs to be able to adopt in a win-win scenario for everyone. In most of the cases the applications may be delivered in cooperation with the private sector. I can see such applications as: •Ability to get real-time information on and respond to any transaction bearing my name or using my address…let me own and control my addresses both the physical and cyber ones. The physical address if compromised can enable identity theft so let’s manage it as an identity. My physical address is essentially an alias that needs to be protected and controlled which real-time cyber communications can let me participate. •Directory of businesses that are registered and known to the Postal Service such that I know they are not phantom entities that may easily escape accountability. •Ability for me and anyone that I choose to do business with to obtain a digital identity through the Postal Service as a sign of voluntary willingness to be held accountable for cyber transactions similar to the local neighborhood business. We will know how to find each other and offer each other transactional accountability. •Local hot-spots of network connectivity to expand high speed Internet nationwide. •Access to online training such that I can get education anywhere from anywhere. •Telework access to help improve American productivity, increase the available labor pool for jobs and enhance quality of life by moving jobs to where people choose to live.

    Mar 22, 2012
  • anon

    Submitted on 2012/03/22 at 7:53 am | In reply to USAF/Retired. (no insult intended)...... Begging the Major's pardon.... sir, On any given USPS working day, at minimum, 15-23% of the regular compliment is absent, many on point! So………….. You want me…. The technically savvy, educated, and consistent PSE (“casual”) compliment, to pinch hit for you’re regular infantry….. (Ret. USAF knows when the adjective “casual” is used as a noun.) Serving as sacrificial lambs, while extending the life expectancy of this crippled monolithic sarcophagus’s fateful end. An act more selfish, than the cruel realities of technology which serves to alienate aging generations without remorse. 3 million android operating devices were activated Christmas weekend 2011! Even on an average day, there are 700K activations! As I write this an gaze upon the painting of an Me-109 on my wall! I ponder what my they faced…..

    Mar 22, 2012
  • anon

    Oh I'm sorry, I failed to clarify "PSE compliment"- Also known to congressional circles, as testified by the Postmaster General to both congress and the PRC, as "flexible workforce". A 2011 concession by the rank and file union. Kind of like the current workforce, from this combat veteran's observation. This means the "flexible PSE's" that work's when, and if, they are available. Yeah, that's redundancy in the national communication system reassuring to this American.....

    Mar 27, 2012
  • anon

    Can the Postal Service culture develop quickly enough to do this? How???

    Mar 21, 2012
  • anon

    When the world is changing in weeks and months but your processes change in months and years, your target moves before you can get there. The Postal Service would benefit from being able to respond more rapidly and in having their processes engineered to be better than the speed of change around them.

    Mar 22, 2012
  • anon

    The Postal Service should not and cnnot do this alone. This needs to be done through a sensible and smart partnership with the private sector. The Postal Service should sponsor a digital platform and incentivize the private sector to develop innovative applications on it. This is about the Postal Service developing an effective platform strategy that benefits USPS, the content developers (private sector) and the customers. It would benefit all because the platform would create value for all and harness the psoitive network effects from platform dynamics and economics. The more the private sector find incentives to develop applications for the customers the more value the platform become for all.

    Mar 22, 2012
  • anon

    I agree with Steve Ressler's commentary, the hey for the success of the Postal Service lies in the implementation of a digital strategy and not coming up with the products and services. If the Postal Service wants to enter the digital world, it not a matter of has developed a number of digital products in the past. Instead, it has to develop the culture and metrics necessary for growing and measuring success. In fact, it doesn't even have to develop the products or services in house, a number of technology companies would be eager to partner with the Postal Service.

    Mar 21, 2012
  • anon

    Oops – the link didn't show up in my comment above. Here's my take on how the USPS could build out <a href="" rel="nofollow">nationwide wireless broadband</a>.

    Mar 21, 2012
  • anon

    I have a file cabinet full of printed copies of bills, receipts etc, that I would love to get rid of and organize electronically. I would never trust a private company without some connection to the government, to make me feel secure. I think it makes total sense for the Postal Service to enter into the digital world. But they need to get moving, they are already behind the curve.

    Mar 21, 2012
  • anon

    The USPS could own the digital age if it leveraged its nationwide real estate holdings to build a high-speed wireless network. With just a little imagination, they could once again be first in delivery. That and they should issue <a href="" title="Meryl Streep stamps" rel="nofollow">.

    Mar 20, 2012
  • anon


    Mar 20, 2012
  • anon

    What a great concept. I get to pay Turbo Tax $50 a year so I can figure out how much taxes I owe. This is a model for government partnership with the digital world? It's absurd. Next thing you know ee'll be paying a third party so we know how much our groceries should cost! I shouldn't complain. All during college in the 1970s I worked for a company that did taxes on a mainframe.

    Mar 20, 2012
  • anon

    The Postal Service is on a balance beam or tightrope. It needs to keep up with physical mail and maintain its infrastructure while catching up with digital technologies, including storage. Yes, Standard Mail prices should be hiked up so that mailers use more targeted lists with less waste, assuring that their mail reaches people who want it. But eliminating Standard Mail completely is a non-starter.

    Mar 20, 2012
  • anon

    LOL, one day the USPS will look at my Business Mail proposal as found at . In this Digital Age, the Postal Service's main problems are not what people think they are. The main problems are products and pricing. My proposal would have the USPS implement a Google Adsense/Adwords type program for physical mail, eliminate the maligned Standard Mail that people associate with "junk mail" and implement a new professional brand of Business Mail. Tom Wakefield,

    Mar 19, 2012

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  • 13 hours 13 min ago
    If a package is too large for my mail box, is USPS obligated to place a package at my door or leave a note/card?
  • 13 hours 33 min ago
    I was recently in Franklin, IN. and went to same po 2 x. Both times I was met with smiling customer caring people who were prompt and answered my questions sincerely and quickly. I never do surveys...

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