• on Jan 27th, 2014 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 3 comments

    It’s back to the future for the requirement that all letter and flat automation mailings be Full-Service Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) compliant to obtain discounts. Mailers were expecting implementation this week of the Full-Service requirement, but the U.S. Postal Service pushed back the date until 2015 because the Postal Regulatory Commission ruled that the mandate constituted a price increase that would have busted the inflation-based price cap.

    Many mailers welcomed the delay, as few felt the entire industry – the Postal Service included – was ready for full-service, which included the requirement that barcodes keep their unique sequence of numbers for at least 45 days before the barcode sequence is used again. A number of large mailers have been Full-Service IMb compliant for months and have taken advantage of the benefits of IMbs, including tracking of service performance, identifying bottlenecks, and coordinating follow-up marketing efforts. But many mid-sized and smaller mailers were not ready for the added requirements, which include electronic submission of postage statements and use of unique IMbs on trays and containers. And concerns were growing that the Postal Service’s systems are not yet capable of handling the expected increase in IMb data.

    The Office of Inspector General raised similar concerns in a fall audit report. In particular, we found the Postal Service had fallen short in developing a comprehensive plan for the continued development and use of IMb data. Notably, the Postal Service’s plans around the use of IMb data have grown considerably since its original vision of the program and it has not taken into account the needs of all mailers. The Postal Service needs to upgrade its data storage capabilities and data systems to accommodate the growing use of IMbs and to support stakeholders’ needs.

    The silver lining in this delay could be that it gives the Postal Service another year to develop a comprehensive IMb data plan that includes detailed input from all business users and identifies costs and milestones for the life of the IMb program. It also gives mailers more time to get ready, while letting those already in the Full-Service IMb program keep their modest discounts.

    • Share your thoughts on the Full-Service IMb and the delayed implementation date.
    • Do you think another year will make a difference in the readiness of mailers? Of the Postal Service’s systems?
    • What incentives would you like to see to encourage smaller mailers to make the conversion to Full-Service IMb?
    • If you are already Full-Service compliant, what value do you get from the program? 
  • on Jan 20th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 4 comments

    Add “upkeep of postal facilities” to the list of tasks that get increasingly difficult to do under a budget crunch. Yet, Americans are passionate about their post offices, so it seems maintenance should be a priority.

    However, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial challenges have made it hard to maintain facilities. During fiscal years 2009-2012, the Postal Service experienced a $382 million decrease in its budget for facility repairs, alterations, and capital improvements, resulting in incomplete repairs or unmet capital improvements. Our recent audit report found about half of the incomplete repairs represent safety or security issues and potential future major repairs. 

    Future costs for these unfunded repairs could reach $1.4 billion. In addition, our work determined that some of these repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

    The Postal Service operates 32,000 facilities throughout the country with 280 million square feet of space, and it includes post offices, mail processing facilities, and annexes. The Postal Service’s Facilities Department says employees and customers are not in danger, as it prioritizes repairs based on the safety and security of Postal Service property. Still, the Postal Service’s capital spending freeze initiated in 2009 has clearly had an impact on the ability to upgrade and repair facilities. The Postal Service spent 29 percent below the industry average on facility repairs in FY 2012. Lower priority repairs and improvements are less likely to occur, potentially leading to a longer-term cost.

    Our audit found the Postal Service lacking in developing a strategy to complete all necessary repairs and it did not always accurately prioritize repairs. We recommended it develop a strategy, reallocate funds to complete repairs, and reconcile its prioritization list annually.

    We welcome your thoughts.

    • How best can the Postal Service make the necessary repairs to its facilities while operating under budget constraints?
    • Will people be interested in buying or leasing Postal Service buildings that haven't been well maintained? Or could it affect the value of the properties?
    • Are there issues other than decreased funding that prevent the Postal Service from completing necessary repairs? 
  • on Jan 13th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    What if the U.S. Postal Service tapped the vast array of available digital information technologies to enhance sales, operations, and new business development? The possibilities, it would seem, while not endless, are fairly extensive.

    That’s the conclusion of a just-released white paper from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), which collaborated with IBM to take a high-level view of digital information gathering to see where the postal industry might benefit. The white paper, Enriching Postal Information: Applications for Tomorrow’s Technologies, identifies those opportunities most relevant to the postal industry. We found more than 50 potential postal applications where gathering digital information could enhance the Postal Service’s sales, operations, and new product development, as well as improve its internal safety and security controls. Such items include banking services, traffic information, and assistance to elderly citizens.

    A few highlights from the paper:

    • Cutting-edge organizations see digital information technology only as a means to satisfy market demands and control costs. Such organizations are focusing on mobile handhelds, barcodes, and Radio Frequency Identification applications to collect data about their customers and operations. Many are consistently researching and investing in a wide variety of information gathering technologies. For example, UPS invests more than $1 billion annually to design customer-centric applications, customized scanning tools, and advanced communication devices, as well as, to increase internal efficiencies.
    • The Postal Service is also exploring the potential of mobile devices but on a much smaller scale than UPS. For example, the Postal Service recently gave cell phones capable of texting and gathering real-time GPS data to about 95 percent of its street letter carriers. The information being collected should improve delivery efficiencies via better route designs, day-to-day adjustments, and monitoring delivery times. The Postal Service is planning to deploy 75,000 full-service digital mobile carrier devices by the summer of 2014.

    So what information would you like the Postal Service to gather for you? How would you put it to use? Are there any areas of information technology that concern you? 

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