Total Mail Visibility
For more than 20 years, barcodes have been at the core of advances in Postal Service quality and efficiency. Automated mail processing, driven by barcodes, has allowed the Postal Service to reduce costs as it delivered more rapid, reliable, and consistent service. With the introduction of the Intelligent Mail® barcode, the Postal Service and its customers began the next step in automation — the transition to Intelligent Mail (IM) — a comprehensive term that describes the integration of electronic mailing documentation, data-rich barcodes on mail and containers, and in-process scans to track mail from origin to destination. Mail with IM barcodes can be tracked throughout the system, creating new opportunities to improve service consistency, efficiency, and customer value.
After months of working closely with the mailing industry, technical requirements for IM were published in August. Mailers have been able to use IM barcodes since September 2006 and can choose between POSTNET and IM barcodes until May 2011, when the POSTNET barcode may no longer be used. Beginning in May 2009, mailers can choose between two IM options — Basic and Full Service. Under the Basic option, mailers will only need to use non-unique IM barcodes on their mailpieces. For Full Service IM, mailers must use unique IM barcodes on each mailpiece, submit postage statement and mailing documentation electronically, if required, and use IM tray and container labels. The IM barcode price structure will be announced as part of the May 2009 price changes and will include separate pricing for Basic and Full Service. Price adjustments will take effect in Fall 2009. In order to qualify for the lowest automation-based prices, mail will have to bear IM barcodes after Fall 2009.
Use of IM barcodes has grown rapidly during the current pilot phase. Simplified mail acceptance processes using IM barcodes are being tested with First-Class Mail and Standard Mail pilots. IM barcode scans captured during processing of Business Reply Mail are being explored to speed up Automated Business Reply accounting. An increasing percentage of postage meters are now producing Information-Based Indicia (IBI), which can be used for IM services. IM volume grew from approximately 30 million pieces per week in October 2007 to 300 million pieces per week by September 2008. By the end of the year, over 580 mailers had begun using the IM barcode and OneCode Services, including OneCode Confirm and OneCode ACS (Address Change Service), and are seeing improved data control that enhances their address hygiene and barcode quality efforts. Nearly 4,800 mailers have been assigned one or more generic mailer IDs for automation mailings. Large mailers have begun to discuss their transition to IM and its benefits in multiple venues — at the National Postal Forum, Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee, IM seminars, and in the industry press.
Focus is now turning to building awareness of IM changes among mid-size and small mailers. Training and support material on the benefits and implementation of IM was developed for postal employees who are directly involved with customers, including sales and business mail entry personnel. MTAC joined in the awareness campaign, which included sessions at the NPF, Web site guidelines, and Q&As about the use of IM barcodes and electronic documentation. The Postal Service and Postal Customer Councils (PCCs) co-sponsored four national symposia where over 1,600 attendees heard from mailers about their IM implementation experiences and how the conversion is driving improvements in service and efficiency and adding value to their business. Additionally, PCCs across the country have conducted IM workshops reaching more than 13,000 mailers.
Intelligent Mail Infrastructure
The ability to perform passive in-process scans on letter and flat automation equipment is already in place. Handheld scanners have been deployed and are being modified to capture barcodes on pallets, trays, and trucks. The remaining integration of data from these systems will be complete this year.
Enhancing Transportation Visibility
Surface Visibility describes the integration of multiple systems used to track mail transported within the postal network. Surface Visibility was originally designed to improve postal transportation, but was expanded to benefit the larger mailing community by making the entire mail value chain more transparent. Mail container barcodes are scanned as containers arrive or are unloaded at postal facilities. Quality controls embedded in the system reduce misdirected and misdelivered mail. Data is also integrated with the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system, which mailers use to provide advance notification of drop shipment mailings. The Surface Visibility scans verify acceptance and link containers to the mailer’s electronic manifest. This information gives mailers new visibility and improves accountability for contractors who print, prepare, and transport their mail to the Postal Service.
Facility Access and Shipment Tracking System
In addition to providing visibility, the FAST system provides customers with a means to schedule destination entry of Periodicals, Standard Mail, and Package Services. Customers and postal managers both benefit from the increased visibility. With the Postal Service’s complementary Mailer Rating program, customers who provide advance notification and arrive at the scheduled time with the amount of mail shown on their appointment will have improved access. The FAST system continues to expand and add features. FAST for First-Class Mail is being considered to capture arrival information for origin and postal-verified mail transported by the customer.