Intelligent Mail

For more than 20 years, barcodes have been at the core of advances in postal quality and efficiency. Automated processing, driven by barcodes, has allowed the Postal Service to reduce costs and deliver more rapid, reliable, and consistent service. The Intelligent Mail barcode is the next step in letter and flat automation. Intelligent Mail (IM) integrates electronic mailing documentation, data-rich barcodes on mail and containers, and in-process scans to track mail from origin to destination. This expanded visibility creates new opportunities to improve service consistency, efficiency, and customer value.


The following priorities, identified in 2003 and 2009, set the direction for achieving the Intelligent Mail vision:

(1) Uniquely identify mail with a code that enables end-to-end process visibility. Unique identification provides the ability to gain full visibility of mail including unique identification of pieces, handling units, and containers.

(2) Develop and deploy an enabling infrastructure. The systems to support Full-Service provide enhanced visibility into the mail supply chain and the infrastructure to facilitate the exchange of data between customers and the Postal Service.

(3) Improve address quality. The IM barcode provides a better understanding of undeliverable-as-addressed mail, resulting in new address correction options, an upgraded change-of-address process, and improvements to postal and customer address management systems.

(4) Establish robust measurement capabilities to assess commercial mail performance and enhance service by improving visibility into acceptance, delivery, and measurement.

(5) Drive innovation to enhance the value of mail with new products and services, data offerings, and dynamic pricing.

(6) Sharpen operational insight and gain a clearer understanding of cost drivers.

(7) Enrich the customer experience with in-process verification that limits the need for manual intervention, offers targeted verification based on past performance, and furnishes a better understanding of customer behavior.


Mailers have been able to use IM barcodes since 2006 and can choose between POSTNET and IM barcodes until May 2011 to qualify for automation prices. At that point,the IM barcode will be required for automation prices, Business Reply Mail, and Confirm.

Mailers can choose between two IM options — Basic and Full-Service. The IM barcode price structure, which took effect November 2009, includes separate pricing for each option. Full-Service includes an additional discount for the lowest automation-based prices. Under the Basic option, mailers need only use non-unique IM barcodes on their mailpieces. For Full-Service, mailers must use unique IM barcodes on each piece, submit postage statements and mailing documentation electronically if required, and use unique aggregate codes on IM tray and container labels. Data associated with the mailings is exchanged electronically between the customer and Postal Service.

image of an intelligent mail barcode

Intelligent Mail barcodes can be tracked throughout the mailstream, creating new opportunities to improve service consistency, efficiency, and customer value.


Intelligent Mail use grew rapidly this year. The number of mailers actively using Intelligent Mail increased from 153 to 586. Another 417 mailers were in various final stages of testing by year end. More than 43,000 mailers have been assigned one or more mailer IDs. The number of pieces with IM barcodes has grown from 300 million per week in October 2008 to approximately 1.4 billion per week at the end of September 2010.

The Postal Service continues to improve awareness of Intelligent Mail among mid-size and small mailers. Training and support materials are available for employees directly involved with customers. The Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee joined in the awareness campaign, which included sessions at the National Postal Forum (NPF), Web site guidelines, and Q&As. The Postal Service and NPF co-sponsored national symposia, and Postal Customer Councils across the country conducted workshops to increase mailer awareness and participation.


The U.S. Census Bureau successfully used Full-Service Intelligent Mail for the 2010 Decennial Census, mailing 400 million pieces, the largest IMb mailing to date. Intelligent Mail allowed the Census Bureau to monitor delivery to every address, handle work flows efficiently, improve response rates, and save money. At the same time, the mailings demonstrated the power of Intelligent Mail and provided the Postal Service unprecedented visibility of mail as it moved through the system.

Because the Postal Service had total visibility and tracking throughout each phase of the process, it knew where every piece was at all times and could expediently handle service issues. Real-time data confirmed nearly 100 percent on-time delivery. Visibility also enabled a coordinated multichannel advertising campaign timed to the arrival of questionnaires in the customer’s mailbox. The result was a customer response rate at least 5 percent better than projected. Visibility also let the Census Bureau know which households had responded by mail and could therefore avoid subsequent mailings or the need for a door-to-door enumerator.

By using the IMb to help manage program costs, the Census Bureau came in under budget, saving $1.6 billion. For the Postal Service, the mailings generated over $202 million in revenue and saved at least $7 million by avoiding the costs of returning undeliverable mail.


The heart of visibility — the ability to track individual mailpieces through postal processing — is mailpiece and container barcode scanning. Barcode scans provide “start-the-clock” data at entry points and “stop-the-clock” data upon delivery. Barcode scans measure service performance and provide critical data to handle any service issues. During 2010, more than 157 billion IMb scans were processed. Most were “passive” in-process scans on automated equipment. The Intelligent Mail Visibility Service system, which combines passive scan data from processing with “active” scan data from other systems, transmitted over 372 billion scans to nearly a dozen corporate data systems.

The Postal Service established a new Product Visibility and Operational Performance office to drive continued improvement in the quality and amount of information principally for package operations. Improving scanning performance is a priority, and since formation of this office, national scan performance has improved 3.3 percent. On-time delivery and scanning performance are now equally weighted in the corporate goals for Express Mail, Priority Mail, and Parcel Select.

Surface Visibility is the term given to multiple integrated systems that track mailings as they are transported within the postal network. It provides real-time and diagnostic information for optimizing performance. Quality controls embedded at multiple points in the systems reduce misdirected and missent mail. The scanning of containers on loading docks provides accurate departure information for planning at downstream processing facilities and records how efficiently trailers are utilized as they are loaded.

The Postal Service’s Surface Visibility scans verify actual deposit of mail by linking containers to electronic manifests. Among other benefits, this check improves accountability for contractors who print, prepare, and transport customers’ mail. Two important components are the Seamless Acceptance and Service Performance (SASP) system, which supports mailers participating in Full-Service Intelligent Mail, and the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system, which mailers use to provide advance notification of drop shipment mailings.

retail associate scanning a priority mail flat rate box

SASP is used to associate mailer manifest data (such as eDoc) with operational data (such as scheduled appointments and barcode scans) and reference data (such as Customer Registration ID, Mailer ID, facility, delivery points). The system captures and stores large volumes of mailing data and automates several acceptance activities as part of its integration with PostalOne! It determines start-the-clock, service standards, stop-the-clock, and service variance, and provides performance data for internal management and for external reporting.

In addition to supporting visibility, FAST provides customers with a means to schedule and manage destination entry of mail into postal plants. With the Postal Service’s complementary Mailer Rating program, mailers who provide advance notification and arrive at the scheduled time with the amount of mail shown on their appointment will have improved access. Mailers can track their drop shipments, receive advance notification of redirections, submit and manage recurring appointment requests online, and have joint scheduling capabilities. FAST added several customer-support features, including a new 24-hour help desk, customer/supplier agreement modifications for Full-Service IM, Web-based training, and online publication of FAST release notes for each system change.