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Chapter 2 Postal Operations
2. Streamlining Commercial Mail Acceptance
Commercial mail acceptance is becoming greatly simplified, thanks to a seamless flow of information among customers, mail services providers, and the Postal Service. Instead of depositing their mail and then checking later to see when delivery occurs, mailers have much greater visibility into the Postal Service’s processing and transportation network. The Postal Service, in turn, gets advance knowledge of mailing and can ensure that the right level of resources and support are available. Entry is streamlined by the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system, that uses intelligent barcodes on mail and containers, and electronic documentation. When mail is correctly prepared and documented, verification can be completed as mail is processed. Visibility data on when mail first arrives at a postal facility will provide “start the clock” information for both customer tracking and service measurement.
Before accepting a mailing and providing a discount, the Postal Service must check the mailing against preparation requirements to ensure the customer is eligible for the requested rate. Poorly prepared mail adds cost and affects service performance. Manual verification is time-consuming and is often inconsistent from one postal acceptance unit to the next. Consequently, an important element of the Postal Service’s seamless acceptance strategy is the verification of mailings during automated mail processing. In the future, mailers’ documentation will be validated as mail flows through the system.
The foundation of a number of improvements in payments is the PostalOne! system, an integrated mail management technology that includes FAST scheduling, centralized payment processing, and electronic postage reports. Instead of making multiple payments at multiple facilities, eligible mailers can have a single account that is debited when mail is accepted at any facility. Electronic documentation eliminates paperwork for both the Postal Service and the mailer, making the process quick, easy, and convenient. Mailers can check an account online and replenish it at any time. Both large and small volume mailers use PostalOne! today.
3. Enhancing Transportation Visibility
With the deployment of the Intelligent Mail Device (IMD) scanners, the Surface Visibility system began using barcode technology to track mail through the Postal Service’s processing and transportation network. Surface Visibility tracks the quantities and movement of mail between operations and destinations whether transportation is supplied by mailers or the Postal Service. This system was originally designed to improve the Postal Service’s own transportation network but was expanded to benefit the larger mailing community. Information available to the Postal Service is also available to mailers, making the entire value chain more transparent.
As mailers’ containers arrive at postal facilities, container barcodes are scanned. Scanned data is integrated with the FAST system and matches the incoming mail data to the mailers’ electronic manifest. Information about a mailing is recorded as it first arrives at a facility and when container unloading begins and ends. The data serves two purposes: it enables accountability for contractors that print, prepare, and deliver mail to the postal facility and it also identifies when mail enters the postal processing network. Trucks and containers traveling between postal facilities are scanned and tracked from one step to the next using the new scanning devices. Quality controls embedded in the visibility systems
reduce misdirected and misdelivered mail. Visibility data enhances the management of transportation contractors and provides more complete data for network management.
4. Tracking Mail in Processing Operations
Total mail visibility depends on an integrated set of information systems and intelligent barcodes applied not only to individual mail, but to all containers and equipment as well. Individual mailpieces are nested into barcoded containers to enable tracking by linking the coded identifiers for the container to individual pieces within the container. Both mailers and internal postal operations can use a new Web based system, the Automated Tray Label Assignment System (ATLAS), to produce Enhanced Distribution Labels (EDLs). The EDL is an “intelligent” label that uniquely identifies the mailer or originating postal facility and provides a unique identifier for each tray, sack, or tub. The EDL also provides routing information and is used by the ATLAS system to track those unit loads throughout operations. During 2006, ATLAS/EDL enabled the Surface Visibility system at 131 facilities. By year-end EDL production already exceeded 10 million weekly.
In conjunction with the adoption of the Intelligent Mail barcode and the implementation of the Surface Visibility system, upgraded software was deployed to enable letter and flat sorting equipment to use the new barcodes for sorting and tracking mail. Processing equipment tracks handlings of containers, unit loads, and individual mailpieces in processing and distribution operations. Employees in these operations manually scan unit loads and containers as they load and unload the containers. Similarly, employees scan containers and trucks when loading and unloading trucks.
5. Visibility in Delivery Operations
Data from the point of delivery closes the loop — providing confirmation or proof of delivery. Giving mailers timely feedback on the ultimate delivery of a mailpiece is key to gaining insight into service, and all prior steps in the mail value chain lead to this. Much of the visibility process is already in place in delivery operations. At delivery units, manifests identify dropshipped mail. Carrier scans at the point of delivery will confirm delivery of Express Mail, mail with Delivery Confirmation or Signature Confirmation, and accountable mail.Tests have been conducted to establish procedures for extending Surface Visibility into delivery operations. Because individual mailpieces already have been linked with containers at the plant, scanning containers as they arrive at delivery units will enable tracking of mail to delivery.
Much of the mail that arrives at delivery units with an incomplete or incorrect address or barcode is still delivered because carriers can often identify the addressee. Unfortunately, mailers often resend mail with the incorrect address repeatedly, unaware of the address quality issues. In the future, Postal Service systems will be able to capture local delivery knowledge to provide mailers with a corrected address.
Hand-held mobile data collection devices are essential elements of an Intelligent Mail system. The Postal Service completed first article testing of the new mobile data collection devices, the IMD, as part of the Intelligent Mail Data Acquisition System. The new handheld devices include an imager capable of reading all Postal Service barcodes currently in use and the new intelligent barcodes. The IMD provides additional features such