Intelligent Mail

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 and deliver more rapid, reliable, and consistent service. The Intelligent Mail barcode introduces 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.

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.

As customers and the Postal Service continue on the journey toward IM, these benefits will mount: revenue growth and retention as mail products become more attractive in the marketplace; reduced operating costs through better network and operations usage of information about mail; reduced investment costs through standardization and integration of coding structure, data acquisition, communications, and storage; enhanced revenue accuracy through verification of postage payment and fulfillment of requirements for price categories; and enhanced mail security.

Three key priorities were identified in 2003 that set the direction for achieving the original IM vision:

  1. Uniquely identify mailpieces and aggregates of mail such as mail in containers with a code that enables end-to-end process visibility. Unique identification provides the ability to gain full visibility of mail and aggregates. The introduction of IM barcodes has enabled the unique identification of pieces, handling units, and containers.
  2. Develop and deploy an enabling infrastructure. In May, the Postal Service launched the Full-Service and Basic options for mailers. The systems deployed to support Full-Service provided enhanced visibility into the mail supply chain and established the infrastructure to facilitate the exchange of data between customers and the Postal Service.
  3. Improve address quality. With the implementation and use of the IM barcode, several achievements have been accomplished including providing new address correction options, upgrading the change-of-address (COA) process, leveraging IM data for a new understanding of undeliverable-as-addressed mail, and making improvements to postal and customer address management systems.

Four new strategies were identified in 2009 that update and enhance the original IM vision:

  1. Establish robust measurement capabilities to assess the performance of commercial mail and drive service improvements through acceptance visibility, delivery visibility, and measurement and aggregation.
  2. Drive product innovation to enhance the value of mail through new products and services, data offerings, and dynamic pricing.
  3. Sharpen operational insight and have a clear understanding of cost drivers.
  4. Enrich the customer experience with in-process verification that limits 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, when the POSTNET barcode will no longer be used. Since May 2009, mailers could choose between two IM options — Basic and Full-Service. Under the Basic option, mailers only need to use non-unique IM barcodes on their mailpieces. For Full-Service, mailers must use unique IM barcodes on each mailpiece, submit postage statements and mailing documentation electronically, if required, and use IM tray and container labels. The IM barcode price structure was announced with the May 2009 price changes and includes separate pricing for Basic and Full-Service, which took effect November 2009. Mail must bear IM barcodes to qualify for the lowest automation-based prices.

The volume of mail with IM barcodes has grown rapidly — from 300 million pieces per week in October 2008 to approximately 1 billion per week at the end of September 2009. Over 26,000 mailers have been assigned one or more mailer IDs for automation mailings.

By the end of the year, over 400 customers had entered the Test Environment for Mailers, and nearly 200 were approved for entry into the live production environment. Since the implementation of Full-Service in May, over 600 million uniquely identified Full-Service pieces have been processed in the live production environment. These mailings had unique barcodes on each mailpiece, as well as unique aggregate container codes. The data associated with the mailings was provided to the Postal Service electronically. In turn, the appropriate data was provided back to the mailing customer electronically. The basic functionality of Full-Service Intelligent Mail has demonstrated the ability to perform as designed.

Focus is now turning to building awareness of IM among mid-size and small mailers. Training and support material on the benefits and implementation of IM was developed for employees directly involved with customers, including sales and business mail entry personnel. MTAC joined in the awareness campaign, which included sessions at the National Postal Forum (NPF), Web site guidelines, and Q&As about the use of IM barcodes and electronic documentation. The Postal Service and NPF co-sponsored nine national symposia where attendees heard from mailers about how IM is driving improvements in service and efficiency, and adding value to their business. Additionally, Postal Customer Councils across the country have also conducted IM workshops to reach more mailers.