Archive for October, 2010

Postal Service Files Rate-Case Appeal

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Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 29th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Posted in USPS

Postal Service called slow to exploit IT

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My comments on this article are highlighted throughout.  What has been your experience?  Agree or disagree with my comments?  Comment this blog, or contact me directly…

Postal Service called slow to exploit IT

The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service has fallen behind in generating revenue from new applications of information technology, such as switching to a FedEx-like tracking system, selling USPS data to mailers and charging local governments to issue various citizen identification credentials at post offices, says the agency’s independent regulator.

One of the biggest challenges in realizing benefits from IT has been how to expand the use of the so-called intelligent mail barcode — a series of lines printed on commercial letters and packages that computers scan to identify each parcel as it moves through the processing system. The tool also can measure the amount of time it takes to process items.

The Postal Service launched the labels in May 2009, and the Postal Regulatory Commission had expected mailers nationwide would be using them by 2012. But USPS officials now say they do not know when all companies will transition to the coding, and only about one-third of the nation’s mailers have adopted the IMB, mostly due to its cost, officials noted.

LMB comment – This highlights one of the major points of confusion, because of the way the USPS presents the Intelligent Mail information. The reference here is to an Intelligent Mail option – Full Service Intelligent Mail. Full Service Intelligent Mail is costly to implement, and to maintain. There is also risk involved.

“I think we’re all a bit frustrated that the IMB has taken much longer than we thought to be implemented,” said commission Chairwoman Ruth Goldway in an interview with Nextgov. “But we still see its potential . . . as a service that will give the Postal Service a vast array of data and control over the mail stream.”

LMB comment – I am in total agreement with Chariman Goldway here. There is a great deal of potential with the IMb. The USPS needs to work harder to understand the needs of mailers and mail owners so they can sell to that need.

USPS officials stressed that their technology is up and running and has the capacity to handle the nation’s commercial mail volume but that deployment is customer-driven. “If the measure of success is 100 percent [adoption], then that is unrealistic,” Thomas Day, USPS senior vice president of intelligent mail and address quality, said on Thursday.

LMB comment – What is the measure of success, then? And since the IMb will be mandatory in May 2011, the USPS should be looking at ways to encoureag customers to adopt Full Service. Obviously, the discount doesn’t come close to covering the costs involved. In order for businesses to make an investment into new technology and processes – good business, profitable business, that is – the business needs to be able to identify a return on investment. The USPS has had years to “sell” Full Service Intelligent Mail. Adding some tangible benefits for the majority of mailers would make that sale possible, and greatly increase the adoption rate. So far, the “benefits” touted by the USPS are negligible for the majority – resulting in a low adoption rate.

The Postal Service invested about $100 million to build the system, but its customers do not have enough resources to install new hardware and software that allows USPS to read their data, Day added. Currently, the information retrieved from scans does not always align with real-world times and locations, PRC officials said.

“To the extent we can’t process data, the errors are occurring on the side of our customers,” Day said. Recognizing this problem, the Postal Service recently spent $2 million on an upgrade to help customers troubleshoot glitches.

LMB comment –To say that all of the issues are customer issues is misguided and false. This attitude is detrimental to customer relations in the worst way. Mail service providers happen to be USPS customers too. Perhaps if the requirements were not so ridiculously complex, the mail service providers wouldn’t need assistance to troubleshoot problems. Perhaps if the customer issue reporting had been developed to be adequate to begin with, the USPS wouldn’t have had to invest $2 million dollars to “upgrade” their troubleshooting system. Perhaps if the USPS wasn’t so quick to react with monetary penalties for errors, the mailers would be more willing to give Full Service Intelligent Mail a try.

Day noted that, already, IMB is helping customers and the agency because the service easily corrects addresses and provides USPS with greater visibility into its supply chain. “With that volume of data, it gives us significantly more information about our [postal] network,” he said.

LMB comment – There is nothing easy about Full Service Address Corrections, either for the USPS or for customers. There are a great deal of complex rules and requirements that need to be followed, with only a tiny margin for errors.

Commission officials said radio frequency identification is a proven, smart-tracking tool that European mailers currently use to test delivery times, but USPS and its customers deemed the technology too expensive. RFID tags transmit location data over the airwaves to remote readers, eliminating the need for physical scanning.

The regulator now is not considering an alternative to IMB, though if deployment continues to drag on, it could ask USPS to develop other systems, perhaps RFID.

“The stick we potentially have is that every year we file a report with Congress letting them know whether the Postal Service is in compliance” with performance standards, Goldway said. “We could make findings that the Postal Service is out of compliance and go through a complaint process to get [USPS] to do something or highlight it for Congress and ask Congress to do something about it.”

USPS will file its annual compliance report to the commission by the end of December.

Day said that scrapping IMB for RFID would require the Postal Service to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars for an approach that even successful private-sector delivery services, such as UPS and FedEx, do not use for individual mail pieces.

The Postal Service’s other ideas for using IT to boost profits include leveraging an agency database that contains the official physical addresses of all Americans. Post offices already offer citizens the ability to apply for passports on behalf of the State Department, in return for passport acceptance fees.

There is some discussion of USPS linking its datasets to state or local computers to manufacture other credentials, such as voter identification cards — and recouping fees from those services. In addition, the Postal Service is thinking about selling some of its marketing, mail volume, transit time and certain IMB data to commercial mailers.

“I wish that these proposals were more developed than they are,” Goldway said.

The Postal Service is making progress and moving forward on each of these concepts, Day responded. But he suspects USPS will face pushback from the industry over the suggestion to monetize agency data because customers take the position “that it should all be free.”

LMB comment – This particular customer does not think “it should all be free”. My company utilizes the USPS OneCode Confirm program. This service allows mailers to track mailpieces. We don’t expect it to be free. In fact, we pay tens of thousands of dollars annually to access the information. However, general USPS information, such as mail volume trends and transit times SHOULD be available to everyone free of charge. And the USPS should recognize and utilize the value of that Confirm data, internally. They do not.

Despite its criticisms, the commission is pleased with the Postal Service’s strides in establishing partnerships with popular online services to attract more customers. For example, users of eBay and PayPal can print USPS postage from their desktops without paying additional fees or installing software. “They should be credited for being quite innovative within that field,” Goldway said.

LMB comment – Innovation is important. I personally utilize some of the online postage opportunities and find it easy and quick and most convenient to use. Simplification of Intelligent Mail requirements, mitigation of error penalties (there is a destructive focus on penalties as a revenue stream instead of a corrective action), and clear, quantifiable Intelligent Mail benefits are also key to the success or failure of the program. The USPS still has a ways to go in working to understand their customer needs and requirements. Once they do that, selling what we want to buy will be a no-brainer.

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 29th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Posted in USPS

PostalOne! Update – Resolved, only Mail.dat Affected

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Updates from PostalOne!

at 9:55am EST
We have identified the cause of  this issue and are working to resolve the problem. There has been a delay in processing mail.dat files in PostalOne that began at approximately 4AM CT this morning.  There is no impact to users (internal/external) using the PostalOne online application. An update will be provided once this issue has been resolved.”

At 10:26am EST
“We have resolved the issue that was causing mail.dat files to be queued. Mailer eDoc (mail.dat) files are being processed now. During this outage the USPS continued to accept mailer files and there were queued for processing. There are approximately 600 eDoc files in the processing queue backlog and we expect this backlog to take approximately 2-3 hours to clear. I will provide updates on processing backlog status approximately every half hour.”

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 29th, 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in USPS

PostalOne! Unscheduled Downtime – Again

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From the PostalOne! Help Desk:
Attention PostalOne! Users

You are receiving this email because a Priority Urgent ticket has been opened by the PostalOne Help Desk for an issue that is affecting PostalOne mailers submitting eDoc files to USPS. The issue is currently under investigation, and the root cause is unknown. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

Please call the PostalOne Help Desk at (800) 522-9085 if you have any further questions.

——————-
Whether or not this unscheduled downtime lasts 5 minutes or 5 hours or 5 days is irrelevant.  It is a DISRUPTION.  It makes it IMPOSSIBLE to PAY the USPS for Bulk Mail Postage.  The “contingency plan” for mailers is to revert to paper statements, so mail service providers need to maintain and update two separate processes.  Costly.  Inefficient.  And annoying.

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 29th, 2010 at 9:25 am

Posted in USPS

Postal Service called slow to exploit IT

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My comments on this article are posted throughout, in the appropriate places.  I’d like to hear what you think, comment or contact me directly.

Postal Service called slow to exploit IT

By Aliya Sternstein 10/29/2010

The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service has fallen behind in generating revenue from new applications of information technology, such as switching to a FedEx-like tracking system, selling USPS data to mailers and charging local governments to issue various citizen identification credentials at post offices, says the agency’s independent regulator.

One of the biggest challenges in realizing benefits from IT has been how to expand the use of the so-called intelligent mail barcode — a series of lines printed on commercial letters and packages that computers scan to identify each parcel as it moves through the processing system. The tool also can measure the amount of time it takes to process items.

The Postal Service launched the labels in May 2009, and the Postal Regulatory Commission had expected mailers nationwide would be using them by 2012. But USPS officials now say they do not know when all companies will transition to the coding, and only about one-third of the nation’s mailers have adopted the IMB, mostly due to its cost, officials noted.

LMB comment – This highlights one of the major points of confusion, because of the way the USPS presents the Intelligent Mail information.  The reference here is to an Intelligent Mail option – Full Service Intelligent Mail.  Full Service Intelligent Mail is costly to implement, and to maintain.  There is also risk involved.

“I think we’re all a bit frustrated that the IMB has taken much longer than we thought to be implemented,” said commission Chairwoman Ruth Goldway in an interview with Nextgov. “But we still see its potential . . . as a service that will give the Postal Service a vast array of data and control over the mail stream.”

LMB comment – I am in total agreement with Chariman Goldway here.  There is a great deal of potential with the IMb.  The USPS needs to work harder to understand the needs of mailers and mail owners so they can sell to that need.

USPS officials stressed that their technology is up and running and has the capacity to handle the nation’s commercial mail volume but that deployment is customer-driven. “If the measure of success is 100 percent [adoption], then that is unrealistic,” Thomas Day, USPS senior vice president of intelligent mail and address quality, said on Thursday.

LMB comment – What is the measure of success, then?  And since the IMb will be mandatory in May 2011, the USPS should be looking at ways to encourage customers to adopt Full Service.  Obviously, the discount doesn’t come close to covering the costs involved. In order for businesses to make an investment into new technology and processes – good business, profitable business, that is – the business needs to be able to identify a return on investment.  The USPS has had years to “sell” Full Service Intelligent Mail.  Adding some tangible benefits for the majority of mailers would make that sale possible, and greatly increase the adoption rate.   So far, the “benefits” touted by the USPS are negligible for the majority – resulting in a low adoption rate.

The Postal Service invested about $100 million to build the system, but its customers do not have enough resources to install new hardware and software that allows USPS to read their data, Day added. Currently, the information retrieved from scans does not always align with real-world times and locations, PRC officials said.

“To the extent we can’t process data, the errors are occurring on the side of our customers,” Day said. Recognizing this problem, the Postal Service recently spent $2 million on an upgrade to help customers troubleshoot glitches.

LMB comment -To say that all of the issues are customer issues is misguided and false.  This attitude is detrimental to customer relations in the worst way.  Mail service providers happen to be USPS customers too.  Perhaps if the requirements were not so ridiculously complex, the mail service providers wouldn’t need assistance to troubleshoot problems.  Perhaps if the customer issue reporting had been developed to be adequate to begin with, the USPS wouldn’t have had to invest $2 million dollars to “upgrade” their troubleshooting system.  Perhaps if the USPS wasn’t so quick to react with monetary penalties for errors, the mailers would be more willing to give Full Service Intelligent Mail a try.

Day noted that, already, IMB is helping customers and the agency because the service easily corrects addresses and provides USPS with greater visibility into its supply chain. “With that volume of data, it gives us significantly more information about our [postal] network,” he said.

LMB comment – There is nothing easy about Full Service Address Corrections, either for the USPS or for customers.  There are a great deal of complex rules and requirements that need to be followed, with only a  tiny margin for errors.

Commission officials said radio frequency identification is a proven, smart-tracking tool that European mailers currently use to test delivery times, but USPS and its customers deemed the technology too expensive. RFID tags transmit location data over the airwaves to remote readers, eliminating the need for physical scanning.

The regulator now is not considering an alternative to IMB, though if deployment continues to drag on, it could ask USPS to develop other systems, perhaps RFID.

“The stick we potentially have is that every year we file a report with Congress letting them know whether the Postal Service is in compliance” with performance standards, Goldway said. “We could make findings that the Postal Service is out of compliance and go through a complaint process to get [USPS] to do something or highlight it for Congress and ask Congress to do something about it.”

USPS will file its annual compliance report to the commission by the end of December.

Day said that scrapping IMB for RFID would require the Postal Service to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars for an approach that even successful private-sector delivery services, such as UPS and FedEx, do not use for individual mail pieces.

The Postal Service’s other ideas for using IT to boost profits include leveraging an agency database that contains the official physical addresses of all Americans. Post offices already offer citizens the ability to apply for passports on behalf of the State Department, in return for passport acceptance fees.

There is some discussion of USPS linking its datasets to state or local computers to manufacture other credentials, such as voter identification cards — and recouping fees from those services. In addition, the Postal Service is thinking about selling some of its marketing, mail volume, transit time and certain IMB data to commercial mailers.

“I wish that these proposals were more developed than they are,” Goldway said.

The Postal Service is making progress and moving forward on each of these concepts, Day responded. But he suspects USPS will face pushback from the industry over the suggestion to monetize agency data because customers take the position “that it should all be free.”

LMB comment – This particular customer does not think “it should all be free”.  My company utilizes the USPS OneCode Confirm program.  This service allows mailers to track mailpieces.  We don’t expect it to be free. In fact, we pay tens of thousands of dollars annually to access the information.  However, general USPS information, such as mail volume trends and transit times SHOULD be available to everyone free of charge.  And the USPS should recognize and utilize the value of that Confirm data, internally.  They do not.

Despite its criticisms, the commission is pleased with the Postal Service’s strides in establishing partnerships with popular online services to attract more customers. For example, users of eBay and PayPal can print USPS postage from their desktops without paying additional fees or installing software. “They should be credited for being quite innovative within that field,” Goldway said.

LMB comment – Innovation is important.  I personally utilize some of the online postage opportunities and find it easy and quick and most convenient to use.  Simplification of Intelligent Mail requirements, mitigation of error penalties (there is a destructive focus on penalties as a revenue stream instead of a corrective action), and clear, quantifiable Intelligent Mail benefits are also key to the success or failure of the program.  The USPS still has a ways to go in working to understand their customer needs and requirements.  Once they do that, selling what we want to buy will be a no-brainer.

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 29th, 2010 at 1:38 am

Posted in USPS

Postmaster General John E. Potter stepping down

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Postmaster General John E. Potter will retire on Dec. 3 after nine years at the helm of the mail agency, the Postal Service said Monday. His deputy, Patrick R. Donohoe will succeed him.

Federal Eye – Postmaster General John E. Potter stepping down.

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 25th, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Posted in USPS

Full Service Requirements and Risks

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Recently, I was asked if the requirements for Full Service expensive or hard to handle.  Here is my response, with some updates.

Full Service requirements are both expensive and hard to handle. Managing the sequence numbers on the mailpieces is not all that difficult. However, Full Service also requires unique sequence numbers on the trays, sacks and pallets. Pallet placards must be affixed to the outside of pallet wrapping, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds an adhesive expense and handling for the mail service preparer. And – if one of those placards falls off in transit and handling – poof, goodbye discount, downstream.  This loss of discount would take place well after the mail has already been accepted.

Take a look at the list of Guides you need to reference in order to familiarize yourself with is needed to do a  Full Service mailing: http://ribbs.usps.gov/index.cfm?page=intellmailguides There is a Beginner’s Guide, and eDocs Guide, a Customer Supplier Agreement Guide, Mail.dat Guide, Mail.XML Guide, the Main Intelligent Mail Guide (190 pages-including 48 pages of different Service Type IDs) – there are so many guides and specifications that the USPS has a guide to all the guides!

By far the biggest issue when dealing with Full Service is the USPS current push to look at using requirements and subsequent penalties as a revenue stream, instead of as a corrective action. Specifications are numerous, complex, and the tolerances are nil or next to nil. When you are doing a manufacturing process such as producing mail, reasonable tolerances should be accepted. That is not the case with Full Service. The USPS looks for any way possible to yank that discount, AFTER you’ve done all the work. You risk losing your ACS data as punishment for errors as well. Mail service providers end up having to add personnel to review errors and the USPS error reporting, which is in itself problematic. Adding people adds cost.  If you don’t double check everything,  you run the risk of being charged for errors based on bad USPS data.  All of the bugs have not been worked out of the systems, but come January the USPS will start charging you for errors, and the burden of proof is all on the mailers, not the USPS.

And the rub with Full Service “Free” ACS is – the non-automated portion of your mailing, the pieces that could use ACS the most – those pieces DO NOT QUALIFY for Full Service ACS, even if they are part of a Full Service mailing. If the USPS was serious about reducing undeliverable mail, they would share the results of how the current efforts are faring in that reduction.  Several industry groups have requested that information be shared, and are still waiting.

Full Service has a ways to go before the benefits outweigh the risks.  That being said, there is no reason to delay in implementing the Intelligent Mail barcode now, using Basic IMb.  Don’t wait until the mandatory date creeps up on you.

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 25th, 2010 at 7:01 am

Posted in USPS

Rate-Case Appeal Is a No-Lose Venture for USPS

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Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Posted in USPS

PostalOne! Support Line Alternative for 10/23/2010

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The Memphis Call Center PBX will be undergoing scheduled system maintenance, on Saturday, October 23rd, beginning at 7:00 a.m. and will last approximately 8 hours. During this time, the PostalOne! Support line, 800-522-9085 , will be inoperable. During this time, if you are unable to reach after hours / weekend support via the support number, please use the PostalOne! Help Desk email account as your primary communication for after hours support – postalone@usps.gov

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 22nd, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Posted in USPS

Postal Service Appeals PRC Decision on Exigent Price Request

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Postal Service Appeals PRC Decision on Exigent Price Request
Petition to be Filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Postal Service today announced its decision to appeal the Sept. 30 ruling of the Postal Regulatory Commission denying the Postal Service exigent price request.

The Postal Service Governors’ decision means that a petition will be filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, seeking a review of the PRC’s interpretation of the law that governs how prices can be set under extraordinary and exceptional circumstances.

The Postal Service position is that the PRC misread the statute and applied an incorrect standard in evaluating the request for an exigent price increase.

“We have a fundamental disagreement with the PRC’s interpretation of the law,” said Postmaster General John E. Potter. “This action is an investment in our future. We need to understand and define the rules under the current law should the Postal Service find itself in a similar situation in the future.”

The Postal Service also asks the Court of Appeals to confirm the Postal Service right to pursue the exigent price increase as originally requested of the PRC.

It is expected that the Court of Appeals will ask for briefs from both the Postal Service and the PRC. Oral arguments also may be scheduled by the court once the petition challenging the PRC ruling is filed.

The Postal Service continues to evaluate other options to address the PRC’s ruling. The exigent price request would have generated about $2.3 billion in much needed revenue for the first nine months of calendar year 2011.

Filing for an exigent price change was the one tool the Postal Service had to use within the confines of the law to help address the impact the recession had on the its financial situation. But pricing is only one of a suite of solutions to address the dire financial situation the Postal Service faces. The long-term financial viability of the Postal Service will remain questionable unless the March 2 action plan is fulfilled.

A quick and timely resolution of the appeal is an important part of the Postal Service plan.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of products and services to fund its operations.

Written by Lisa.Bowes

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:50 am

Posted in USPS