Jan. 3 2007 11:08 AM

"Confused, I am," Yoda might say if he were dealing with the U.S. Postal Service these days on issues related to addressing mailpieces. The addressing forces are being disturbed by many different demands for improving the quality of an address. It seems that addressing accuracy, visibility and placement is entering into more and more conversations with the Postal Service. Let's look at a few examples.


First, the USPS is conducting a detailed examination of the causes of Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail. It cost $1.9 billion to process UAA mail in 2003, which is a considerable sum. In its zeal to drive cost out of the processing system, the folks at the USPS have put a high priority on this problem. While the studies have not been made public to date, we can expect some new rules about addressing that will be directed at reducing UAA mail. As an example, since 1997, there has been a Move/Update rule for First-Class that requires mailers to periodically refresh the addresses in their lists using a product such as National Change of Address (NCOA) or FASTforward. Currently, there is a new rule pending that would extend the application of this requirement to other classes of mail. That rule has an 18-month implementation timetable, which has not been started.


Another example of the Postal Service's desire to have accurate addresses is the suite of products it offers mailers such as Coding Accuracy Support Service (CASS). The May-June issue of Mailing Systems Technology contained an article dedicated to describing the capabilities of CASS as well as other USPS services or tools that insure accurate and deliverable addresses. These services include Address Element Correction (AEC), Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS) and Delivery Point Validation (DPV). The USPS is making the tools available to mail owners. Perhaps someday, the USPS will make them required.


As the USPS introduces more and more automation into the processing of mail, the value of an accurate, up-to-date and visible address increases. Automation requires at least some degree of consistency to be cost effective. Letter mail is highly automated and adds a lot of value, as the mailpieces are relatively standard. Flat mail and containers of mail are much more challenging to automate because of their diversity and complexity. As more automation is applied to flats, the tendency of the USPS will be to suggest, or possibly require, more standardization. Last year, the USPS produced Publication 178: Recommendations for Designing Flat-Sized Mail Automation Compatibility Recommendations for the AFSM-100. The AFSM-100 is the Automatic Flat Sorting Machine.


The latest example of the importance of address visibility is the impending rule to enable processing of bundles containing periodicals and catalogs on the newest piece of automation, the APPS. The APPS is the Automatic Package Processing System a highly productive sorter for parcels and bundles of periodicals and catalogs. It identifies the destination of a bundle by either reading a barcode, or using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to read the address. The impending rule is intended to keep the address free of obstruction by prohibiting wrinkles or bubbles in shrink-wrap and strapping that may cover part of the address.


The APPS is in the initial stages of deployment, with only a handful of machines in the field. As you may imagine, this is a significant investment on the part of the USPS, with the return generated by a reduction in the labor necessary to process bundles. Now the address on an individual periodical or catalog is being used to identify and sort multiple mailpieces, not just to get the individual mailpiece delivered to the intended recipient. The placement of that address, and the construction of the bundle that carries it through processing, are now becoming critical. We can anticipate penalties for address visibility non-compliance similar to those currently received for various infractions that result in the loss of an automation discount.


Where does this lead us? The USPS is developing many tools and service offerings for mailers to make sure that the addresses in their list are accurate. At the same time, the USPS is deploying more automation to remove human intervention in the processing system. Theoretically, with perfect addressing, every operation could be automated and the processing plants managed as a "lights out" type of environment. Obviously, perfect addressing has great value to the USPS in its quest to minimize the cost of labor in the processing of mail.


With such a great value, and so many efforts to have perfect (or near perfect) addresses on mailpieces, it would seem that a strategy would be articulated about how the USPS intends to coordinate all of these efforts and to reach the goal of accurate and readable addresses. At the National Postal Forum in March, Postmaster General Jack Potter announced that since the first version of the Transformation Plan has been so effective, they plan to revise it and make it applicable to the USPS' strategy through 2010. Hopefully, this version will contain the USPS' intent around address accuracy and the strategic direction of all the addressing tools and services, as they relate to the automation that is now being deployed throughout the processing system.


Mike Winn is Director of Postal Operations for RR Donnelley. He has been active in printing industry associations such as the Printing Industries of America, Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, PostCom and the Research & Engineering Council. Contact mike.winn@rrd.com for more information.