OK, so you've decided not to work on a conversion to the intelligent mail barcode. The latest delay announced by the US Postal Service has given you more breathing room. The former deadline in May is no longer a concern.

I get it. I really do.

I understand how difficult it is to calculate a reasonable ROI for converting from Postnet to IMB. For a lot of mailers, the ONLY thing that makes economic sense is preserving their automation discounts; discounts which may go away for Postnet-coded pieces once the yet-to-be-announced IMB switch date is upon us yet again. Until then, Postnet may be doing everything some mailers need it to do.

And let's face it, the IMB program has had so many delays and postponements one can't be blamed for wondering if the whole idea will eventually be discarded. If that happens, the procrastinators are going to look like Nostradamus, I guess.


I think IMB is going to be in our future. Although it may eventually exist in a different form that makes it palatable to more mailers. The Postal Service may add some benefits that could be used in computing a rational return on investment. But the basic idea is solid and could be used to power the postal service of the future. I think there is potential.

For some suggestions about how IMB might evolve, see my article
"What if Intelligent Mail Was More Intelligent?"

Let's clear up the issue of mail tracking
Mail tracking or other ways to use data that identifies an individual mail piece are probably going to factor into future IMB benefits. The USPS needs to do a better job of clarifying how tracking and IMB are related. As recently as last month, articles written by USPS representatives have given mailers the impression that tracking is somehow included with Full Service IMB or is free, and that no extra work is required.

Since that's the message, maybe some tracking feedback should be included in the postage price. Especially if data from mail piece scans are used for more than simply marking the location of an envelope at some point in time. At least mailers will get more value they can use in return for their efforts to convert to Full Service. That might convince more of them to take the plunge.

Might as well be prepared
Regardless of their personal opinions of the IMB program, we're advising clients to start making the adjustments that will be necessary when the time comes to convert. You might want to take this opportunity to modify the print layout or enlarge envelope windows. And you should probably plan on making some changes to your reply envelopes that include pre-printed addresses.

Even if you can't ever foresee a need to use Full Service, you might find there is a benefit to applying a mail piece ID number to your documents. So think about how you would do that, what kind of numbering system makes sense, and find out what your postal software will support. If the USPS ever adds any of the capabilities I suggested, a way to tie mail piece ID's in the barcodes to your internal systems will be pretty important.

If mail is to survive as a critical channel of communications for business then it has to get smarter. Postnet is good for delivery routing and that's about it. CONFIRM without IMB works for getting feedback about pieces that are in the system and gauging delivery times, but it requires a whole separate coding system and limits mail piece design choices. To realize the greatest potential that physical mail can provide, we're going to need a more complete picture of the relationship between mail and the recipients. We're going to need to know where the mail is, when it will be delivered, who is getting it, and what they did with it. We need the mail to communicate with the senders.

Until a better technology comes along, it appears that some variety of the IMB program will be the path that gets us to a mail system that supports the requirements of today and the future. Prepare to take advantage.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more ideas and tips about effective documents, sign up for Mike's free newsletter at www.printmailconsultants.com or email him directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com