Today the postal market is changing rapidly to adapt to a modern world market characterized by globalization, liberalization, deregulation and technological advances. For the postal industry these trends mean increased competition, changing customer behaviors, and uncertain or lower mail volumes. Together with other essential changes, namely the decrease in the volume of traditional letter mail due to substitution by new media, the bar is being raised on performance and efficiency standards at all stages of mail processing-from mail sorting to the quality and variety of services. In response to these challenges, postal operators have to act fast to adopt new strategies that will let their organizations become more flexible and adaptive. In particular, they have to take advantage of innovative technology to increase productivity and offer new products.
Looking back over the past decades the postal sector has been among the most innovative market leaders in utilizing advanced technology to update the business of postal operators. For example, USPS started investing in high-speed automated systems and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems in the 80s. Since then, OCR systems used for mail sorting have resulted in an unparalleled breakthrough in reading quality, recognizing 93% of machine printed and about 88% of handwritten letter mail. With read rates being so close to 100%, some are of the opinion that recognition technology has exhausted its potential.
It is true that requirements to technological innovation and to its efficiency are growing. Today, postal operators are dealing with lower mail volume. With the high read rates already achieved by the industry, these are either residual items that have yet to be processed automatically or mail in countries with lower mail volume, which previously could not afford a high level of automation. The automatic processing of lower mail volumes provides lower savings and efficiencies, when compared to the savings achieved in the past. This is why the standards in recognizing and interpreting the destination and return addresses, the leading-edge of yesterday, are not sufficient to meet the needs of modern services today.
However, state-of-the-art recognition technology proves that it has significant potential to further improve mail sorting efficiency and enable additional postal services. Not only can it read more addresses with higher accuracy, but modern technology is able to read address elements and data from an envelope that could not be reliably read before. It also applies advanced algorithms to intelligently analyze captured address data and convert it into actionable information.
An example of an issue that can be solved using new technology is the processing of incomplete addresses, which is a part of a bigger, undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) problem that costs over $1 billion annually for the USPS alone. The accuracy of address information is often neglected and mailpieces are sent with an incomplete or inaccurate address. These mailpieces require additional handling: currently they are not only automatically processed, but when the address cannot be resolved, the mailpieces are also sent to manual processing just to make the conclusion that the address on them is unreadable and they cannot be processed further. If automatic technology is able to analyze the address and reliably conclude that this address is incomplete, then there is no need to send a mailpiece to manual keying, resulting in significant savings in mail sorting.
The latest OCRs have an arsenal of sophisticated techniques that allow a conclusive judgment on the quality of the address information. Thus, address parsing helps to analyze the structure of an address on a mailpiece to see if certain components are missing. The analysis of noise and its structure allows the system to automatically detect mailpieces with unrecoverable distortion or loss of information. Intelligent recognition can identify intrusions like white stripes, blots or such common issues as shifted or partially covered destination addresses that cannot be seen in an envelope address window. The advanced mechanism of result appraisals makes it possible to conclude that if all of the address components are read reliably but cannot be cross-validated, then the address may be incomplete or inaccurate.
The capability of the technology to read more data from an envelope, in particular, by automatically reading the addressee name, improves the accuracy of incomplete address detection, helps to increase the depth of sort, contributes to correcting errors that may occur at the stage of address reading and, thereby, increases the accuracy of postal sorting and the deliverability of mail. Finally, the automatic reading of addressee names allows companies to provide better and broader services to customers. In particular, OCR technology is already used in the provision of mail redirection service to customers.
In today's competitive markets that demand extreme timeliness, achieving profitability means finding more effective ways to streamline postal operations, increase integrity, and reduce costs. For two decades, automated recognition has played a key role in improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of mail sorting, yet, even today, not all of the potential of the technology is being discovered and utilized by the industry. Postal operators have to take advantage of innovative technology not only by squeezing more productivity improvement from already automated areas, but by also taking advantage of its broader capabilities and complex and integrated approaches to the automation of different segments of postal operations and services.
With 22 years of corporate strategy and sales management experience, Mr. Buck has led new product development, created business venture opportunities and managed national sales teams. His expertise encompasses a variety of industries including: government, financial, retail, telecommunications and utilities. As Vice President for Business Development at Parascript, Mr. Buck is responsible for augmenting business growth and leading new partner development efforts. He can be reached at email@example.com.