Over the course of 2009, we will provide you with the latest updates and information regarding the USPS' Intelligent Mail initiatives. For this introductory article, we'll bring you up to speed on the Intelligent Mail Barcode and provide an overview of the value proposition for mailers most interested in knowing their mail is delivered timely and for those taking advantage of postage discounts.

    The Intelligent Mail Barcode, also known as the IMB (formerly known as a four-state barcode and then as OneCode), is a replacement for the current PostNet barcode (which will be retired in May 2011). There are significant differences between the IMB and the current PostNet barcode. The main difference is that IMB stores 31 characters of information in five different fields verses the PostNet, which stores 11 characters in one field. The five fields are the Barcode ID, Service Type, Mailer ID, Serial ID and Delivery Point (currently used for PostNet).

    There are two implementations of the IMB. The first is "Basic" IMB, which requires all of the above fields to be populated except the serial number field. The second option is the "Full-Service" IMB, which requires the serial ID field to be populated with a uniquely managed ID. This option provides many additional benefits including the lowest postage costs.

    With Full-Service, mailers must submit their postage statements electronically and ensure their mailpieces, trays/sacks and containers all have the Intelligent Mail Barcodes that link the mailing contents together. In essence, scanning the placard on the pallets must determine which trays are on which pallets, and further nesting should link the specific mailpieces to specific trays.

    Mailers can begin using the Basic version of IMB at any time; in fact, billions of IMBs have already been scanned from USPS's pilot sites for nearly two years. The Full-Service IMB will be implemented in May of 2009 with widened adoption expected with the lower postage pricing available in Fall 2009.

    In the next article, we'll spend a little time on the latest updates from the USPS on their IMB initiatives and focus on the value of the IMB to mailers.

    From a value perspective

    The USPS sees significant value from the IMB in: 1) Providing the data necessary for service performance measurement; 2) Allowing the USPS to measure the quality of mail (address hygiene); and 3) Tracking mail throughout the USPS's processing centers to ensure optimum performance.

    From a mailer's point of view

    The value from the IMB can be seen in: 1) Free ACS (full-service provides unlimited for First-Class, 30 days for Standard and 60 days for Periodical Mail) and start the clock service; 2) Eliminating extra tracking barcode and keyline — leaving only the IMB, creating a more attractive mailpiece and freeing up space for messaging; 3) Providing insight into customer response times through mail track and trace; 4) Improving supply chain efficiencies in understanding mailpiece location and delivery time; 5) Low-cost proof of mailing; and 6) Reducing costs, tracking payments and driving revenue by understanding when customer reply mail enters the postal system containing their payment for goods and services.

    David Robinson has been active in the mailing industry for over eight years and is currently the Director of Address Quality for Pitney Bowes, working on their Postal Relations team located in Washington, DC. He serves on PostCom's Board, several MTAC workgroups as well as the Universal Postal Union's S42 Address Standard Committee.

    Kevin Conti is Director of Mailing Solutions at Pitney Bowes Software. He works in a consultative role with Group 1 Software customers to deploy software solutions that reduce mailing costs and improve customer communications. Kevin has a liaison role with the USPS, industry groups and mailing product organizations.