Technological innovation has an important role in the battle for efficiency in the postal industry. A decade of intensive investment in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems applied to mail sorting equipment resulted in unparalleled success in the speeding up of mail sorting, the increase of OCR reading quality, and the reduction of manual data entry costs. This progress ensures the status of recognition technology as the most important factor influencing the efficiency of mail sorting equipment. The cost of processing the mail dropped from an estimated $55 per 1,000 letters manually to less than $5 per 1,000 letters with automated sorting. Another significant achievement of the last decade is that technology has enabled the automation of formats that were difficult or impossible to automate 10 years ago, so that magazines, parcels and even larger items can be automatically sorted by machine. However, modern world market trends require the postal industry to adapt to increased competition, changing customer behaviors and uncertain or lower mail volumes.  This situation raises the bar in performance and efficiency standards at all stages of mail processing; from mail sorting to the quality and variety of services provided by Posts.


Currently when recognition technology reads more than 90% of letter mail and with the overall potential of address recognition rates being less than 100%, recognition technology has come close to the point where further improvement depends on reading more than just address data. Mailpieces contain other kinds of information, which, if automatically processed, can further improve the efficiency of Postal services.


For example the automatic reading of an addressee name is the next important step to improving the quality of mail sorting technology. This capability will increase the finest depth of sort: the ability to extract a maximum of information from an address on a mailpiece.  It will also help to correct errors that may occur at the stage of address reading, and thereby improve the accuracy of postal sorting and the deliverability of mail. Moreover, in some countries mail sent to high-rise buildings is not distributed by apartment number but by the recipient's name alone. In some places there are even separate mailboxes for members of one household. This convention raises the importance of automatic name reading tasks in the mail sorting applications used in such countries. The current state of OCR technology grounded in the intelligent and intensive use of context allows for the accurate reading of addressee names both in handwritten and machine printed addresses. Therefore, a comprehensive and accurate database of names is one of the key components that influence the future success of automatic reading technology.


The capability to read addressee names not only helps to improve the final depth of sort, but also allows companies to provide better and expanded services to customers. In particular, OCR technology is used in the provision of mail redirection service to customers.


Redirection is a cost-effective and convenient way for a customer to continue to receive mail when the home or business is relocated, even if the move is temporary, or to receive mail at an overseas address.  About 17 percent of the US population moves each year, resulting in approximately 43 million change-of-address cards and over 5 billion pieces of mail that must be forwarded, returned to sender, or alternatively handled with an annual cost of more than $ 1 billion.


The mail redirection process is initiated when a postal customer is no longer able to receive mail at a particular address and thus fills out a Change of Address (COA) form. When a carrier receives a mailpiece which is undeliverable-as-addressed due to customer relocation, an attempt is made to match the name and address to a COA on file. If a match is attained, the COA notification is provided. Depending on its mail class and endorsements, the mailpiece is forwarded, discarded, or returned to sender.


Today the USPS relies on an automated OCR-based system for mail redirection, which helps the postal service make the process of mail redirection more timely, accurate and cost-effective. 

Mail redirection is one of the most challenging postal applications and exploits one of the most sophisticated automated systems for mail processing. State-of-the-art recognition technology performs a variety of recognition tasks on images of US letter mail, going beyond mere address reading. In addition to the destination address, it reads and matches personal/business names contained in the destination address block with names contained in the USPS Change of Address (COA) database. The capability to automatically read the addressee name eliminates the long and costly mail forwarding procedures, improves the speed and accuracy of mail forwarding, and substantially reduces expenditure on postal logistics. Moreover, advanced OCR also reads the return address, executes Address Change Service (ACS) determination, and endorsement determination. The name and address data are the most commonly used entities by businesses for many different purposes (e.g. CRM, address validation, marketing, data quality, data validation, customer profiling, census, segmentation, personal information, etc.). While extracting information from the endorsement and ACS line, the technology enables further services for customers, allowing the utilization of an electronic address change service. ACS service helps meet the needs of business mailers by providing a cost-effective, efficient means of obtaining accurate change-of-address (COA) information. This saves mailers time and money by reducing the amount of undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) mailpieces and saving the labor needed to manually re-key addresses. Thus, updated address data made available by OCR can be passed on to business customers for a fee, helping banks, insurance companies and other businesses to ensure that their customer address databases are always up-to-date.


Automated mail forwarding solutions have been installed and are in use at USPS processing plants, reducing operating costs and providing significant savings to the Postal Service. However, fast and constant advances in OCR technology offer great potential for further improving the efficiency of this application. 


There are many other areas in postal operations where effectiveness may be significantly improved using technological innovations. Technical innovations may also offer new opportunities for business. For example, while OCR technology continues to improve mail sorting operations, the integration of that technology with image processing and pattern recognition into a single product may provide a solution to other challenging problems, such as postage revenue losses.  Apparently, technological innovations available on the market deserve a closer look, because they will continue to be an integral prerequisite for keeping up with the rapidly changing infrastructure of the modern economy.

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