2014. What is the significance of this year, which is just six months away? It's the latest deadline that the USPS is planning for mailers to qualify for postal discounts. Specifically mailers will be required to implement both IMb and Full Service to qualify for postal discounts. As regulations on sensitive mail increase and the deadline for IMb full service implementation looms large, you're probably on edge about how to achieve integrity in getting the right mailpiece to the right recipient - and being able to pinpoint where things go wrong in your operations. At the same time, striking a balance between compliance, efficiency and cost reduction is paramount. Let's face it - with the 2014 deadline so close, you have little choice in implementing IMb full service, so the question we should focus on is not "if?" or even "when?, but "how?". While you can take the path of least resistance and simply put IMb full service in place to take advantage of postal discounts, you'll realize in hindsight that implementing IMb as a true "full service" will likely provide the greatest benefit for your company and your customers, and that doing so goes beyond just printing a barcode on a mailpiece.

IMb full service in all its glory allows you to have unprecedented visibility of the entire print mail process and control over accounting for and reconciling mailpieces. To implement IMb as a "full service", you'll have to update your mailpieces to replace PostNet with IMb, and also create tray tags and pallet packards, assign correct Service Type IDs for mailpieces, create and assign unique serial numbers and create and submit eDocs to Postal One. This might seem easy enough at face value, so let's examine the implications of these requirements and features in further depth.

IMb full service is useful because it provides data about mailpieces, but something to consider is that this data will flood into your organization in real-time. Do you have the infrastructure to store this data and make it meaningful and actionable for your company? Another aspect of the full service IMb implementation policy is that you also must produce IMb reports for the USPS because it's ideal for the post office to know about incoming mailpieces so that they can plan accordingly. Do you currently have the capacity and workflows in place to produce these reports? We all know that inserters require bar codes to know when to start and stop inserting the mailpiece. IMb can be used in place of other barcodes to control inserters, enabling automated reprinting and maintaining the look of your documents with fewer barcodes. Do you have systems in place to create the IMb and inserter control files for this function? IMb allows you to link feedback to marketing campaigns through IMb tracing and can support market segmentation by helping to identify those customers who are engaged and have a high-propensity to use your service. In the interest of efficiency, the USPS is also setting up centers to destroy return mail and in place of physically sending those pieces back to you, will instead send a digital file of all your undeliverable mailpieces. In addition to eliminating the piles of return mail that plague many mailrooms, having this data feed allows you to send this return mail information immediately to customer service for follow-up. Do you currently have the infrastructure to link this incoming data from the USPS to your existing customer databases to leverage IMb for marketing campaign analysis and return mail response? IMb also allows tracking from printing through shipment, and this tracking information can be used to create compliance reports and automatically reprint lost or compromised mailpieces.

Do you have the systems in place to support this level of tracking?
Many companies don't realize that so many functions can all be done from that small series of lines that come from the IMb. Exploring the various possibilities of IMb reveals substantial benefits, while also raising more questions with a common thread - having the right infrastructure to streamline and ease the adoption of IMb. This is where workflow solutions enter the picture. An Automated Document Factory (ADF) allows you to implement the IMb barcode, build a database containing data from IMb tracing and ACS, receive data on IMb status, provide reports and more - the building blocks of the advanced benefits discussed above. When combined with IMb, an ADF solution allows you to improve your marketing ROI by honing in on demographics and response rates, reduce returned mail, manage the production process and improve customer service. ADF also provides you with a view the mailpiece through production and, in turn, you can manage mailpieces and workload more efficiently. Why not implement a control system that leverages IMb and offsets the pain of implementation? It behooves us to implement in a way that benefits our company and our customers.

This is an integral time for companies on the cusp of making the transition to IMb full service. As you contend with the ever-changing ecosystem and requirements of the postal industry, while striving to increase your profitability and efficiency and build and maintain strong relationships with your customers, your choices now will have consequences that reach far past 2014. Knowing all the options available to you, and the foundational systems needed to support those options, is critical in determining how much pain you'll experience or how much benefit you'll reap from IMb full Service in the coming years.
Humberto Prospero is Director, Consulting and Integration Services, Ricoh