This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2018 issue
of Mailing Systems Technology.
Over the past several years, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has introduced a number of technologies to streamline mail entry. These tools provide obvious advantages for the USPS in terms of efficiencies, automating mail entry, and verification operations; however, they also provide benefits for mail service providers (MSP) and mail owners as well.
USPS programs such as Seamless Acceptance (SA) and Informed Visibility (IV) are the engines providing the data needed to evaluate the effectiveness of direct mail programs and to effectively integrate direct mail into multichannel marketing campaigns.
The data provided by SA and IV allows mail service providers to:
• Ensure they are meeting customer requirements and expectations
• Ensure customers are getting value from their postage spend
• Keep mail in sync with other channels and operations
• Drive continuous improvement in mail acceptance performance
• Reduce errors
More and more, marketers have come to expect their MSPs to leverage data to ensure seamless integration of direct mail with other channels to drive optimal performance of their campaigns.
Seamless Acceptance Data Fuels Informed Visibility
SA automates mail entry using unique barcodes on each mail piece, handling unit (tray, bundle, or sack), and container (pallet). These unique barcodes, combined with electronic documentation (eDoc) for mail make-up and payment, are the drivers that fuel enhanced understanding of mail performance. SA is built on the data from the Full-Service and eInduction programs. Scans from mail processing equipment (MPE) are compared to the eDoc, confirming that it accurately represents the physical mail presented to the USPS. Mail quality is tracked on a monthly basis against thresholds for accuracy of various data types, rather than on a mailing-by-mailing basis based on physical examination of the mail. SA has been open to all mailers since the spring of 2017.
IV leverages nesting information in eDocs to enhance raw MPE scans to provide greater intelligence throughout the USPS processing network. Unlike earlier mail tracking programs Confirm and IMb Tracing, IV adds visibility to handling units, containers, transportation, and letter carrier movements to the mix of data available to both USPS operations personnel and MSPs for more effective management of in-home dates. IV has moved from pilot to full rollout status for the basic program in 2017 and will see the introduction of additional functionality throughout 2018.
What’s New with Informed Visibility?
IV differs from its predecessors not only in the type of mail objects it tracks, but also in the information available about those objects. Some of this new information includes:
• Assumed Handling Events are based on handling of a higher-level mail object. For example, when a container (pallet) is scanned in a postal facility, all the handling units and mail pieces that are in that container are also assumed to be at that facility.
• Logical Handling Events are based on business rules. For example, a logical delivery event is the implied date and time that delivery should have occurred based on letter carriers’ movement on their routes. The letter carriers now carry GPS-enabled scanning devices. With each delivery route geo-fenced into sections, when the carrier breaks the “fence,” delivery is assumed for all pieces with the carrier going to delivery points within the “fence.”
Who Gets the Data?
One of the advantages of IV, compared to previous programs, is a more robust ability to receive and share data across the direct mail supply chain. It provides default access to the following:
• The owner of the Mailer ID (MID) on the mail piece has access to piece, bundle, handling unit, and container information.
• The eDoc submitter/mail preparer gets access to information on handling units and containers.
• The mail owner has access to data regarding the mail piece, bundle, handling unit, and containers.
• The facility access and shipment tracking (FAST) scheduler has access to container information.
All of the above users are able to delegate or share their data with anyone else in their supply chain. IV makes getting the right data to the right recipient at the right time easier than ever, enabling transparency for all participants.
Mailers need to keep in mind data delegation requires robust quality control processes to ensure the right data is sent to the properly identified parties. IV data delegation will only succeed if the supply chain “does it right the first time” and then validates, rather than assumes, the correct parties are receiving the data they need.
How the USPS Uses Data and Visibility
USPS operations use this new visibility data to predict upcoming workloads so they can better manage their labor force. More data also supports proactive troubleshooting to identify “at risk” mail and intervene while there’s still a chance to meet delivery expectations. Operations managers also use internal visibility dashboards to track the performance of their facilities and to identify the “vital few” that are driving the most missed service performance standards. These dashboards also allow managers to better understand service issues, so they can direct attention to the areas where it will do the most good.
Using Data and Visibility for Improved Tracking and Transparency
IV data allows MSPs to better manage mailings as these pieces move through the USPS network. The presence or absence of data and comparing “expected” vs. “actual” results can provide insight into whether a mailing is on-track to meet its expected in-home date. Tracking data anomalies compared to SA scan rates can also provide guidance about the extent and nature of any delivery problems that may occur.
Troubleshooting becomes easier with enhanced data. The data can identify a pallet that is accidently shipped early, which may lead to undocumented pieces on the Mailer Scorecard because the eDoc hasn’t been uploaded yet. If a pallet scan is missed at a destination facility, handling unit or piece scans from mail included on that pallet will provide reassurance that the pallet was received.
Accumulating historical performance results can allow MSPs to build predictive delivery curves, which can become a great planning tool to aid meeting in-home delivery targets and be valuable in making adjustments to mail plans due to last minute changes to production schedules.
MSPs and mail owners will see expanded opportunities to understand and continuously improve supply chain performance. Measuring cycle time between hand-offs in the supply chain and benchmarking and comparing performance across supply chain partners can help optimize supply chain performance.
Coordinating Mail with Other Marketing Channels
This is all about timing, sharing, and triggering the right actions at the right time. Through IV, marketers will have even more precise estimates of in-home delivery, allowing them to more accurately trigger additional touches through other channels to reinforce the marketing message of the mail piece. Logical and assumed events provide promise of more downstream detail than the last automation scan at the Sectional Center Facility (SCF), which is what was previously available.
The Challenge of Transparency
With SA and IV, everyone has easier access to a greater range of mailing information, but these new tools are only valuable if the data is accurate. All participants have a responsibility for the quality of the data in their link in the chain. There needs to be an understanding of what the data is revealing about supply chains and mailings. Educating all participants in the supply chain will be vital so everyone can share a common understanding of the data and avoid misinterpretation.
This is the start of an exciting journey. The potential for data to add value to mail is only beginning. What we’re doing now is arithmetic. What we’ll be able do in the future is advanced mathematics.