To best answer this title question requires taking a couple of steps back to provide some needed context. A couple of years ago, the Postal Service established the National Operations Command Center (NOCC). The Postal Service has divided the United States into seven districts (Northeast, Capital Metro, Eastern, Great Lakes, Southern, Western, and Pacific), and each district has a Vice President of Operations. Each district also has an NOCC, which is used to communicate and coordinate the flow of mail through all the Postal Service processing plants. Note, there is also an eighth NOCC located at USPS headquarters in Washington DC.

The NOCCs provide real-time monitoring of mail processing within each district and allow executives to see and communicate what is going on within and across districts. The NOCC is used as a tool to identify facilities that are at risk of not meeting service standards and machines that are not meeting planned operations, which can include throughput, run hours, and connectivity. This information is refreshed every 15 minutes and provides a real-time status of processing operations across the entire US.

In addition to being able to monitor the status of individual processing facilities and machines, the NOCC has the ability to monitor the flow of mail between districts and processing facilities. It has the ability to track the status of flights that are carrying mail and know if they are on time, delayed, or possibly even cancelled.

Since the NOCC was initially deployed, the Postal Service has enabled GPS on all of the trailers it uses to move mail between processing facilities via surface transportation. This GPS information gives the NOCCs the ability to see what trucks will be showing up early, on time, late, or critically late. This helps them to better manage the yard, dock doors, and, more appropriately, staff processing facilities and schedule processing equipment based on the mail they know will be arriving. Any truck arriving critically late can be given priority in the yard over a truck that is showing up early. The obvious goal is to get it parked at the dock as quickly as possible and get the mail unloaded and moved to the appropriate processing equipment to try and prevent service standards from being missed.

The Power of Visibility

All this additional visibility is allowing the USPS to do predictive workflow planning. While this is helping the Postal Service to balance reducing labor hours while also maintaining or improving service standards, there is still a significant amount of mail that the USPS does not have visibility into. This would be all the mail that is being transported and/or dropped shipped by the mailing industry.

Having visibility into all of the mail showing up on industry transportation could benefit the mailing industry and allow the Postal Service to extend the benefits that it is currently taking advantage of with its own transportation. These benefits could include improved yard management by knowing if a truck is going to be arriving early, on time, or late for its scheduled appointment. There could possibly be automatic check-in when a truck arrives at a processing facility, better dock management, and staffing to reduce wait times for unloading, not to mention better predictive workflow planning based on knowing the type, sortation, and quantity of mail that is arriving on industry trucks. Obviously, there are some clear win/win scenarios for the mailing industry and the Postal Service.

In April, the mailing industry took the first step to help enable these benefits. In the Idealliance Mail.dat 18-1 specification, which the USPS started supporting on April 8, 2018, several new files were added to enable transportation messaging across the mail supply chain. This would include communication between industry partners but could also be used to communicate much of the same information that the NOCCs are using for their internal postal transportation. This initial release of transportation messaging probably will not see a live implementation. However, it has served an important purpose, which is to get the dialogue between the mailing industry and Postal Service started. Ultimately, transportation messaging could be the next big step forward to further optimize the end-to-end mail supply chain, providing benefits and cost savings for both the mailing industry and the Postal Service.

Bob Schimek is Senior Director of Postal Affairs at Quadient.