Like many business operations today, the United States Postal Service is adjusting its operations and relying on mailers to embrace automation to improve efficiencies and receive better service. Toward those ends, it is phasing out the widely used Information Based Indicia (IBI) program in favor of the more advanced Intelligent Mail Indicia (IMI). Currently, both are in use with Postage Evidencing Systems, postage meters, and mailing systems at small and medium-sized businesses, high-volume mailers, and third-party mailing service providers. The older IBI meters will be decertified as of June 30, 2024 and regarded as non-compliant by December 31, 2024.
The move to IMI provides the USPS with additional data that supports tracking mail with an auditable chain of custody. This reduces lost or misdirected mail and makes delivery dates more predictable — a bonus for marketers who deploy multi-media promotional campaigns.
Many mailers are familiar with the advantages of metered mail, such as the discounts on First-Class Mail, the ability to print the exact postage needed (no over- or under-spending), as well as fewer trips to the post office. Mail meters in use today are certified by the USPS as compliant with either IBI or IMI standards. Though both IBI and IMI are digitally based metering systems, the difference between them is the level of sophistication. Introduced in 1999, IBI was the first move by the USPS into deploying digital indicia via a modem/internet. IBI meters print a 2D barcode that was compliant with the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) of that time. However, today the USPS regards IBI standards as outdated and even as unnecessarily limiting the capabilities currently available with modern technologies and mail handling processes.
IMI, launched in 2013, represents a significant upgrade from IBI and was developed to give the USPS more transparent and detailed, real-time transaction data for pricing and reporting, as well as allowing for improved security. Though introduced eight years ago, in a statement issued last year in the Federal Register, the Postal Service noted that many mailers have been slow to adopt the new standard, or to move to IMI meters, resulting in inequalities of service to business mailers and also extending the time and labor needed to manually process the errors and returns that IMI was designed to eliminate.
IMI – Faster, More Accurate, and Secure
IMI provides several significant features that add up to faster, more accurate, and secure mail processing for both the senders and recipients of the mail. The following are four key upgrades IMI offers:
1. Improved Accuracy. Even the most careful manual data entry is likely to produce errors. With an IMI meter, the postage is automatically calculated after you input the required service class.
2. Stronger Security. Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) creates the standards for data encryption and IMI adheres to those standards to ensure that information transmits securely, whether it is going to or from the postage meter.
3. Timely Updates. The USPS requires systems with IMI to connect to the manufacturer’s servers every 72 hours. With frequent use information, USPS is better able to manage mail flow and updates arrive to the meter in a timely fashion, including rate changes and other modifications, avoiding over- or short-payments.
4. Greater Connectivity. Dedicated LAN connections are required to ensure a constant connection, which enables faster updates and postage refills.
Mail Service Providers – Save Time and Money
IMI-compliant meters can, of course, be used in any setting with a meter. IMI ensures a faster, more accurate mailing process that can save the time and expense caused by mail returns and reduce the hassles associated with correcting inaccurate postage charges. The additional security IMI provides helps lay to rest worries about sending sensitive customer information outside the corporation and can make it easier to ensure the accuracy of postage charged to different business customer accounts. Mailing service providers may even use their IMI capabilities as a selling point to keep and attract their business clients. Ultimately, with fewer opportunities for errors and/or returns, mail can be delivered faster, and senders will get quicker responses from recipients.
Move to IMI before 2024 Deadline
Because digitally based mailing systems rely on the digital communication between the USPS and the meter itself, IMI compliance means acquiring a postage meter that is able to send and receive data from USPS. These new meters are certified by the USPS, so certification will be the first thing to look for when investing in this technology. New mailing systems also offer additional features, like registering the weight and dimensions of mailing pieces. Manufacturers can provide information on the specific devices for high- and low-volume mailing operations.
Although at this time the June 30, 2024 date seems some distance away, business mailers would be wise to begin to understand the new standard and to consider what impacts it may have on their mailing operations overall. While the extra level of automation is beneficial and can reduce the manual processing in your mail center, all business mailers, including mailing service providers, should prioritize the implemention of the IMI systems before the 2024 deadline to ensure there are no disruptions and delays in getting the mail properly processed and out the door.
Alain Fairise is Chief Solution Officer, Mail Related Solutions for Quadient, a leader in helping businesses transform their customer experience by creating meaningful connections through digital and physical channels. Fairise is a strategic leader with more than 20 years of experience helping businesses of all sizes enhance customer experience with the latest mail-related and digital communications technology. He can be reached at email@example.com. For Quadient’s “Quick Reference Guide: Everything You Need To Know About USPS® Intelligent Mail Indicia (IMI) Compliance” ebook, visit: https://www.quadient.com/resources/quick-reference-guide-everything-you-need-know-about-uspsr-intelligent-mail-indicia-imi.
Key Upgraded Functions of IMI
While adopting IMI does require an investment in updated metering machines for business mailers, it also provides a range of new and/or expanded functionality and services USPS can offer to improve a number of mail handling processes. Briefly, IMI metering:
• Provides transaction level data for each mail piece daily
• Supports automated refunds, refund authorization and fraud detection
• Restricts Keyed-In-Postage (KIP), which supports proper mail rating and classification for USPS
• Provides end mailer information for federal government compliance
• Supports the tracking and management of reprinted indicia
• Provides improved indicia constructs that support fraud detection, readability, and indicia management
• Supports the USPS in accurately calculating short-paid and over-paid postage
• FIPS 140-2 Security Level 3+ (EFP/EFT), stronger security to deter current threats
• Improved security for rate table, log files, and data exchange interface
This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.