Let's start with the basics. USPS CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) certified software has the primary purpose of standardizing the addresses to USPS standards and determining the current ZIP, ZIP+4, and Delivery Point information used in the Intelligent Mail Barcode. With its additional built-in processes, CASS updates addresses that have been renamed or renumbered, adds secondary address information for businesses, evaluates the address's accuracy, and provides additional, useful information about the address.

The CASS requirements used to change yearly as needs and opportunities for improvement justified an update. As we know, there has not been enough of a need for a new Cycle in over 10 years since the last update (CASS Cycle N). As a result, August 1, 2023, is the effective date for the upcoming CASS Cycle O, prompting mailers everywhere to prepare for the changes while remaining hopeful that another postponement isn't in store.

The best practices goalpost for CASS Cycle O is moving massively. New data and capabilities that are part of this update will benefit mailers looking to reduce undeliverable mail, but it will also help in the areas of fraud, ROI, and customer satisfaction. The majority of the changes in Cycle O will address requests from mailers looking for the USPS to provide more information about an address to allow for more intelligent mailing and business decisions.

Note: While the primary changes are in CASS, Cycle O also impacts NCOALink, so those with CASS or NCOALink software will need to upgrade to Cycle O.

What is there to do, and when does it need to be done?

There have been issues causing delays in vendors being able to release Cycle O within the industry's desired timeline. If you have not heard from your vendor regarding the upgrade to Cycle O, ask them! Also, many people who worked on the previous CASS cycle are no longer at their posts, having moved on or retired. Ensure your current team is aware of and educated on what CASS means to your organization.

What if a company still needs to prepare?

The first step is understanding the complexity of the changes so that you can identify which ones matter to your organization. After that, taking preparatory action requires extensive education, weeks of analysis, and implementation.

Some changes will affect all mailers, and others may only impact a few. Cycle O is NOT a one-size-fits-all equation. To prepare appropriately, you must cater to your company's specific CASS needs.

What are the significant updates in CASS Cycle O?

· Updates to coding logic to better reflect the deliverability of specific addresses

· Support for new military addressing conventions

· Additional information available about address-per-mailer generated requests

An essential update in CASS Cycle O is the modification of address validation rules. These rules are designed to improve the accuracy of address information in order to be able to reduce the number of undeliverable mail pieces. The USPS has also included additional data about an address to improve mailers' ability to identify accurate and secure addresses.

How will these updates benefit mailers?

Mailers must use qualified CASS software to qualify for postage discounts. As of August 1, the decade-old Cycle N will no longer qualify. However, many enterprise mailers' budgets hinge on those discounts, so losing them is certainly not an option.

One prominent example here is the R777/9 addresses, which, in Cycle O, can fully CASS code and qualify for discounts. These are addresses located in rural areas or within blocks of Post Offices where the USPS does not deliver to the physical location but provides a free PO Box to be used as the mailing address. Mail pieces addressed to the physical location get delivered to the Post Office, but it is up to local clerks to figure out the right PO BOX.

With Cycle O, additional effort will no longer identify these addresses as qualifying for discounts. Goodbye, discounts! Typically, up to five out of every 1,000 addresses a mailer has is an R777/9 address. The question is: in addition to this physical address, does the mailer also have a corresponding PO Box address? In most cases, no.

A couple of years ago, the USPS stopped accepting Change of Address requests where either the old or new address is an R777/9. The good news? The loss of discounts on R777/9 addresses is the only negative impact of Cycle O. With these updates, deliverability and response rates will improve, and critical moving data will also be available. Not a bad deal. With Cycle O, it will also be easier to identify these records.

As we approach the largest addressing operations milestone that we've seen in more than a decade, I strongly urge mailers to educate, plan, and prepare in order to have a smooth transition. Those in charge of planning and activating requirements early are positioned to save millions of dollars annually in their postal budgets. The worst thing you can do is just do the bare minimum on Cycle O and not take advantage of the new information fields. Then you will essentially be paying more postage because fewer pieces will qualify for discounts (up to half a percent on your total volume). On the other hand, utilizing the new data, mailers will have the ability to reduce their current undeliverable mail by 10+%, leading to savings, increased response rates, and reduced fraud risks. If you don't have a Cycle O plan, it might be time to ask for help.

Adam Collinson is Director of Addressing Intelligence, GrayHair Software.

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.