As we continue to return to a sense of normalcy in a post-pandemic environment, many organizations and conference attendees are realizing the value of face-to-face communication and learning. Annual conferences such as the National Postal Forum (NPF), and even company user conferences, are beginning to see record (or near-record) attendance with attendees eager to reconnect with their peers and to share the latest in mail innovation and postal technologies.
National Postal Forum Leads the Way
The National Postal Forum, which was held in Charlotte (NC) in May of 2023, had nearly its highest attendance in over a decade. Almost one third of the attendees were attending NPF for the first time. That’s a great sign for an industry that had been challenged with attracting new talent!
NPF also saw new exhibitors, including logistics and parcel solution providers. This, too, is a positive sign reflecting a response to the USPS Delivering For America (DFA) plan with its focus not only on an optimized and redesigned delivery network for mail, but one that will be fully prepared to support expanded and expedited parcel delivery.
NPF attendees were eager to hear the latest in mailing technology with innovative postal solutions, emerging API toolkits for parcels, and enhanced address quality tools to reduce undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail. As an industry, it was encouraging to see the NPF return even stronger than it was before COVID.
Two months later, this same sense of excitement carried over to the return of BCC Software’s user conference. BCC Software hosted its annual Information Exchange, rebranded as InfoXchange 2023, in August. Since its inception in 2016, it had been held near BCC Software’s headquarters in Rochester (NY) where it typically drew 40-50 users of their software and data services. This year, the company chose to take it on the road to Chicago, with the aim of drawing a larger crowd as well as a broader attendee base. In addition to the new location, keynote speakers from both the USPS (Earl Johnson) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG, Josh Bartzen) were added to the schedule to offer conference attendees the unique opportunity to hear from — and speak directly to these invaluable resources. This strategy paid off, with over 100 customers and partners attending BCC Software’s largest user conference ever.
Candid and Open Dialogue
While InfoXchange can be viewed as a user conference, it is truly a venue for candid and open dialogue about software and data inclusive of strategies for attendees to grow their business as they respond to ever increasing changes in the USPS. With two rate increases per year (January and July), the biannual cadence has made it challenging for both software companies and mailers alike to devote as much time as they’d like to for research, development, and growth initiatives outside of regulatory compliance updates. This is why having an in-person opportunity where customers and product managers can collaborate face-to-face on what is most important is especially critical.
Fifteen Minutes Might Be All You Need
Sitting together at the table having a meaningful conversation with other mailers for fifteen minutes can often get more accomplished than a one-hour online meeting. This seemingly logical and straightforward approach was substantiated time and time again over the three-day event by the attendees as they candidly shared their solutions, their frustrations, their challenges, and their needs with each other. In many cases, the relationships that were forged in this environment went beyond basic networking, although there was plenty of that to go around too.
Table Talks Were a Collaborative Highlight
The always popular table talks format at InfoXchange again affirmed the value of face-to-face communication and learning at this year’s event. Attendees had eight different tables to choose from with various topics — including data security, mailer scorecards, boosting productivity, and responding to the USPS DFA plan. For fifteen minutes, the roughly dozen attendees at each table discussed the topic, learning from both the discussion leader and each other. In the case of the DFA table, Josh Bartzen and Karen McCormick (USPS OIG) were able to hear first-hand from a key segment of the industry with which they do not often directly engage. Participants took full advantage of this intimate opportunity to convey how the DFA is helping — or, in some cases, possibly hindering their business.
CASS Cycles Will Increase in Frequency
Another highly active table included Earl Johnson (USPS) who helped lead a bevy of rousing conversations centered on the frequency of USPS data updates for CASS certified software. Having just completed CASS Cycle O, the USPS is now considering increasing the frequency of underlying ZIP+4 data from a maximum of 60 days to perhaps as frequently as bi-weekly. He noted that, “roughly 500 hundred thousand address edits and route modifications can take place each week.” Updating the underlying data for this staggering number can go a long way towards reducing UAA mail; however, it can also be a challenge for data distribution while maintaining the increased cadence of regulatory price changes.
The Value of Partners
Another high value offering to attendees were the presentations by BCC Software’s five event partners. BlueCrest, Arctic Wolf, Crawford Technologies, Ricoh (with Sepire), and Solimar Systems (with the State of Colorado) all shared exceptional and intimate offerings with the attendees in a give-and-take classroom setting. With a nod to the current buzz of AI, it was not a surprise that when Artic Wolf showed examples of AI generated malware, it captivated the audience.
Keynote Speakers Were Indeed Key
Having Earl Johnson of the USPS and John Bartzen (USPS OIG) deliver captivating keynote presentations on two consecutive days provided all attendees with a rare opportunity to hear from these speakers firsthand — and then be able to engage with them in meaningful dialogue that they would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Save the date for InfoXchange 2024!
BCC Software plans to be back in the Windy City again next August for an even bigger offering. More information will be available on the BCC website (bcc.com/conference) in October.
Continue Face-To-Face Learning at PRINTING United 2023
The PRINTING United Expo in Atlanta from October 18-20 offers another great opportunity to further experience the power of in-person learning and knowledge gathering. Companies like BCC Software (booth #B14051) exhibit at the Expo to educate attendees about how to best address the latest trends and share the latest information. In fact, BCC will offer a fun daily in-booth test of your postal knowledge. There will be several experts on hand to answer your toughest postal questions, so we hope to see you there!
Chris Lien is EVP Postal Affairs for BCC Software, A BlueCrest Company. He is a frequent speaker at the National Postal Forum, NACUMS, and many Postal Customer Councils. Chris has been honored with a number of industry recognitions, including the Donald A. Mumma Award in 2016, and was inducted into the Soderstrom Society Class of 2017. He regularly participates in numerous industry associations such as Association for Postal Commerce, Delivery Technology Advocacy Council (DTAC), and the Postmaster General’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) where he actively participates as a former MTAC Industry Chair.
This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.