Cochrane's Proposition for Catalogers

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The Postal Service's Chief Information Officer Jim Cochrane
The Postal Service's Chief Information Officer Jim Cochrane

One could fairly sense the eyebrows arching in the room when USPS VP of Network Operations Dave Williams explained how inefficiencies plagued flats sequencing machinery when volume suddenly dropped by 19 billion pieces some years ago. Attendees at yesterday's opening of the American Catalog Mailers Association Forum in Washington knew the story only too well. The precipitous drop followed a devastating rate increase for flats mailers in 2007 that forced scores of catalogers out of business.

That momentous event led to the creation of ACMA, a fact known to subsequent speaker Jim Cochrane, who attempted to move the discussion beyond past differences and explore how the Postal Service and the catalog industry could work together to improve both of their situations.

“Catalogs have a big part to play in communicating with customers in the future,” maintained the Postal Service's chief information officer. “You're really on the front end of analytics, and we have an opportunity to be more strategic about what we're doing.”

Though he admitted that bringing all mail stakeholders together on any issue was nigh-on impossible, Cochrane ventured that the Postal Service and catalogers could unite on pooling their data and analytical resources to bring more visibility, and hence increased efficiencies, to postal operations.

“Visibility is something we can all align around,” he said. “A couple of years ago we introduced reduced cycle time and a funny thing happened on the way to improving service: We drove costs down. We talked service the whole time and we made money the whole time.”

Cochrane lauded catalogers for their high adoption rates of the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb), lamenting that the Postal Regulatory Commission's rejection of its mandatory usage by big mailers was hurting them in the end.

“It's about barcodes and analytics. It's a smart system,” Cochrane said. “It makes mail predictable and measurable, and we need to make sure mail is very measurable because search and email is measurable. If three years from now we're sitting here talking about a range of days for delivery [of Standard Mail], we've missed an opportunity. If you buy a TV ad, you can get Tuesday if that's what you want.”

Cochrane assured the catalogers that, equipment-wise, at least, they are not likely to see a repeat of the Flats Sequencing System debacle. He turned to a recent example from the parcel business to illustrate how Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe had assigned priority status to investments in customer-facing systems.

“We got three new parcel sorting machines deployed in four months versus four years,” Cochrane said. “And we used two different suppliers, something unheard of in our world.”

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