Intelligent Mail on track for 2009

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The U.S. Postal Service's Intelligent Mail program, which provides end-to-end visibility for mail acceptance and delivery using standardized intelligent barcodes, continuous mail tracking and quality feedback in real time, will be fully operational by 2009, the agency said.

Intelligent Mail products and services use machine-readable codes to uniquely identify letters and flats mail, letting large mailers follow their mail through the many stages of processing all the way to delivery. This helps businesses manage their resources, reduce operating and marketing expenses, adapt to market conditions and be more responsive to customers. This is the first time the USPS has committed to a time for all parts to be operational.

"You can start using a lot of [Intelligent Mail] today," Postmaster General John E. Potter said at the USPS Board of Governors meeting Jan. 10 in Washington, where the vision was presented. "It's compatible with current equipment. There are already some folks out there who are tracking, but none of their systems are as sophisticated as this."

To get automation discounts under Intelligent Mail, mailers must apply a unique, four-state barcode on every mail piece and on every pallet that houses the trays, said Pritha Mehra, manager of marketing technology and channel management. She was one of the executives who gave the presentation.

"This will allow us to scan and track every container and mail piece as it flows through USPS processing," she said. "As mailers prepare their mailings with unique barcodes, they will provide this information to the USPS in electronic mailing documentation ... to our system of records in Business Mail Acceptance. This electronic document is used to verify mail and receive payment."

Mailers get immediate feedback on quality. For example, "if we scanned a barcode that was not contained in the electronic manifest, this information would be immediately available to the mailer ... verification occurs while pieces are being processed," she said.

Gary Reblin, USPS manager of intelligent mail, planning and standards, and who was another presenter, said similar systems are being implemented to track USPS air and surface transportation.

"Once these systems are fully operational, we will have insight into exactly when to expect mail for processing," he said. "Any schedule changes will be seen in near real time ... Our transportation group has already begun monitoring surface and air transportation contractors to ensure that they are arriving when they are supposed to."

The products that currently encompass Intelligent Mail are being piloted by three large businesses. One large mailer improved its "scan rate" (automated reading) to 99 percent, ensuring 140,000 pieces a day were processed by postal equipment instead of manually.

"These new approaches will greatly enhance the value of mail to strengthen its competitive position against other communications media like TV, radio and other kinds of advertising," Ms. Mehra said.

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