USPS Unveils Electronic Data Exchange Process

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Standard A, Standard B and First-Class mailers will be able to connect electronically with the U.S. Postal Service and mailing facilities beginning in July, said the USPS, which has been beta testing a version of its PostalOne product.

It will take another 18 months before all mailers will be able to submit Mail.dat files electronically, said Larry Goodman, USPS manager of business customer support, who heads up the PostalOne project.

Mail.dat files allow mailers to access data about their mailings and share it with mailing facilities and the USPS for planning and management. By adding PostalOne to the mix, however, mailers will be able to streamline mail acceptance, arrange transportation assignments and set up electronic payments. They will also learn the status of their mail as it moves through the mail stream, and they can have their mail electronically verified and accepted. Hard copy documentation of most USPS reports is expected to be eliminated, saving mailers on printing, storage and shipping costs.

The USPS and the mailing industry had been beta testing PostalOne technology to work with Mail.dat files for about three years. But, said Goodman, "we've spent this past winter developing an application with an architecture that is much more robust, scaleable, and that is able to handle a large number of mailers."

Here's how the program will eventually work: A mailer sends summarized presort data in Mail.dat format to the mailing facility, which then supplements the data with truck numbers and drop dates. The mailing facility sends data for all pieces on all containers to the USPS, and the agency then analyzes data and adopts it into its own system.

Local postal employees can access the PostalOne data to perform verification and postage payment. The mailing facility can access PostalOne data to check all jobs they mailed, the mail owner can access the system to check all jobs they own and the USPS can access PostalOne data for all mail jobs.

Most mailers believe this system will improve all business activities.

Quad/Graphics, a large printing and mailing services company, has been beta testing the system from the beginning. "The system helps our internal processes," said Joseph Schick, Quad/Graphics director of postal affairs. "It gets us out of the everyday minutia that has to be done with the mailing -- the stuff that takes up the majority of our people's time in processing jobs. We can now start freeing them up to do more important things like consulting with our clients and performing customer service."

In addition, he said, "[The system] is important to the majority of the things that the industry is trying to do, and is important to the direction that the postal service is going based on [Postmaster General] Henderson's information infrastructure."

Schick also said that the system may eventually help eliminate some delivery problems the USPS has had during holiday mailing seasons by expediting mail processing.

"[The USPS] will be able to have the information ahead of time," and it will be easily accessible, he said.

Group1, FirstLogic and Pitney Bowes -- national vendors of presort software to large- and small-volume users -- currently offer presort software to support Mail.dat output and either have or are planning to offer versions of their software to support PostalOne. Group 1, Lanham, MD, for example, recently announced that it's partnering with WindowBook, Cambridge, MA, to offer Postmaster MSP, which allows users to update Mail.dat files for the PostalOne program.

Monticello Software, Mineral, VA, and Preferred Systems, Minneapolis, have both offered Mail.dat management tools, including PostalOne interactivity, for several years. Currently, they are working with Postalsoft, La Crosse, WI, to offer mailing management tools that are PostalOne-ready.

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