Intelligent Mail Barcode increases mailing efficiency

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Last September the U.S. Postal Service allowed mailers to use the Intelligent Mail Barcode, which adds a new level of control to mail tracking and address changes service. In 2009 the IMB is slated to replace Postnet and Postal alpha numeric encoding technique, or PLANET, bar codes on domestic mail.

This new bar code has been popularly promoted as a combination of the Postnet bar code and the PLANET bar code, able to route and track mail with a single bar code.

The IMB brings much more than a simple combination of codes. Using the IMB, mailers know if and when mail gets delivered. Mail that is redirected by the Postal Service is now easily identified. Mailers can request address changes service information in the bar code at a greatly reduced cost. Many aspects of the delivery tracking expectations that FedEx and UPS have created are now met by the Postal Service, but at a dramatically lower cost.

The IMB uses a bar code symbology that allows up to 31 digits of information in 65 bars of four different lengths and position. Compare this to the current Postnet bar code that contains 11 digits of data in 62 bars.

The IMB can be used as a replacement for the Postnet code with the IMB for routing without asking for any address update or tracking information. In addition, the mailer can get tracking information from the Confirm program as currently done with the PLANET code but with more precision from the additional digits. Lastly, the mailer can request an electronic change notice for addresses that have a forwarding order. Mailers can request any combination of these services on a piece-by-piece basis.

Using the IMB, mailers will be able to track the progress of individual pieces. This means that mailers can use the IMB data to anticipate in-home dates and coordinate other marketing efforts with that mail. They will also be able to immediately determine the quality and accuracy or mailing lists by identifying what mail pieces are rerouted and returned.

Using the OneCode ACS feature, mailers will also be able to comply with recently published move update requirements for Standard Mail as well as those in place for discounted First-Class Mail.

This new bar code does a lot more than track delivery times. Unlike current postal bar codes, the IMB is not simply a font. An encoder, a USPS computer program, is required to convert the numeric value to the new bar code. This adds some complexity to the process for mailing companies, and the mailing software vendors are currently looking to develop better solutions to work with the IMB.

As mailers adapt to this new technology, look for even more creative uses for the unique IMB bar code such as tracking mail within the plant or driving advanced production applications. Just as the Postnet bar code ushered in a new mailing era in the early '90s, you can expect the IMB to bring another level of intelligence, tracking and ACS into the mailing world.

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