Software Vendors on Track for Postal IncreaseWith the Jan. 10 implementation for new postal rates quickly approaching, the U.S. Postal Service said the Presort, Accuracy and Evaluation tests it performs on postal presort vendors are on schedule, even though it hasn't certified as many vendors as it thought it would have at this point.
Postal software vendors should -- but aren't required to -- pass PAVE tests each year instituted by the USPS. These tests ensure software meets USPS regulations and match any changes taking place at the agency. If vendors pass the tests, their customers also will be able to meet the new rules and regulations.
The reason for the setback, said Charles Hunt, program manager for the PAVE-certification process at the postal service, is because this is the first year the USPS has automated its scoring process, which allows the USPS to grade software and communicate with vendors electronically.
"A lot of the problems we are encountering is that many vendors are not sending their data back [to us] in the proper format," he said.
However, Hunt said the USPS and its vendors are working on the problem and the electronic PAVE-certification process -- which opened for business in August -- has improved greatly.
"It's been a natural evolution," he said. "We have gone from manual evaluations to electronic. At the first of the cycle, testing took as long as we predicted -- three weeks. But, three months later, we are getting test [results] in 48 hours."
Hunt said the process will continue through the end of the year and most vendors should have their software up to speed by the January deadline. The USPS is encouraging vendors to use electronic scoring because it is more efficient and offers much higher scrutiny than using manual or hard copy scoring. The USPS also is providing incentives, giving companies the opportunity to become a "Gold-Certified Vendor" if they pass the tests electronically. Currently, the USPS is dealing with 26 companies, and 18 of them are seeking gold certification.
Hunt said only one of the three major presort software vendors, Group 1, Lanham, MD, has completed all 33 PAVE-certification tests electronically. The company's MailStream 6.2 product, which lets mailers presort mail automatically, now incorporates all of the required changes to support the rate case. According to Group 1, MailStream Plus 6.2 will be released at least 60 days before the implementation deadline.
"[Group 1 was] one of the very first companies to submit [its] tests. [It] processed them very quickly, got the tests back to us -- and our grading policy is first in, first out," Hunt said.
Other vendors such as Postalsoft, La Crosse, WI, and Pitney Bowes Software Systems, Lisle, IL, are waiting to pass their tests but are expected to be ready for customer use in plenty of time.
"We are on track as far as our PAVE-certification and our beta testing," said Mike Corbett, product planning manager at Pitney Bowes, which sells presort software called Mailer's Choice. "However, we are waiting until we get through all of the tests before we announce our new versions."
Hank Martin, director of marketing at Postalsoft, which makes PostWare Presort and PostWare Palletized Presort, said its newest version of its software will be PAVE-certified and will incorporate all of the rate and classification changes. The software is scheduled to be shipped to customers by the end of this month.
Industry officials are encouraged that the USPS is working with the vendors to make sure that the software is validated and certified in time to meet the deadline.
"We are anxious to have our members get the upgraded software as soon as possible so they can be ready for the Jan. 10 start of the new rates," said Barry Brennan, director of postal affairs at the Mail Advertising Service Association, Alexandria, VA. "Everything looks fine at this point, and it looks like it may be a very smooth transition."