What you need to know about IMB

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Tom Day
Tom Day
DMNews spoke with Tom Day, SVP of Intelligent Mail and Address Quality at the US Postal Service, about the basics of the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMB).

Q: Why should mailers care about the IMB?
A: Two reasons: First, mailers must be using the Intelligent Mail barcode on their mail as of May 2011 in order to qualify for automation prices. Planet Code bar codes will no longer be in effect after the May 2011 deadline. The second reason is the extra data and tracking capabilities available through IMB. Even basic IMB can track mail and predict delivery dates. Those using Full-Service IMB will receive mail feedback about address quality and get automated address correction information.

Q: What is the difference between basic IMB and Full-Service IMB standards?
A: The difference comes down to customer choice. The basic IMB qualifies you for automation discounts and is fairly easy to implement. The Full-Service IMB is more rigorous and complicated to implement and requires software. Full-Service provides larger discounts and free address quality updates.

Q: What are the steps mailers should take to implement the basic IMB?
A: The IMB is not much more complex than the PostNet barcode. The additional data you have to have is information that you use today. The IMB is made up of the 11-digit address you are mailing to, a six- or nine-digit Mailer ID, and a three-digit service code that identifies the type of mailing. Mailers must register at their local Business Mail Entry office (BME) if they do not already have a Mailer ID. There are free applications on the US Postal Service's RIBBS Web site that allow people to take this data and use it to translate into the IMB that mailers can then print in order to use on their mailings.

Q: What is the process for Full-Service IMB clients to qualify?
Customers need to develop software in-house or, more typically, they have to find a third-party vendor. There are several to choose from in the marketplace. Next, clients must contact the USPS help desk and register to enter into the test environment. Clients go through a sequence of tests. Once they are cleared for production, they can enter live mail.

Q: Tell me about the “start-the-clock” statistic and its significance for mailers?
A: Start-the-clock is a brand new statistic available through the IMB. It records the time when a mailing physically enters the postal service and at what location. If you are the owner of the mail, you're going to get to see quality reports. You may be using service providers and this statistic provides visibility into your supply chain. When something doesn't get into the system on time, the natural instinct to blame the Postal Service. In some cases it could be the printer, production or your delivery. We certainly could be at fault as well, but it gives the mail owner a way to see what is happening and improve their mail cycle.

Q: How many mailers are already using IMB?
A: We are seeing 20% to 25% of the mail volume coming in with IMB. Basic IMB adoption is going as we expected. Early adoption of full-service is going slower than we'd like. Mailers are having issues with the complexity of the software on their side. Before a full-service client goes live with mail, they go through a series of tests to ensure that the software is working correctly.

Q: Are there other key dates that mailers should be aware of between now and the May 2011 deadline?
A: The price incentives will be released in November 2009. In March 2010, quality service measurement will be available to mailers. Full-service customers get quality reports, which float data back to mailers. Basic customers get overall quality of service feedback.

Q: There have been media reports about problems with address correction. What is the status of these problems?
A: Address correction for full-service clients is working today and there are clients who are getting live address correction now. There was a technical glitch in June and a technical problem in July with this system. These have both been resolved.

Q: What should printers know about the IMB?
A: Printing and Software must be capable of printing the IMB. Letters and postcards are very straightforward. Catalogs and magazine have more complexity, particularly with multiple pieces of mail of different thickness. There is a work group underway now that gathered printers from the industry, determining best practice for the print industry on the best way to come up with the best intelligent mail bar code; which will be published November 1.
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