BY BOB ROSSER and
Anyone who heard us speak at recent National Postal Forums knows we are strong advocates of using data to manage mail. This summer the U.S. Postal Service is poised to release truly “Big Data” when it begins rolling out its Informed Visibility™ initiative. Informed Visibility will allow mail owners and mail service providers to track not only individual mailpieces, but also bundles, trays (handling units), and pallets (containers) of mail.
Informed Visibility is an enterprise engine that gathers data from multiple USPS systems. It provides a single-source of information available through the Business Customer Gateway. This simplifies the current structure for provisioning this data, which requires mailers to access multiple data sources (such as IMb Tracing and PostalOne!) to gather all the available information about a single mailing.
Informed Visibility also will provide flexible data provisioning and flexible data delegation, so mailers will be able to access the data they need when and how it will be most useful to them.
We believe this near real-time expanded visibility of mail as it moves through the mailstream will help fill in visibility gaps, provide powerful end-to-end tracking capabilities, enable mailers to better plan mailing campaigns and resources, and increase the value of mail.
Reduced latency between scan and data delivery. The availability of tracking data pallets (containers), trays (handling units), and bundles isn’t currently available to mailers until hours or even days after the scan event, making the scan information much less useful.
With Informed Visibility, these scans of “mail aggregates” will be available in near real-time, providing actionable intelligence on the movement of mail.
Assumed handling events. Informed Visibility leverages the intelligence of Full-Service Intelligent Mail and nesting associations to better understand mail movement within the USPS network. Currently, IMb Tracing data only tracks individual pieces as they are scanned on automation equipment; however, Informed Visibility leverages nesting associations between a mailpiece and its pallet, tray, or bundle to create assumed handling events for the mailpiece whenever the mail aggregate containing that mailpiece is scanned.
Carrier-driven in-home event. Today, mail tracking in-home dates are inferred based on the last processing event for that mailpiece. The Postal Service has equipped the new letter carrier hand-held scanners (the Mobile Delivery Device or MDD) with GPS that will allow tracking the progress of carriers on their routes. This passively obtained position information will be used by Informed Visibility to create logical delivery events, providing insight into when mail is delivered without the need for the letter carrier to scan each mailpiece.
Making the Postal Service More Efficient
Informed Visibility has the potential to make USPS operations more efficient by providing event-driven internal measurement of all mail. The Postal Service is already using this information to identify mail at risk of not meeting its service standard and intervening to get that mail back on a path to on-time delivery.
In addition, the wealth of information available through Informed Visibility will allow USPS facility managers to better understand mail inventories and backlogs in each plant and more accurately predict workloads based on mail expected to arrive in that plant each day. With a better knowledge of expected workload, managers will be able to align staffing and other resources to actual mail volumes, saving resources when volume is known to be light and ensuring adequate staffing to meet service standards during peak periods. Mailers will benefit as more efficient USPS processing operations enhance the value of mail and moderate pricing pressure.
Another advantage of Informed Visibility is that the mailing industry will have access to the same real-time service performance diagnostics being used by the Postal Service.
By working from the same data, service performance will become more transparent, improving communication between the industry and the Postal Service about processing and delivery issues.
Making Mail More Valuable
In-home targeting has become a very important part of our jobs as mail service providers. The new more timely data available through Informed Visibility will provide improved insight into mail movement within the USPS processing network, giving us new tools to plan our own workflows and achieve better results for our customers. As marketing campaigns integrate more channels to enhance response, managing in-home windows and monitoring whether in-home delivery performance matches our customers’ plans becomes vital to coordinating a direct mail effort with other channels in a multi-channel campaign.
Currently mail service providers look at historical data to project transit and processing times, but with the near real-time data available through Informed Visibility, we will be able to react more quickly to unexpected changes and do more predictive modeling. Our ability to accurately model and manage in-home delivery makes mail a more effective player in multi-channel campaigns. When mail delivery becomes more predictable, we can fine tune the cadence of multi-touch campaigns, better coordinate mail with promotional events and touches through other channels, and level-load call centers. All of which makes mail a more valuable tool in the direct marketing arsenal.
More Efficient Logistics Planning
The fresher data provided by Informed Visibility will make the online IMb planning tool (https://ribbs.usps.gov/imb_planning_tool/IMb_Planning_Tool.cfm) more useful, as it will become a more accurate indicator of current conditions across the postal network, giving us a greater understanding of what is happening with our mail. For instance, we will be able to understand if a delay on a recent mailing was a one-time event or if it was evidence of a more systemic issue in the USPS network that will need to be built into future planning.
The data also provides needed transparency in working with our logistics supply chain to ensure our mail owners’ in-home delivery expectations are met. Mailflow should become more transparent, allowing us to monitor and verify the hand-off to the Postal Service and the flow throughout the USPS network. This will help us understand the gaps when delivery doesn’t happen as planned, and it will build trust throughout the supply chain as mail movement will be documented by independent scan events.
Roll out and Training
The Postal Service has a very aggressive development and release schedule for Informed Visibility. The Postal Service began reaching out to the mailing industry about plans to roll-out Informed Visibility at the National Postal Forum in March with presentations from Robert Cintron, VP Enterprise Analytics, and Steve Dearing, A/Director Corporate Reporting. Web- based training is expected to begin in May. A Technical Guide is expected to be released by the end of May with a full User Guide to follow.
The first types of data to be provided through Informed Visibility will be piece tracking, with the migration of IMb Tracing from its current platform to Informed Visibility, and Container and Tray Visibility. The roll-out for both will begin in June and is anticipated to be complete by early July. Also starting in June will be Bundle Visibility for Flats mailers. Other capabilities, such as provisioning assumed mailpiece handling events and flexible data provisioning and delegation, will come on-line beginning in July, with the goal to have the first phase of Informed Visibility fully deployed by the end of August, so it is in place to support the busy fall and holiday mailing seasons.
It will be a very interesting summer for the mailing industry. We’re optimistic that as the industry gains access to a wealth of new comprehensive end-to-end mail tracking data, we’ll be able to use it to make mail an even more valuable marketing channel.
This article originally appeared in the Official Mail Guide Spring 2016 Edition. Bob Rosser is Director, Postal Affairs, Products & Services at IWCO Direct and can be reached at email@example.com. Kurt Ruppel is Marketing Services Manager at IWCO Direct and is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.