The one constant in the domestic mailing industry is change. Over the course of the last year (2010) , there have been over 100 DMM Advisory notices announcing changes or clarifications to mailing requirements and acceptance systems. Some of these are the result of the USPS meeting Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, some are to usher in new technology such as PostalOne! ® and Intelligent Mail® barcodes, and others are changes necessary to “right-size” the USPS to the dramatic change in mail volume.
The vast majority of these notices often bring about substantial changes to software and the technology necessary to effectively address, prepare, and induct mail into the US Postal Service® – the largest, and arguably most complex, postal delivery network in the world. With such a rapid-fire succession of change, it is essential to consider the importance software has on the timely and ultimate delivery of the mail.
Software drives the mailing industry. From address cleansing, to presorting, to postage payment – and now to individual piece tracking – software is at the heart of a very dynamic and technologically dependent value chain. Aligning the development roadmaps of these disparate systems is an incredibly daunting task with an ever-narrowing margin for errors.
Consider the complexity necessary to support Full Service Intelligent Mail barcodes. First, a name and address must be cleansed and made current using CASS™-certified software. Then, it must be presorted using PAVE™-certified software, where additional IMb data is created. More software technology is also needed to ensure unique piece and container barcodes for a minimum of 45 days.
To further comply with IMb Full Service, mailers must submit the mailings in electronic form to PostalOne! – another software solution maintained by the USPS. Uploading postal data is typically done using the Mail.dat structure (an industry standard maintained by the IDEAlliance). This data structure contains all the interdependencies of who prepared the mail and for whom was it prepared (known as a By/For relationship).
Astute mailers that wish to leverage the deluge of data from IMb can turn to more software solutions that can communicate with PostalOne! using Mail.XML (another IDEAlliance communication standard), track the piece barcodes using data from the USPS Confirm® program (more software technology), and update name and address data using USPS Address Correction Service information. Again, all this is software-based technology with dynamic requirements.
Staying abreast of such a dynamic industry is a daunting task at best. This is why so many commercial mail software solution providers are often heavily involved in industry associations such as IDEAlliance, the Association for Postal Commerce, the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association, the Association for Mailer’s Electronic Enhancement, the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee, and many others. Being “at the table” with the USPS, customers, and other stakeholders is essential in order to provide mission-critical solutions for today’s dynamic mailing environment.
Users of today’s mailing software solutions should continue to leverage all available resources their software vendor of choice provides. This includes web seminars, blogs, newsletters (now often in electronic format), electronic software updates, and customer forums. Access to customer support is also critical, as software vendors often act as mediators when working to resolve disputes between mailers and the USPS.
Despite the expectation that the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act would provide predictability and stability in postage pricing and preparation, 2010 has shown that the new postal technology landscape is anything but predictable. Mailers that wish to stay current in such a changing and challenging environment need to leverage and depend on software solution providers that are on the leading edge, able to answer “what’s next” for the world’s largest, most dynamic postal service.