USPS CIO on “Delivering Customer Value in the Digital Age” at PostalVision 2020

Matt Swain
Mar 23, 2015

PostalVision 2020I attended and  presented at my fifth PostalVision 2020 earlier this month. The conference has evolved over the years, with First Class and Standard Mail solutions increasingly pushed aside in favor of discussions about drone delivery (last year) and the Postal Service as a platform, as well as supporting the growing eCommerce landscape. One of the more interesting presentations at this event came from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), with CIO and Executive Vice President Jim Cochrane focusing on its investment in technology.

Here are five highlights from the speech:

  1. Viewing the USPS in a new light – Cochrane views the USPS as an agile development company. “Fail, and fail fast” is his philosophy. “Keep going out and doing different things.”
  2. The mailbox at the center of an omnichannel approach – The Postal Service has long promoted the “Mail Moment” as a social institution centered on the mailbox, in which the members of a household positively look forward to receiving their mail. But Cochrane suggested that we are moving into a somewhat different situation. “The mailbox is really the center of…an omnichannel approach to customers. Whether there is an email or text or search or social, mail can stay very relevant in how customers are being reached. The challenge for us is to keep it relevant in more…digital ways.” The shift in focus is not so much away from postal mail, but toward a greater emphasis on “the person at the mailbox” who today wants individual and personalized service. “That’s kind of the future for us,” Cochrane said, “using information to become more targeted, using information to be more measurable with better metrics, so you can compete with social media and things of that nature, which are very measurable and very specific.”
  3. Making mail interactive – In addition to an omnichannel experience, Cochrane discussed the use of augmented reality and other technologies that make the mail interactive. “The progress beginning with QR codes and really moving up into augmented reality is a nice way to digitize mail and I think it’s an important element to what we’ve been trying to do. Once again, it’s starting to create that linkage between the physical and digital.”
  4. Tracking systems enabling over one billion tracking events – Reflecting on the recession and the fiscal pressure on the Postal Service at that time, Cochrane pointed out that the USPS did not sacrifice its vision for the future. “At a time when there wasn’t money, we were investing in replacing tracking systems and IT systems and next generation devices.” This allowed the USPS, over an initial two-year period, to double the amount of data it had. The Postal Service now has “over a billion tracking events,” according to Cochrane, adding that “there’s no one that’s anywhere near that [scale] of tracking events in the mailing and shipping industry.” Today, the USPS has almost half a million computing devices adding to the data stream and tracking mail at each step from processing to delivery. This not only improves end-to-end visibility for mail and packages, but also becomes the lifeblood for analytics and further operational optimization.
  5. Operations and the impact of technology – Cochrane also referenced cluster boxes (centralized neighborhood mailboxes) and similar ideas that would aim to reduce operational inefficiencies. He was quick to point out that the topic of cluster boxes is “up in the air” and that the move would threaten the Postal Service’s special connection to the household. For Cochrane, technology offers a better strategy for the future than strictly operational solutions such as cluster boxes or replacing outdated vehicles, because technology improves existing operations while also adding new value and creating new possibilities.

Exclusive rights to the mailbox is a differentiator for the USPS, but will require an omnichannel strategy and integration of digital tools to meet the changing needs of mailers and consumers alike in the 21st century. The USPS has made its technology infrastructure a top priority over the last few years, and will continue to flesh out the vision with new tools and more innovative service. Mailers should take note of these efforts on the part of the U.S. Postal Service and consider the implications and opportunities for their businesses. In particular, they should take their own critical look at the costs and benefits of short-sighted operational solutions versus long-term technology investment in their print and mail operations, as the Postal Service has done.

The year 2020 is closer today than it was at the inaugural event five years ago. Even so, the questions remains an important one:

What should the Postal Service of 2020 look like?

 

Matt Swain
Director, Advisory Services:

Transactional Communications & Payments
Document Outsourcing

@SwainfoTrends

 

 

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