You know the saying: It�s the greatest invention since sliced bread! Well, in Postal circles, the saying may go: It�s the greatest invention since the postage meter! But in the future, the saying may go: It�s the greatest invention since Information Based Indicia! Okay, it�s a mouthful, but it makes the point that we have entered another era in postage payment as businesses are turning more and more to the Internet to pay and print postage.
The Driving Force
The U.S. Postal Service understands its customers� evolving business needs and continuously works to improve the convenience of reaching and using cost-effective products and services. Products and services continually evolve to meet the mailers� needs, are kept competitively priced and made readily accessible in the way customers do business in order to affect their bottom lines. In this regard, the informed customer is the Postal Service�s best customer. With access to competitive shipping options and comparative data, informed shippers are able to make cost-effective decisions that contribute directly to their bottom lines. One area where this is particularly demonstrated, meeting the need for convenient access and information translating to the customers� bottom lines, is postage payment technology.
Postage payment technology has historically presented a special opportunity to work with package shipping customers and industry partners for postage payment solutions that make it easy for customers to pay for postage and make the best use of the shipping operation at the same time. The package shipping industry has evolved with technology to reach customers and manage shipping operations in new ways. The U.S. Postal Service has responded by approving commercial postage products that integrate postage payment technology with package shipping. Historically, commercial postage payment for packages was limited to: 1) standalone postage meters, 2) postage meters integrated with mailing systems and 3) postage manifest solutions. Today, package shippers have an additional postage payment option � PC Postage products that offer online postage payment.
With the development of digital postage and Internet access, the convenience of postage payment is now as simple as click, print and ship. PC Postage technology has evolved to include postage payment with Web services such as eBay. Digital technology means shippers can integrate postage payment with their other business applications, allowing them to compare and optimize shipping costs and improve account management and tracking of shipments.
Behind the Scenes
The Postal Service first enabled the birth of commercial postage payment products in the 1920s with the approval of postage meters for postage payment. The introduction of postage meters gave customers the ability to print their own evidence of postage. This convenience became so widely adopted by businesses that today there are over 1.6 million customers using postage meter and PC Postage products in the US, with postage revenues exceeding $20 billion annually � nearly one-third of the Postal Service�s total revenue.
Continuing the relationship established with private enterprise to introduce postage meters, the Postal Service worked with commercial developers on the introduction of PC Postage products. PC Postage products extend electronic access to Postal Service services by enabling postage payment and printing using personal computers and the Internet. The Postal Service�s application of digital technology to postage has a tremendous effect on the extension of new products and services. Just as the adoption of computing technology dramatically shaped the way business is conducted today, the technology innovations introduced with PC Postage products have been a catalyst for creativity in shipping.
Protection Means Opportunity
An important underpinning for this revolutionary change was the need to protect postage revenue and the recognized need to improve convenient access to meet the customers� changing way of doing business with the Postal Service. In the early 1990s, the Postal Service realized that technology adoption in the marketplace was increasing its susceptibility to revenue loss. The wide use of image scanning and print technology by the public was increasing the susceptibility of postage to counterfeiting. In addition, there was growing evidence that postage meters were susceptible to tampering. Application of technological security features to counter these threats was necessary. At the same time, the evolution of digital technology and the Internet was changing the face of the package shipping industry.
In response, the Postal Service launched a proactive initiative to embrace technological security features to protect customers and and itself against revenue loss while providing more convenience and options to reach its customers. In addition to reducing exposure to revenue loss, the Postal Service wanted to take advantage of the changes technology was having on the business climate and respond to customer needs. This response became an active driver of technology-based innovations.
The Postal Service worked with industry, the public and academia to develop baseline requirements that would allow postage to be securely applied by a personal computer and printer. The intent was to actively engage industry in the development of the criteria in order to flesh out issues and concerns and to foster innovation. After several years of research and development, digital postage in the form of Information Based Indicia (IBI) was introduced as a new form of postage evidencing. To put the significance of this announcement into perspective, the postage meter impression introduced in 1920 was the last new form of postage evidencing introduced to the public.
The Wisdom of Postage Barcodes
Unlike traditional postage meter impressions, each IBI is unique. The IBI utilizes a high-density, 2D barcode. Because unique indicia are traceable and verifiable, they provide a means of security against fraud as well as providing potential new service opportunities. The IBI has enabled approval of PC Postage products, innovations in digital postage meters, on-demand postage printing in the Automated Postal Center kiosk and U.S. Postal Service postage payment through Web-based services such as Click-N-Ship and eBay.
The Postal Service works with the postal industry to incorporate trends in digital technology. Postage payment solutions have resulted in more options that meet the changing face of the shipping industry. Evolutions in traditional products such as smaller postage meter designs offer greater value to small- and medium-sized businesses. Customers use PC Postage products and digital postage meters because they translate to bottom line results
Taking Technology Another Step
Product evolution has been characterized most recently by enhancements and integration with Postal Service products and services such as:
� Delivery and Signature Confirmation, Insurance and plain paper shipping labels � features that serve to attract and increase package shipping business
� PC Postage Application Program Interface (API), software that allows shippers to integrate PC Postage directly into their existing shipping software.
� Custom form creation within the PC-Postage application
� ZIP+4 lookup � customers can standardize as well as apply ZIP+4 codes to their address lists
� For consumers, the novelty of customized postage and the opportunity to personalize postage with their own graphic images (a product concept that is currently in market test)
For the future, the Information Based Indicia presents a host of possibilities including:
� Seamless integration of e-mail with hard copy letter mail and packages
� Linked Web site access with hardcopy letter mail and packages
� Track and trace services
� Proof of mailing service
� Performance monitoring and statistics
� Integrated electronic and hard copy billing
� Automated business reply/merchandise return
As we look forward toward the future, we expect to see more of the IBI as a fundamental enabler of the Intelligent Mail initiative. As this initiative strives to offer services that go beyond the operational needs of the Postal Service and offer more marketing and business management services for mailing customers, the IBI is in place with the data-carrying capacity of the 2D barcode. It is the data-carrying capability to be leveraged for continuous improvement.
For more information regarding United States Postal Service products and services,