Postal Vision 2020

Experts gather to offer solutions for America’s postal dilemma

Edited excerpts from an article by Clint Bolte, Growth Management Consultant to the printing industry worldwide (www.clintbolte.com)

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is suffering dramatic losses due primarily to electronic substitution of conventional mail. Its traditional operating model is clearly not sustainable. So, about 150 innovative thinkers gathered in Arlington, Virginia June 15 to craft a new vision for the USPS looking ahead to 2020. Below are some edited highlights from the Postal Vision 2020 Conference.

Technology partnering for USPS holds promise

Technology partnering implies joint ventures with private-sector vendors with expertise in digital communications. If even one joint venture allows the integration of digital communications to supplement current analog mail services, progress will be made. In his keynote presentation, The Age of Digital Disruption, speaker Jeff Jarvis followed the theme of his book What Would Google Do? by presenting these future scenarios: The letter dies; if it can be digital, it will; future is not analog to the past; first-class mail disappears; junk direct mail dies. Jarvis insisted that entrepreneurs who seek efficiencies and savings for their clients will succeed. For example, Craigslist destroyed $13 billion in annual newspaper classified advertising, all to the benefit of consumers.

Digital Mailbox opportunities

Matt Swain, Associate Director, InfoTrends, outlined the existing array of digital mailbox providers; DOXO, Volly (Pitney Bowes), Manilla, Zumbox (oldest in the USA since 2009), ePost (by Canada Post), NetPost (in Finland with 12% of population signed up), and eBoks.dk (Denmark). For example, Manilla (first introduced in January of 2011), is a free, secure, personal account management service – a digital concierge if you will – targeting the USPS’ most profitable first-class transaction document mail streams. It’s launched with bills, finances, travel rewards and subscriptions, but designed to deliver data, documents and alerts/reminders for all personal account categories (medical, insurance, warranties, government documentss, catalogs, etc.). There are easy (and secure) links back to websites to pay the bills or get more detailed background information on any single transaction. Remembering and processing a myriad of identifiers and passwords is no longer necessary.

Digital Innovation and Alternatives

In a discussion on Digital Innovation and Alternatives, Jennifer Tomlinson, Director of Growth and Strategy for Innovapost (which is 51% owned by Canada Post), explained that Denmark has the strongest digital infrastructure of any national postal service. Many Danish communities have agreed to accept physical mail only once a week because of the increased speed and reliability of their postal digital network and personal digital mailboxes. This would be consistent with InfoTrend’s survey revealing that 79% of consumers still want bills and statements sent physically by USPS. The actual information is received in Denmark in a more timely fashion than in the U.S. via the USPS. This consolidation of physical mail for once-a-week delivery would be much less expensive than 6-day-a-week delivery.

The past is but a prologue

The current perception is that the USPS is rigid and can’t change. Washington attorney and consultant (specializing in the history and development of national and international postal law) James I. Campbell Jr. gave the following perspective. From its inception in 1792 to the 1830s, the U.S. Post Office was charged with distributing news as a means of building the first continental democracy. It did this by establishing rapid and reliable long-distance transportation that included relay stations for stagecoaches. This monopoly was lost to the new technology of the industrial revolution – steam-powered railroads and ships. Innovations in the 1830s-1840s included cheaper and faster national service by private express companies, and city collection and delivery by local express companies. The U.S. Post Office was given a national monopoly on the collection and delivery of letters in the mid-19th century. And yet the technology of telegraph (1840s) and telephone (1880s) eroded what the Post Office hoped would be a communications monopoly. The car and airplane improved the service and the economics of delivery in the 20th century. But the emergence of FedEx and UPS in the 1970s virtually eliminated USPS’ dominance in parcel delivery.

Implications for the Postal Service in the Digital Age

Campbell concluded with 3 policy choices based upon the actual history of the United States Postal Service: 1. Dissolve the Postal Service in an orderly manner. 2. Extend the monopoly/privileges of the Postal Service into related fields. 3. Privatize and give the Postal Service a chance to adapt. Short-term priorities of our Federal legislators are not expected to include anything as drastic as these 3 policies, however, there is a chance that the digital technology partnerships discussed at the Postal Vision 2020 Conference may be considered as workable options in the future.

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