As the U.S. Postal Service remakes itself into a leaner organization in the face of a communications revolution, it still remains a powerful medium and an important part of the nation’s infrastructure. A smaller Postal Service will still be huge, with more than $60 billion in projected revenue. It will not disappear tomorrow.
A lingering concern remains, however, that the Postal Service is becoming less relevant to younger Americans. A recent public opinion poll by The New York Times and CBS supports this conclusion. According to the poll, only 30 percent of people under 45 say they use the mail “all the time.”Read More
Some Americans may be aware that Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general of the United States, appointed by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. But, unfortunately, our history lessons have otherwise overlooked the Post Office’s contribution to the development of the nation.
A new paper entitled Postal Service Contributions to National Infrastructure describes some of the ways the Postal Service was used to support national infrastructure growth. For example, did you know?
- In the early years of the nation, highly subsidized newspaper rates led to the growth of a national media culture.
- Funding to transport mail supported a stagecoach industry that carried passengers across the nation. This model was later repeated in the early airline industry when mail contracts supported passenger air transportation.
- The start of rural free delivery at the turn of the 20th century forced farmers and communities to improve the condition of rural roads as a condition of service.
In these ways, the Post Office Department helped conquer the great distances of the country, fill infrastructure gaps, buoy burgeoning technologies and industries, and bind the nation together.Read More
When online, how do you know who you’re really communicating with? Does that affect your shopping or banking habits? Do you know people who don’t use the Internet much because they are afraid of identity theft?
The latest statistics from a Pew Research Center study demonstrate the pull of the Internet:
• 80 percent of Americans are users, whether through personal computer, tablet, or smartphone;
• many of those users do not conduct any kind of commerce;
• 30 percent have not made a purchase online;
• and 40 percent do not bank online.
Would a more secure approach to online identity raise those figures?
The Office of Inspector General’s new paper Digital Identity: Opportunities for the Postal Service examines the world of digital identity as well as many existing digital authentication solutions, including pilot projects, and potential roles for the Postal Service in the digital identity ecosystem.Read More
What Opportunities Exist for the Postal Service to Integrate Its Traditional Role in the Digital World?
Recapping the week – March 19, 2012
This week our panel of prominent commentators examines whether or not the Postal Service can integrate its potential digital role(s) with its physically-based business. The Postal Service has been a trusted third party intermediary since the eighteenth century. But now, in the twenty-first century, it faces unprecedented challenges. Digital technology is developing rapidly and changing the nature of communications and of many businesses, especially those based in brick and mortar. As a brick and mortar-based communications backbone of the nation, the Postal Service is doubly affected by the disruptive technologies of the digital revolution.
While approaching the question from different perspectives, our guest bloggers are adamant: They all agree that there are multiple digital roles for the Postal Service in this brave new world. Further, they state that without taking on these new roles, the Postal Service will not survive. Among opportunities discussed are:
o Digital communication and storage
o Digital identification as well as digital and physical authentication
o Enforcement against digital fraud
o Other mobile applications to minimize customer time in Post Offices
Tactically, they suggest that lessons can be learned from retail banking, which has responded to customer demand for more mobile applications, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which partnered with private sector providers to help individuals transition to digital transmission of tax returns.
Strategically, the Postal Service must become more customer-focused and work on short-term opportunities leveraging and protecting its traditional role, while looking for longer-term opportunities. Steve Ressler, Founder and President of Govloop.com, says that “the future is moving online” and that the health of the US Postal Service depends on its becoming a provider of trusted delivery solutions regardless of channel. He also advocates secure digital storage for sensitive information, an application which is being requested by some consumers now. Dan Combs, CEO of eCitizen Foundation, highlights new uses of the Postal infrastructure and the Postal Service’s legal standing in offering both secure communications and specific credentialing services. He stresses enforcement as being a unique competitive advantage. John Payne, CEO of Zumbox, urges the Postal Service to “remember the consumer”—and consumers’ needs for convenience—or face extinction.
Comments on this week’s blog to have to date offered a range of ideas, but most have had a common theme: The Postal Service has to change with the digital age and take advantage of at least some of the opportunities that leverage its core strength as a trusted branch of government with a wide-ranging geographic presence and long history of delivering secure communications from point-to-point and person-to-person. However, not every commenter agreed that public-private partnerships are an effective tool for implementation or that the Postal Service culture can adapt to its potential digital roles.
The OIG would like to thank this week’s guest bloggers for their key insights on digital issues. In next week’s blog we will discuss what should be the appropriate pricing regime for the Postal Service.
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Guest Blogger John Payne, CEO of Zumbox – March 22, 2012
Remember the Consumer!
For most people, their relationship with the USPS is as follows:
1. The USPS puts some unknown quantity of mail into your mailbox six days a week
2. You periodically check your mailbox
3. You sift through your mail, pulling out the important items and trashing or recycling the rest
4. Rinse and repeat
The really sad thing about the process above is that it hasn’t improved . . . . ever. In fact, if anything, we simply have more unwanted mail to deal with today, which just exacerbates the problem. In an age where consumers are demanding that more information be delivered digitally, across multiple devices, can the USPS improve the aforementioned experience?
For the USPS to stay relevant in the digital age, the answer has to be YES. The USPS needs to think more about what the consumer wants, and let that line of thinking dictate future product strategy. Today’s consumer wants to visit the post office less (or any store, for that matter), and do more on the go, at their convenience.
One industry that has similar features, and has embraced this line of thinking, is the retail banking industry. The retail banking industry has seen its customer base demand more and more products that keep them away from branches. It is natural to fight this change, but the retail banking industry has instead, developed extensive mobile applications to help its customers reduce their visits to branches. A recent report from comScore supports this view. Today, you can deposit checks, pay bills, transfer money, check balances, etc., all from the comfort of your phone.
While the USPS has a mobile application, it is generally limited to shipping information, or looking up the nearest post office location. With all due respect, 99% of my interaction is with my USPS delivery representative at my home. If the USPS wants to spend time on mobile applications, or new features on their website, ask this question first, “how is this feature materially improving the consumer experience?”
A recent article with the title “Three keys to saving the U.S. Postal Service” misses the mark as its three keys are all non-consumer centric. In contrast, an opinion piece in the New York Times summed it up nicely. “Like other retailers, the Postal Service needs to sit down with its customers and talk to them about how it can serve them better, then come up with new, innovative products and services that will be competitive in today’s marketplace. If it does not do this, it will not survive, whether it cuts costs or not.”
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Guest Blogger Dan Combs, CEO, eCitizen Foundation – March 21, 2012
Answering the title question requires a couple of precursor activities. First is accepting that any separation between the digital and physical worlds is artificial and misleading. There are numerous reasons that we want the physical and digital worlds connected, for instance enforcement. When someone does bad things in the digital part of our world we want to be able to find the physical person responsible. The two, the physical and digital, for some time to come, are inextricably bound together. Second, the “traditional role” of the Postal Service needs re-conceptualization. While the Postal Service receives and delivers physical packages, letters and others, this concept is too narrow and simplistic to capture the value provided by the Postal Service. More appropriate would be a concept that includes creation and operation of an infrastructure for secure, enforceable communication among the U.S. population.
Based on the above, the Postal Service is faced with a number of opportunities. The focus here is on near term opportunities building on existing work or capabilities. There are a number of gaps and needs between the physical and digital portions of our world. Currently, one area of particular focus is the identification and authentication of individuals. Generally, this involves the collection and verification of information, attributes about an individual, issuance of perhaps a credential or token such as a password or smart card, and some activities binding or connecting the token to the holder. The Postal Service has an organization, personnel, infrastructure, enforcement capability, and current operations to meet several related needs. Some of these are as follows:
1. Intake and/or Registration
2. Attribute verification
3. Binding of attributes to individuals
Intake and registration: current practices often include the checking of physical documents in a person’s possession, sometimes the scanning of documents, collection of a picture or other biometric, and the checking of this and other information. The Postal Service has lots of physical infrastructure, established locations that could serve well to play some role in intake/registration processes for credential issuance perhaps building on current Passport related services. This infrastructure could fill a gap by providing a trusted institution that is relatively very accessible for the U.S. population.
Attribute verification: much work is underway to develop the means for verification of attributes of individuals, the connecting of those attributes to individuals, and use of such attributes in transactions. One critical attribute is the address, especially connecting a physical address to an individual or transaction. The Postal Service acts as an authoritative source for U.S. addresses and could well provide address related value added services for digital interactions. It also does not seem a huge leap to anticipate that there may well be a need for parallel capabilities for virtual addresses, particularly when a connection between a virtual address and a physical address is desired. The Postal Service seems well suited to take advantage of opportunities to provide address-related services and to play a part in attribute verification.
Binding to individuals: often there is a desire or requirement to take some measures to ensure that an attribute, a document, or a credential is connected to a particular individual. One way of doing this leverages an in-person visit. For instance a person appears at a physical location, perhaps presenting a document such as a birth certificate claiming it as his or her own, or a credential is delivered to the individual, for example the driver’s license issuance event. During these in-person appearances something may be done, such as the taking of a picture or fingerprint, as evidence that a particular person was there, that helps to connect the individual to the documents and transaction. The Postal Service has a substantial infrastructure distributed across the country, personnel conducting similar activities currently, a supporting organization, and other related capabilities.
Enforcement: the digital portion of our world is a difficult environment for many enforcement organizations. Often their scope and capabilities are inappropriate for pursuing and prosecuting digital crimes. The Postal Service has a long history both of developed law and enforcement capabilities that snare criminals. Recently, the Postal Service has performed with distinction in operations and collaborations to identify, pursue, capture and prosecute criminals using digital means in their criminal activities. This is a vital need for the future growth and operation of the “digital world.” The Postal Service is particularly, if not uniquely, qualified to fill this need.
These are a few of the opportunities available to the Postal Service, based upon existing operations and capabilities. Building upon these could well lead to further business opportunities consistent with the traditional role of the Postal Service as updated for our changing world.
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Guest Blogger Steve Ressler, Founder and President of GovLoop.com – March 20, 2012
Fix My File Cabinet Please
As I write this in my home office, my file cabinet is staring right at me. The file cabinet is a mess – it’s bursting at the seams with financial statements, health records, stock certificates, property taxes, and gobs of receipts. If you are like me, you are always fighting a losing battle trying to keep it organized.
In 2012, I do not want to live like this – I want to live in a digital world and I want the USPS to help me solve my file cabinet problem. I no longer want to receive important information in paper but at the same time I’m never quite sure how to handle sensitive digital information. Do I just store my tax pdfs just on my hard drive? What if it fails or I’m not properly backed up? I do not want to just store my health record in my Dropbox or iCloud and I’d rather not be tied to just one provider. Should I email my property tax statement to my broker when putting my house on sale – how do I know if he received it? Do I feel comfortable knowing that my email provider may be reading the contents of the document? In the end, where’s my trusted solution – where’s the equivalent of my online savings box (trusted and secure) and registered mail?
The USPS should be in the business of providing the American public with trusted delivery solutions regardless of channel (digital or print). The future is moving online and USPS can play a great role as an official convener. There are lots of companies that are starting to address these problems but they lack the mission of USPS – which is creating trusted, official solutions at affordable prices. USPS does not need to even build all the tools themselves – they can model their efforts off of IRS e-filing where government created an ecosystem of trusted private sector providers to help transition individuals to electronically submitting their tax statements at affordable prices. Good for government, good for business.
So how do we make this happen? If you’ve read Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma, you know innovation is hard and often the biggest roadblocks are internal in your own office. The USPS’s future depends on becoming digital postal solution provider so they need to invest it – create a team of 20-30 folks, get them authority to make partnership decisions, locate them outside of DC, and give them a grand mission that is true – help make USPS relevant in the digital age.
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The Postal Service is one of America’s great institutions. It connects 150 million households and businesses and is the bedrock infrastructure of the American economy and society. Yet the Postal Service faces powerful and unpredictable forces. These forces – the economic downturn, the Digital Age, globalization, and statutory and regulatory demands – are fundamentally changing its outlook for the future. Actions are needed by postal management and Congress to assure that all Americans have universal access and the opportunity to take part in the emerging new world. But, what are those actions?
The OIG is pleased to announce that, beginning in March, we will host a series of five week-long blogs discussing the elements of a postal solution. The five elements will ask questions on the Postal Service’s mission, infrastructure, role in the Digital Age, and federal mandates. We will invite guest commentators with a wide range of views inside and outside the postal community to contribute to the series.
On the Monday of each week, the OIG will introduce the element of a postal solution and three guest commentators. On the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, one guest commentator will contribute an opening post. During the week’s exchange, the guest commentators will submit comments and replies. On the Friday, the OIG will summarize and conclude the discussion. Of course, we invite your comments on each topic at any time.
The Five Elements of a Postal Solution
- March 5 – March 9: Should the Postal Service be a competitive business, an enabling infrastructure, or something in–between?
- March 12 – March 16: What would an optimized Postal Service infrastructure look like in the 21st century and beyond?
- March 19 – March 23: What opportunities exist for the Postal Service to integrate its traditional role in the digital world?
- March 26 – March 30: How should Postal Service pricing be redefined in support of a lean and simple national infrastructure with a right-sized workforce in the 21st century and beyond?
- April 2 – April 6: What should be done about the overfunding, overpayment, and other unfunded federal mandates?
Scheduled Guest Contributors
- John Callan, Managing Director, Ursa Major Associates, LLC
- James Campbell, Attorney and Consultant
- Jeff Colvin, Director Economist, OIG
- Dan Combs, CEO, eCitizen Foundation
- Steve Hutkins, Editor and Administrator, Save the Post Office
- Richard Kielbowicz, Associate Professor, Communication Networks
- Roger Kodat, former Official, Department of the Treasury
- Jessica Lowrance, Executive Vice President, Association for Postal Commerce
- John Payne, CEO, Zumbox
- Alan Robinson, Courier, Express, and Postal Observer
- John Waller, former Director of Office of Accountability and Compliance, Postal Regulatory Commission
Please join us and invite others to participate. We look forward to hearing from you.
This blog is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center.Read More