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Moving to intelligent mail

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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Within the next six months, the mailing industry will be going through a tremendous period of change — possibly unlike anything prior. In this period mailers will have to endure Move Update compliance, respond to another price increase, and brace for the new Intelligent Mail Barcode, which will establish a new foundation for mail visibility, accountability and delivery.

Move Update compliance is the latest and perhaps most significant of the USPS initiatives to eradicate Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail — a problem that costs the USPS over $2 billion annually and results in over 10 billion pieces of mail being disposed, returned or forwarded.

On November 23, 2008, the USPS ushered in a new era of Move Update accountability by expanding the requirement for all discounted pieces in First Class and Standard mailings to have their names and addresses updated using an approved method at least 95 days prior to the mailing.

Premailing methods such as FASTforward and NCOALink are likely to be the most popular, as they are typically used just prior to mailing. Post-mailing methods including ancillary service endorsements, ACS and OneCode ACS are permissible, provided the USPS change-of-address notifications from prior use of these services within the previous 95 days have been applied to the current mailing. Because it can be difficult to prove that the update actually occurred, most mailers will request their customers sign a PS6014 statement, which transfers liability from the mailing agent back to the mail owner should Move Update compliance come into question.

The USPS expects to use its Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup Instrument (MERLIN) technology as a tool to validate Move Update compliance. However, as there is likely to be a tolerance involved, a grace period until May 2009 has been established. During that time the USPS plans to educate and coach mailers in Move Update as well as establish an appropriate threshold.

USPS opts for phased Intelligent Mail approach

The other major initiative mailers will soon face is the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB). Originally slated for a January 2009 implementation, the USPS has decided to create a phased approach to this new foundation of mail visibility and processing. Some mailers will pilot test the IMB between January and May 2009. Most mailers will wait until May 2009 and phase in their approach through the balance of the year. Ultimately, all mailers will use the new IMB by May 2011, when the current POSTNET barcode will be retired.

IMB is available in two forms. The first, the Basic version, contains a unique Mailer ID (MID), which typically identifies the mail owner; a Service Type code indicating the mail class and services requested (e.g., ACS and CONFIRM); and a code for the optional endorsement line. The second IMB type, Full Service, contains the same information as Basic, but also requires a serial number for each mail piece that must be unique for at least 45 days.

Full Service IMB also requires new Intelligent Mail container tags for pallets, sacks, trays and other rolling stock, and electronic postage payment via the PostalOne! system. This last requirement is one of the reasons for the phased approach for IMB. PostalOne! relies on electronic data submissions from mailers in the form of Mail.dat, Mail.XML, and a postage statement wizard — all of which are still undergoing changes. By May 2009, the USPS has committed to accepting Mail.dat as the only form for major mailers to submit PostalOne! information, with Mail.XML following later in 2009.

Benefits of Full Service IMB include “start-the-clock” information signifying when a mailing is actually inducted in the USPS processing stream; free OneCode ACS service; and a postage discount, the amount of which will be announced in conjunction with the February 2009 price adjustment.

Unprecedented visibility

With 31 digits of information versus the current 11 digits in the POSTNET barcode, the new Intelligent Mail Barcode promises to introduce unprecedented levels of mail visibility. Its ultimate promise is improved deliverability, further reduction of UAA mail, and the opportunity for multichannel marketing efforts. Let's hope the USPS and the industry collectively are able to deliver on that vision.

Christopher Lien is an executive vice president with BCC Software, Inc., a BÖWE BELL + HOWELL Co. Contact him at

How's it going?

“We're just getting started on the IMB,” one reader told AMERICAN PRINTER. “As a mailer, we're excited about the prospects. We've successfully processed a handful of mailings and like what we see.”

Nonetheless, this printer does have some reservations: “We are concerned about the regulations as well as support from the USPS, the pricing and discounting structure that will be put into place in the future, and the effects it will have on the mailers and our customers.”

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