March Issue

USPS Tries to Keep Mail Relevant in a Digital Age

The U.S. Postal Service has been a quiet leader in business technology for the past 40 years. Technology has enabled us--one of the largest employers in the country--to remain nimble and responsive to changes in customer trends and needs.

Our robust technology infrastructure has been the backbone of improving mail processing operations and reducing costs, but we're also harnessing data and analytics to stay ahead of the curve.

The CIO team is enabling this change throughout the organization, which--along with traditional IT, security and analytics--also includes engineering, research and development, and electronic mail entry and payment. This eclectic mix has allowed us to become change agents, delivering technology-supported products and operational savings.

The Postal Service delivers 40 percent of the world's physical mail volume, or 162 billion pieces of mail, catalogs and packages every year. We are at the core of an $800 billion industry, and the size and scope of our physical network is unmatched. However, our focus today is on keeping mail relevant in a world where people increasingly use digital communications.

Digital marketing now competes with direct mail, bills are increasingly paid electronically, and even our traditional competitors are changing. One recent example is the USPS partnership with Amazon.com to provide package delivery on Sundays in a couple of thousand offices. To get this done, we built and delivered a dynamic routing capability from scratch in three months.

Technology is so interwoven into everything we do that the CIO team is now driving the pace of change. We've adopted agile practices and have torn down silos between departments. We continually bring together skills from all departments to put the best minds to work on the challenges we face.

Information has become nearly as important as the physical product--we maintain 33 petabytes of data storage, and there is a unique identifier on everything moving though our network, all the way to the mailbox. We have analytic capabilities to track where mail is, improve efficiency, predict workloads, understand customers, provide feedback, and deliver consistently reliable service.

Mail with a digital footprint is both measurable and predictable, so in addition to supporting our enterprise, we provide business-specific data to service partners, enabling them to plan their warehouse inventory, scheduling, call centers and day-to-day operations.

We're making the old new again. Our teams are designing mailboxes with electronic keys and Bluetooth technology for secure package delivery. They're designing delivery vehicles to handle higher volumes of packages and use alternative fuels. We've equipped our trucks with sensors to gather geospatial and maintenance information to optimize route efficiency. We're building out our social media capabilities to be more proactive about customer sentiment.

The USPS still ranks high in terms of how much people trust us, and we're committed to keeping it that way.

Jim Cochrane is EVP and CIO at the United States Postal Service. He is a member of the CIO Executive Council.

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