The evolution lifecycle for commercial software development is complex. It involves a number of highly skilled teams working together in a cross-functional manner in order to produce technology on time and according to anticipated market requirements. A number of software development models exist, which companies follow to effectively map out the interaction of stakeholders through cross-functional interaction. These include models such as waterfall, spiral, iterative and agile; just to name some of the more formalized approaches.

For postal software, the development process is particularly challenging due to the excessive rate of change primarily brought about due to a Postal Service reeling from economic, legislative and market pressures. In 2010, the USPS posted over 120 Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) changes, any one of which could mean changes to commercial postal software. That is roughly an average of two per week and with such a rate of unpredictable change, it is nearly impossible to expect USPS software systems and commercial software solutions to reach a point of harmonious connectivity.

Recognizing that the USPS and the mailing industry as a whole have become highly dependent on software technology, the IDEAlliance association formed a working group called the Mailing Software Development Group (MSDG) as a collaborative effort between industry and USPS. The group has been meeting bi-weekly with representative members from both commercial software solution providers as well as companies that develop their own in-house solutions for interaction with USPS systems such as PostalOne!. USPS representation in this working group primarily includes Business Mail Entry, Payment Systems and the National Customer Support Center.

IDEAlliance is most commonly associated with the creation and maintenance of many of the mailing industry's standards for communicating mail and print production specifications. One of the more critical standards is Mail.dat, an electronic representation of a physically prepared mailing. Through Mail.dat (and its communication complement Mail.XML), mailers can submit electronic documentation and pay postage through the USPS PostalOne! system. Postage payment and electronic verification through PostalOne! is a requirement for Full Service Intelligent Mail barcode discounts as well as participation in several USPS pilot programs for advanced mail preparation.

Recent Changes Proposed
One of the recent discussions within MSDG was the alignment of software development roadmaps for PostalOne!, Mail.dat and commercial software. Initially announced at the Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee meeting in February, the USPS is proposing a 2+2 approach for software technology releases.
· Two release alignments would be considered major and would occur in winter and summer.
· Two release alignments would be considered minor and would occur in spring and fall.

Major releases would include such changes as new rate structures, prices, sortation logic or new incentive programs, and structure changes to Mail.dat and Mail.XML. These would likely coincide with events such as rate cases or expanded use of Intelligent Mail barcode service type identifiers. Minor releases would include labeling list changes, induction point redirections and adjustments to prices of existing rate cells. Major releases can include any of the aforementioned minor releases. Also, this approach does not rule out the need for releases of high priority bug fixes and patches.

While MSDG is intended for software developers, users of these mission critical systems also have a forum to stay abreast of changes and provide essential input. MTAC has recently formed User Groups, which are open to non-MTAC members for active participation. User Group 1 in particular is very active as it focuses on users of PostalOne!, SASP and Intelligent Mail. Information about this User Group, as well as the other User Groups, is posted on the RIBBS web page( under MTAC.

Whether you are a mailing software developer or a user of these critical systems, it is essential to stay informed and involved. The USPS is rapidly working to redefine itself in the wake of competitive technology, a difficult economy and legislative restrictions, and mailers who are not informed may be left behind. Continue to work with your software solution provider and take full advantage of the numerous webinars (most of which are free), customer portals and newsletters. The concept of a 2+2 release schedule may sound like simple mathematics; however, the reality is something more akin to Calculus.