When asked to write this column entitled "Everything IMb," it was with the thought that there would be a lot to say after the mandated implementation took place in January of 2014. How did it work, what issues were people having, how much were they saving. However, due to the ongoing concerns about the readiness for broader adoption of IMb, the USPS decided to delay mandatory implementation and has not announced a new date.

Even though the actual date to implement Full Service IMb has been pushed off, your best bet (if you aren't doing so already) is to push on, stay on track and get Full Service IMb in place. You can't lose.

Benefits include:
· A greater overall data capacity than existing postal barcodes.
· Providing mailers with more digits for their use, allowing for unique identification of up to one billion mailpieces per mailing.
· More accurate and detailed information about mailings, which can enable better decision making.
· Increases mailpiece "real estate" by eliminating the need for multiple barcodes.
· Allows for participation in multiple USPS service programs with a single barcode.

Getting certified
The Intelligent Mail barcode (formerly known as the 4-State Customer Barcode) is the next generation of USPS barcode technology used to sort and track letters and flats. Intelligent Mail barcode technology, among other things, combines the capabilities of the POSTNET barcode and the PLANET Code barcode into one unique barcode. There are two types of certifications for IMb. A Standard Certification is achieved by meeting or exceeding Full-Service Verification thresholds established by the USPS. Platinum Certification, in addition to meeting the Full-Service Verification thresholds, requires maintaining a Quality System that meets Total Quality Management standards. The organization must perform and pass three internal audits per year and pass an additional external quality audit completed by a Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) every three years.

Along with a step up in improving mail quality, there are other advantages to achieving a Full-Service Platinum Certification in your mail preparation process. They include:
· Certification into a program that is recognized for the highest quality mail preparation
· Access to industry standards that promote more efficient handling of the mail
· More consistent service in mail delivery and mail production
· Review cycles and training that supports continuous improvement and standardized processes

Better tracing

The beauty of Intelligent Mail barcodes is that they are information-rich. For example, the POSTNET barcode only includes delivery point routing information. In contrast, the Intelligent Mail barcode holds significantly more data, feeding back information about the mailpiece, making it possible to use the mail in a much smarter, more efficient manner.

IMb tracing provides a company with near real-time tracking information about its First-Class Mail, Periodicals, and Standard Mail letters and flats. There are two types of IMb Tracing that let you know where your mail is, and when it will be delivered. Destination IMbTracing service (for outgoing mail) gives you advance information about when your mailpieces will reach their destinations. Origin IMb Tracing service (for incoming mail) lets you anticipate when customers' checks, replies, or correspondence are on the way back to you.

Before you can send IMb Tracing mail using Intelligent Mail barcodes, you must become an IMb Tracing subscriber. The IMb Tracing subscription process requires you to complete an application form and verify your firm's and/or your service provider's ability to generate accurate and scan-ready barcodes prior to mailing. Similar to applying for IMb certification, there are steps a company needs to take, but it
can take as little as two weeks from receipt of your application to process and verify your firm for IMb Tracing mailings and activate your IMb Tracing subscription.

Get educated
The latest information for developing an IMb mailing operation is available at the USPS National Customer Support Center (RIBBS) website at https://ribbs.usps.gov/. Numerous articles and booklets are offered free of charge for download in PDF format. With the continued rise in postage rates, paying attention to all the ways the USPS offers to save money just makes good sense.
# # #

Harry Stephens is President/CEO and founder of DATAMATX, one of the nation's largest, privately held full-service providers of printed and electronic billing solutions. As an advocate for business mailers across the country, Stephens is actively involved in several postal trade associations. You can contact Harry Stephens at hstephens@datamatx.com