Knowing the delivery status of your mailing or shipments can help improve the effectiveness of those of business mailings with the added benefits of lowering costs and also improving customer satisfaction. With the Intelligent Mail services now offered by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), it is possible to know when the USPS receives mail and when it is sorted on our automated processing equipment.

We have been talking about the Intelligent Mail barcode, formerly referred to as the 4-State Customer barcode, for some time now. Today, mailers as well as the USPS can gain end-to-end visibility into the mail stream through electronic documentation that creates actionable information about mail for every department in the corporate chain-from marketing to financial to operational environments.

One important feature to know about is IMb Tracing. It provides a company with near real-time tracking information about its First-Class Mail, Periodicals, and Standard Mail letters and flats. Getting the data is not hard, but interpreting the data, applying it, and navigation of postal rules and delivery patterns is where third party experience and knowledge is often invaluable.

There are two types of IMb Tracing that let you know where your mail is, and when it will be delivered. Both provide you advance notice of when your mailpieces will arrive. 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. When your mail is in the system, you'll be able to monitor it several times each day.

Here are three of the major benefits gained with IMb Tracing:

Data Access - You will be able to view your data on the USPS Mail Tracking & Reporting website. You also can receive your raw scan data directly from USPS several times each day. Again, here is where more sophisticated programming capabilities may be required.

Scan Data - As USPS processes mail, scan data records are created each time mailpieces are sorted.

Predicting Delivery - You can predict the delivery time of your mailpiece, based on the information you receive from the scan data.

IMb Tracing is often part of third-party software being used by companies in financial services because it provides solid benefits such as improved cash management and improved response. For those in advertising or retail, benefits include ensured delivery with in-home dates, knowing when your message reaches your target and the ability to track the success rates of direct mail.

While IMb Tracing provides evidence of the date of delivery, it does not provide proof of delivery because carriers do not scan Intelligent Mail barcodes at recipients' delivery point. It can provide the subscriber with the last automated processing scan, which can indicate that the mail pieces will be delivered later that day. So just to be clear, IMb Tracing is not a substitute for Certified/Return Receipt mail.

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 and 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. To learn more, go to the USPS Apply for IMb Tracing page or talk to your Postal Service account representative.

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. He serves on the Executive Board of the Greater Atlanta Postal Customer Council, Major Mailers Association (MMA), PCC Advisory Committee (PCCAC), and the Board of the National Postal Policy Council (NPPC). He is a board member of The Imaging Network Group (INg), an association for Transactional and Direct Mail Marketing service bureaus. As an expert on high-volume print and mail, he has frequently been asked to speak to various USPS groups. You can contact Harry Stephens at