This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

Probably the hottest topic at National Postal Forum this past May was Informed Delivery. It was the subject of Postmaster General Megan Brennan’s address and had many attendees buzzing as they entered the exhibit hall floor.

For our industry, it’s important not to confuse Informed Delivery with Informed Visibility. Let’s take a closer look at the two initiatives. While their names are very similar, there’s important differences.

Informed Delivery (ID) is a consumer-faced initiative whereby the mail’s intended recipient receives a USPS scanned image of the mail piece the morning it is scheduled to physically arrive in their digital inbox. Today, it is only available for letter-shaped mail. However, availability of ID for flats and parcel images is in the works, and the USPS has promised an aggressive timeline for implementation. The email currently provides a black and white image of the mail piece. The anticipated future, however, is that a color image of the mail will be overlaid or added to enhance the email as well as enable a clickable feature to begin an interactive experience before the physical piece arrives.

There is an exciting future for ID, but there are still important, necessary questions that need to be answered by the USPS. One of the most pressing pertains to the clickable link, or personalized URL (PURL). Both mailing service providers (MSP) and marketers need to know:

· Who creates the PURL? The MSP or the end customer?

· When in the mailing prepress process is the PURL created?

· Who does the data entry?

· How is the data transmitted back? How is it housed?

Several companies, including ours, are leading the way and are actively involved with the USPS to ensure these questions are being raised and answered on behalf of the industry.

Informed Visibility (IV) is not intended for the public; it’s an initiative just for the mailing industry. Its aim is to create a “real-time, single source for all mail and mail aggregate information, leveraging data to provide business intelligence for USPS functional groups and the industry,” according to the USPS website. IV represents the next evolution of mail tracking and visibility with the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMB). However, like ID, there’s still questions that are overdue.

· How are mail pieces, such as carrier route mail, going to be scanned since the individual IMb is not scanned in the same manner as letter-shaped mail?

· What additional pieces of information about the mail processing equipment scanning the IMb will the USPS share with the industry?

· How do the new Mobile Delivery Devices factor into Informed Visibility? For example, will the USPS be able to extrapolate where a carrier is on his or her route in order to more precisely time when the piece is scheduled to physically arrive and share that with the industry?

· When will IV formerly replace the IMb Tracing program?

Engage your software provider today to learn about how they’ll be handling these upcoming IV changes.

The Postal Service is actively unveiling radical changes to how data about mail is collected and distributed, and how customers can interact with physical mail pieces. There are new robust ways marketers can integrate mail into a true multichannel effort, and as service providers and industry leaders, we are challenged to present these in an educated and informed manner to our customers. I believe there are still miles to go before we sleep, but I’m proud of our industry’s embrace of the actionable data set in front of us. With our help, direct mail will continue to enjoy some of the highest response rates of all marketing strategies and continue to be employed by savvy marketers nationwide.

Chris Lien is President, BCC Software.