This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

The end of 2017 marked an important milestone for both the Postal Service and the mailing industry with the migration of all mail tracking from the legacy tracking system to the new Informed Visibility (IV) platform. The Postal Service officially shut down the legacy tracking system on December 31, 2017.

The decision to do mail tracking back in the early days required a more deliberate decision for marketers and mail owners because it required placing a second barcode on the mail pieces. The PLANET barcode, which was an inverted POSTNET barcode, was how mail piece tracking was performed. Decisions had to be made on how that second barcode would impact the look of the mail piece. Would it impact open rates? What effect would it have on response rates? Some marketers and mail owners made decisions to only track a small subset of a mailing, sometimes referred to as seed pieces.

Many of the barriers and concerns were removed with the migration to the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) and the retirement of both the POSTNET barcode and the PLANET barcode. Leveraging the IMb, the decision to perform mail tracking simply required using the correct Service Type ID (STID) in the IMb to request that mail tracking be performed.

With the barriers to mail tracking removed and the new capabilities of the IV platform in place, is the mailing industry taking full advantage of all the mail tracking capabilities?

In the early days of mail tracking, there were a handful of common scenarios. Mail owners working with mail service providers (MSPs) would use the mail tracking data as proof of mailing. Some used the seed records noted above to track delivery performance and consistency. Some of the more advanced uses would include historical mail tracking data to tweak and tune mail entry dates to better hit targeted in-home delivery windows. Granted, this was often a challenge with the status and mail volume at postal facilities constantly changing. Some mail owners and MSPs would leverage the data to diagnose reported delivery problems after complaints of missing or delayed pieces had been reported.

As the mailing industry made the migration from the legacy system to the new IV platform, one of the options available was to continue to receive the same scanning events at the same frequency through the new platform. Many took this approach to minimize the impact of required changes.

Benefits of the New Platform

The new IV platform creates the opportunity for the mailing industry to significantly expand beyond what has historically been done with mail tracking data. The legacy tracking system would require up to 48 hours before tracking events would be provisioned back to the mail industry. The new IV platform has the ability to provision that same data in near real time. So, within 15 to 20 minutes of a scan event occurring, the data is available. To fully leverage this data, it would require your business to pull the data from the Postal Service more frequently.

The IV platform has also added new logical delivery scan events. The Postal Service has geo-fenced every mailbox in the United States. It has also equipped every mail carrier with a geo-enabled device. These two pieces of data are what drives the new logical delivery events. Mailers now know with a much greater depth of precision when the mail piece was actually delivered to the mailbox. This capability creates the ability to allow marketers to combine the delivery of the physical mail piece with a digital touch to build additional anticipation around the mail moment. When the logical delivery event is received, it can be used to trigger an email to the recipient. For example, “When you get home today, check out your mailbox; we have a special offer waiting for you!”

The legacy tracking system only supported piece level tracking. The new IV platform expands tracking to include container and bundle level tracking as well. This creates expanded visibility into mailings as they flow through the Postal Service. Previously, there was little visibility into mailings until containers and bundles were broken open and the pieces were processed on automated equipment that generated the piece level scans. IV has the ability to capture container scans as pallets are unloaded at postal facilities; these scans can be associated with the electronic documentation for the mailing and correlate the container scans to the pieces on those specific containers. This provides additional visibility, such as when the Postal Service has taken possession of drop ship mailings. The Postal Service is also implementing bundle level scanning in IV as well to provide increased visibility into flat mailings. Flat mailings have historically had limited scan events outside of ZIP Codes that are processed by the Flats Sequence Sorter (FSS). Using these new scan events enables more proactive tracking of mail. The Postal Service is already using this data to identify containers at risk of missing service standards. Mailers can use this same data to better align marketing resources to when the mail pieces are being delivered and more aggressively track when service issues are occurring.

These are just a few examples where the new capabilities of Informed Delivery can increase the value of mail. Now that the migration is complete and the IV platform is fully deployed, the focus moving forward will be on continuing to build out new capabilities that will further improve the visibility into mail. If your business is still using mail tracking the same way it was a year ago, then now would be a good time to look at the added value that the Informed Visibility platform can provide for your business.

Bob Schimek is Senior Director of Postal Affairs at Quadient.