Cycle O has periodically popped up in postal headlines over the last year or two. Announcements of the next update and then word of postponements have come and gone. But while all indications from the USPS show that it will take effect on August 1, 2023, many people are in the dark as to what all it means in terms of impacts and opportunities.
Cycle O is largely a mystery to large-voume mailers. So is how to prepare for it.
Many people working in roles that manage large mailings in companies have no experience with a Cycle upgrade as this is the first Cycle release in over a decade. And since that last implementation, there’s sure to have been turnover in the department.
Amanda Armendariz, editor of Mailing Systems Technology, sat down with nationally regarded postal industry expert Adam Collinson, Director of Address Intelligence for GrayHair Software, to discuss straight talk about Cycle O. He explains exactly why this is important, how it will affect mailers, and what you should do to make the most of it.
Amanda Armendariz: Adam, for starters, what exactly is this “Cycle O”?
Adam Collinson: Cycle O is the next USPS major set of changes to its standards for addressing products that primarily impact any CASS-certified (address matching and standardizing) software, but also impacts NCOALink software.
The USPS has worked with companies to identify their needs to ensure a higher level of precision related to address information. In addition to improving consistency and accuracy with current address information, the USPS is enhancing available data regarding the characteristics of an address. This data is used to identify if the address is correct for the intended business use as well as to identify additional levels of risk for delivery issues, compliance, and fraud.
After nearly a decade of reviewing and documenting these new address-related policies, the USPS has published detailed specifications for changes that are currently scheduled to be required as of August 2023.
AA: Can you give a brief overview of why Cycle O is important to mailers?
AC: The features of the upcoming CASS Cycle O changes can enable a business to save millions of dollars annually in their postal budget and other business operations while increasing response rates and customer satisfaction.
The more significant impact is that you will no longer be at best practices if you do not make changes to utilize the new data being made available. The goal post for best practices is moving.
Overall, fewer addresses will qualify for postage discounts. More addresses can accurately be identified as locations not valid for mail delivery and/or at high risk of being undeliverable. However, for specific industries, this new data can help meet their industries’ specific needs and regulations, especially where there are restrictions around addresses and which types of addresses are and are not allowed to be used in specific cases.
AA: The Cycle O implementation is postponed until August 2023, so why is it important to start thinking about it now?
AC: There are two main reasons. The first thing is that for some companies, many of the people that understood and oversaw the implementation of the last Cycle release have moved on or retired. Plus, during this past decade, many mailers have incorporated CASS in more processes and operations in pursuit of best practices. So, for those new implementations, this will be the first time through a Cycle update.
Secondly, the industry and USPS worked hard to make sure the new Cycle code could be just dropped in, and mailers could continue to run. BUT, in that case, fewer addresses will qualify for discounts and the mailer will be further away from best practices. That is because, with Cycle O, a lot more intelligence about an address will be available. This is information that companies can use to ensure the address is right for their needs (ship to, install at, mail to, get a signature...) as well as to identify scenarios where mail delivery is less likely to occur.
Imagine being able to eliminate over 10% of your current undeliverable mail, identify a new group of addresses with a higher risk of fraud, and identify types of addresses with higher undeliverable rates.
AA: How should mailers prepare?
AC: Every process that requires upgrading to use Cycle O needs to be identified and evaluated to determine the process to upgrade and if/what changes are needed to utilize the new data to the benefit of that business operation.
AA: How long will it feasibly take to implement these changes?
AC: That will vary greatly. Many larger institutions, they have a two-to-three-month deployment schedule to test and release to all impacted systems and operations; and that is when it is just a simple upgrade with no need for changes in logic regarding the results. It will take time. Some things to keep in mind:
· Know your data. Review all processes and identify what new data is applicable - thus requiring additional changes, testing, documentation, and training.
· Know your needs. Evaluate and prioritize the business process improvement opportunities.
· Develop a plan. Coordinate the additional, internal system changes to coincide with the Cycle O updates. (For a comprehensive checklist to prepare for and implement Cycle O successfully, visit https://grayhairsoftware.com/2021/09/28/know-about-cycle-o/)
AA: What are some potential pitfalls that mailers may encounter with this change, if any?
AC: Certain postal discounts will end for those who don't prepare for Cycle O, and they will pay more in postage. A system will run, but it will be missing out on opportunities to improve the quality and accuracy of its current address information.
AA: Is this something that will impact all mailers, or are some organizations affected more than others?
AC: All mailers will be affected and will have the opportunity to improve their processes to benefit their business (and not just mailing operations). The impacts and opportunities will even vary within a mailer’s different operations: marketing, order entry, shipping, billing, statements, and customer service.
AA: Why was the implementation postponed from the original 2022 date?
AC: I would say for two reasons. Initial delays were simply because it has been over 10 years since the last Cycle and likely a long time until the next one. So, there is a lot going into this Cycle — and everyone wanted to make sure all enhancements and changes were fully reviewed and vetted.
Then, there was the pandemic. A lot of work and effort goes into each Cycle — especially upfront effort from the USPS. The USPS has not been immune from resource impacts and needed to make immediate adjustments to adjust for the changes in the volume and makeup of mail brought on by the pandemic.
AA: Is there a chance it may be postponed again?
AC: I do not see it being postponed again.
AA: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers regarding this change?
AC: The fact is, mailers that take advantage of all that is included in Cycle O will not just increase the value of mail, but positively impact other business operations for which an address has a direct tie.
Adam Collinson, Director of Address Intelligence, GrayHair Software, is one of the postal industry’s leading experts on all aspects of address hygiene and data quality services. As a leader of GrayHair’s product team, he uses his experience to analyze, research, design, and implement new solutions to meet the needs of the ever-changing mailing industry. He is a frequent speaker at PCC events, including the 2022National Postal Forum (NPF). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.