Sunday, December 28, 2008

Watch out! It's the IMb Express!

If you’re one of those sick people who like to rubberneck at accidents, keep an eye on the U.S. Postal Service’s Intelligent Mail Barcode initiative. It’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

Industry contacts report continuing frustration getting problems resolved and questions answered regarding IMb, one of USPS’s major strategic efforts. Mailers are having trouble getting postal officials even to discuss the challenges that might derail the program and are questioning whether IMb, already delayed twice, will be ready for implementation next year as scheduled.

USPS last month pushed off implementation of IMb once again to a three-phase process -- as Dead Tree Edition predicted -- that is to begin in May. Some chastised me for improperly abbreviating the name, which USPS refers to as IMb. That seems DUMb to me, but so be it.

Representatives of mailers, printers, and mailing-industry vendors in such organizations as Idealliance and the Association for Postal Commerce (PostCom) are nearly unanimous in their frustration with the Postal Service’s lack of communication and planning regarding IMb.

“How can we implement IMb when we customers are uncovering things at the eleventh hour? When the switch is flipped will it work?” reads one of a litany of concerns recorded at a recent Idealliance meeting. “There is a lack of direction,” reads another. “We seem to take one step forward and two back."

Some in the mailing industry who must communicate IMb requirements to their own organizations now find themselves in hot water: Their bosses can’t believe the Postal Service’s decisions, planning, and communication regarding IMb could possibly be so bad.

Since the Idealliance meeting, yet another communication breakdown has emerged: Postal officials have decided that mailers must presort addresses before assigning an IMb. That will force mail vendors to undo much of the work they have already done on IMb because they were planning to assign bar codes before presort. Perhaps the Postal Service's IMb folks have been attending the William Burrus School of Customer Relations. (See “When business is down, kick the customers.”)

Intelligent Mail Barcodes are a printing issue as well as a postal issue because there have been questions regarding how well USPS equipment can read IMbs produced by printers’ current inkjet machines. Despite their complaints about implementation, mailers are generally supportive of the IMb concept, which should enable the Postal Service to track mail as it moves through the system, spot problems, and optimize its processes.

A source reports that when he asked an industry expert to explain what was going on with the program, the expert replied that “IMb is too complex for mere mortals to understand.”

To get a taste for the complexity, check out the slide below from an IMB DPP that had MTAC LOL because the TWTDSTR. Translation: At a recent Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting, industry representatives laughed at a postal official's Death by PowerPoint presentation because of this slide in which the type was too darn small to read.

Not that anyone could have understood the slide even if the type had been larger.


Anonymous said...

Far be it from me to claim that I know the stupidest thing the Postal Service ever did, but their mutilation of Intelligent Mail certainly ranks up there.

The original concept of Intelligent Mail - to create a barcode that could uniquely identify a mail piece and provide a variety of services based on that barcode - was brilliant. And, it worked! Billions of pieces have been tracked, enhancing the value of mail, while at the same time providing a great tool for address quality.

We'd better cook up some regulations to screw that up!

The cockamamie stew of rules they created brought nothing to Intelligent Mail, but it did manage to chill the industry on using it. Printing a new barcode was a task the industry could have handled...all this "full service" - "basic" nonsense accompanied by hundreds of pages of indecipherable constantly changing regulations is asking too much for no evident benefit. They sort of turn IMB into iMB, all in the name of measuring service performance. Does anyone really believe that this mess is really going to help performance?

The Intelligent Mail barcode is a great idea. The Intelligent Mail program as currently conceived left the tracks a long time ago, and is, indeed, looking for a place to wreck.

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