It is not too often that something really gets under my skin, but after reading a quote from Postmaster General Donohoe in a recent Bloomberg article, I found myself cursing at the computer monitor.
Postal Service Plan: Kill Trees, Annoy People, Lose Money | Tobin Harshaw | Bloomberg.com
In what world, would we invest in any business with a CEO that has missed the boat on the digital world, and we are not talking about a skiff? It is as though he missed Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas parked in his front yard. As easy as it is to say, I know there are significant challenges in pushing the reset button on our USPS. After more than a decade of maturing our digital marketing organizations why has none of the innovation bled over to the USPS?
After I pulled myself together, I decided to do some research. I assumed that there had to have been some efforts by the USPS to make the jump to the modern world, and to my surprise the USPS has pages on their website dedicated to transforming their business. After reading a bit of material, I found a presentation that focused on a plan of attack. Here is my quick summary of the presentation:
- Expanded Access – More lower cost retail locations through partners (e.g. groceries, pharmacies)
- Workforce – Fewer careered employees
- Pricing – Higher prices on some products
- Delivery Frequency – Deliver mail only 3 or 5 days a week
- Oversight – Give the USPS more room to change
- Expanded Products and Services – Banking, marketing, or mailroom outsourcing
Many of these things make sense, but in the end I was still left with the fact that there was really no ground breaking innovation. Ultimately without a significant change in the way we think about the mechanisms around mail, the USPS is aiming at a potential cumulative loss of $115 billion between 2010 and 2020.
As a starting point, there has to be a fundamental change in the leadership. Appointing 35 year USPS veterans to the job of Postmaster General does not inject the right level of innovation and change into an institution. We need digitally savvy leadership that has some grounding in innovation. At least find me someone who has read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim & Mauborgne and can apply some of the basic principles. I can think of a couple clichés that define the person: out-of-the-box thinker or paradigm breaker. The person just needs to be an innovator. The big challenge will be how you convince a person like this to take a job as Postmaster General, which pays about $275k to $300k a year, because if they have any skill at innovating in the digital world, they will have a lot more upside in the outside market.
We should be looking to companies, like Zumbox and Volly, that are already innovating in this area and working directly with them to provide the digital capabilities. I also believe we need to think beyond where these companies are today.
My Simple Digital Mailbox User Story
In my world, I would use an application on a tablet, mobile phone, or laptop that would allow me to view the contents of every piece of mail that was sent to my residence. From this application I could easily manage the mail I received. I could:
- select which content to be delivered to the house on a once a week basis
- print the content
- pay bills
- fill out forms and submit them back to the sending company
- write a letter or respond to a letter
- archive contents
- upload files
- sign documents
- assign solicitation rules at a sender specific level (i.e. only related to marketing content)
The digital mailbox would be associated with my home address. Any piece of physical mail I receive would be digitized and presented in the application.
The digital mailbox would be free to use, but we would still have postage rates for people whom send mail. There would be higher rates for those that send physical mail. Companies and people would be allowed to bypass the digital mailbox at greater cost, and this mail would be delivered in the once a week mail cycle. All participants would have to be verified to send mail within the digital system.
Digital Mailbox Adoption
There will be many people whom find this to be an outrageous idea, and I can see the arguments lining up to make a case against the digital mailbox.
- Q) What about Security?
- How Secure is your mailbox today?
- Q) What about the costs?
- We are already set to lose $115 billion. Why should the loss not include an investment in change?
- Q) How could you destroy a national institution?
- It will destroy itself without any help.
There are innovators in the market that can solve for all the issues, and further to the point we have already accepted this type of digital innovation in other parts of our lives: online banking, digital submission of taxes, and email. Adoption will become easier as the population changes. Age related technology resistance grows older every year, but I don’t believe we can wait for Gen Y’ers to become grandparents. We have to force the adoption earlier and over time there will be acceptance.
In the end if we do not look to the digital world to replace and expand mail services, we will be forced to accept an ever deteriorating set of services provide by the USPS. I want to see them transformed into a digital organization that is relevant to the future.
Additional research used in the writing of this post:
USPS exploring possibilities of digital postal mail | James Cartledge | Post&Parcel
Postal Vision 2020; USPS at a Crossroads | Clint Bolte |clintbolte.com
What Will the U.S. Postal Service Look Like in 10 Years? | Lauren Katims | Government Technology
Coming Soon to a Digital Mailbox Near You? | The DocuMentor | ZDNet.com
Race for America’s digital postal mail market heating up | James Cartledge | Post&Parcel