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“Data is the King” – Article I – Understanding Full Service roles for the USPS FAST Appointment management system

Sep 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM / by Assurety Consulting

Communication changes bring opportunities for those who can avail them:

Communication changes from telegraph to telephone (late 1800s) and from telephone without phone numbers to telephones with phone numbers and area codes (mid 1900) changed the speed at which business could be done and actually created new economies several decades ago (remember the AT&T and the Bells, where are they now?). Then came cell phones and PDAs creating a communications revolution. It is cheaper (free) to talk to someone in China over the internet than talking with someone in California via a local phone service company.


Just ten years ago we could not fathom the fact that our children will go to school with a cell phone or a laptop and the internet will change our lives and put the knowledge of the universe on our fingertips. This also meant that the buyers have a lot more choices at their fingertips and it’s a buyer’s economy for the most part.  The internet based communication also impacted the mailing industry in a big way removing large volumes of mail within the last decade from the mailing supply chain. For decades, the old economy has been transformed into a new economy through the changes in communication technology. No one thought just a few years ago, that we will stop going to a Blockbuster store to rent movies and instead can order the movies on demand through the internet. This is a never ending capitalist economic cycle. Blockbuster and many other business’ survival depends upon quickly utilizing the new communication technology and moving their business from the old to the new economy. Same is true for the mailing industry. The only way for industries and businesses to survive and thrive is by producing solutions in a better, cheaper, and faster way. The web services technology that the IDEAlliance Mail.XML® specification utilizes is the new communication change for the mailing industry. With a lot of promises to bring down the overall cost of doing business (cheaper, better, faster) and improving efficiency throughout the supply chain.

 

Digital Supply Chain Vision

The Full service infrastructure, created by the USPS, and supported by the industry (where industry is also creating and investing in the new infrastructure) is in support of a future vision (future is becoming ‘now’ very quickly), shared and agreed to with the IDEAlliance and industry 3 years ago in a Florida IDEAlliance® conference. The vision was to create and move the industry towards a digital supply chain network, where “Data is the King”. The idea is to increase communication, automation of business processes and bring down the overall costs for the entire mailing industry through enhanced communication between all supply chain parties.  The IDEAlliance Mail.dat® specification plays a fundamental ‘database of information’ role in this future communication vision with web services technology and Mail.XML specification driving one of the biggest communication changes for the mailing supply chain.

 

USPS Full Service Intelligent Mail Program

The USPS, as part of the Full Service Intelligent Mail program, required that the mailing information, i.e., eDocs (Qualification reports and postage statements for >10,000 piece mailings), and appointment information and IMcb (s) be provided to the USPS systems electronically; and all pallets, handling units, and mail pieces must be uniquely bar-coded with IM barcodes. In return, the USPS will provide postage discounts, provide Start-the-Clock information, container visibility scans that occur at plants where scan devices are available, and will give the Full Service ACS® Change of Address and Nixie data to the mailers for free. Today’s Mail.XML supports information coming into the USPS systems for Full service for eDocs, postage, appointments, and information feedback that is sent back to mailers for full service reports, Full service ACS and Star-the-Clock and container scan data as well as mail quality reporting data by the USPS.

 

UNDERSTANDING FULL SERVICE ROLES FOR THE USPS FACILITY ACCESS AND SHIPMENT TRACKING (FAST) APPOINTMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
The focus of this article is to explain the full service appointment needs and how they can be fulfilled by the mailing industry. Up until the initiation of full service program, electronic appointments and content were only used by mailers for automation, efficiency, and cost avoidance. Non Full service FAST appointments do not require content details such as IMcb(s), sort levels and other mailing details.

 Full service requires the availability of the electronic appointment information with content in a proactive manner to the USPS, so the USPS can proactively perform resource management at the plants and induction offices, meet or exceed service performance measurement needs of the mailers and reporting of Start-the-Clock information, and provide visibility into the mailing through pallet barcode scans. The long term objective, under evaluation, of electronic appointments/content  is to help remove more paper from the induction process, such as paper 8125s/8017s, when eDoc(s) are also available electronically, perform verification post-induction; hence, further lower the costs of doing business.

 

FAST and Mail.XML

In 2004, industry and the USPS collaborated to create what is now called IDEAlliance Mail.XML specification, previously called IDEAlliance TM (Transportation Messaging) specification. The idea was to remove manual data entry from the appointment business process, remove mistakes made because of human interaction and manual data entry, and provide exponential efficiency in managing the appointment process. The Mail.XML solution for the FAST automated appointment management processes, saved thousands of dollars for the consolidators and mailers that developed the Mail.XML solution in 2004/2005 timeframe by allowing them to cut down thousands of labor hours from the appointment management business process and improved quality and timeliness of information for the USPS.

The FAST system is used to create drop ship and origin entry appointments by schedulers where the mailer is transporting the mail to NDC, SCF and ADCs plants.

 

Appointment Roles

The Supply chain roles that work with, deal with, or manage one or more parts of an appointment for full service are many and may or may not change, depending upon “data” availability. As suggested earlier, full service is about the data and the data flow between different roles in the mailing supply chain besides the actual physical mail production and transportation to the USPS.

There are three high level roles:

  1. eDoc Data Manager: A business entity responsible for creating the USPS Qualification reports and for Full Service and postage statements. This entity is also uploading the Qualification reports and the postage statements through Mail.dat OR Mail.XML to the USPS PostalOne! system – Could be a mail preparer, mail owner, consolidator, Logistics company or a 3rd party agent.
  2. Appointment Scheduler: A business entity responsible for requesting when and where of the appointment (Facility, date/time) – Could be a mail preparer, mail owner, consolidator, Logistics company or a 3rd party agent
  3. Content Manager: Entity that has the details on the content (container counts, class, shape, weight, piece counts and more importantly the Intelligent Mail Container Barcode (IMcb(s)) and can create stand alone contents in the FAST system or link the Full Service contents with an appointment in the USPS FAST system. – Could be a mail preparer, mail owner, consolidator, and Logistics Company or a 3rd party agent.

Depending upon who has the content data, the roles identified above may be one single entity and in many cases may be multiple business entities. Hence, requiring the supply chain roles to talk to each other and share the changes in the data in a timely manner with each other as well as with the USPS.

Remember, in the future mailing supply chain, “Data is the King.”

 

Technologies Available for USPS Full service appointment compliance:

  1. FAST Online website: Schedulers can create one-time, recurring, and one-time shell appointments online. They can create Content online as well and associate with their appointments. However this content is NOT full service content, because the FAST online website is not designed to manually enter data for an extensive amount of data fields, including typing away IMcb(s) for every pallet.
  2. a. Mail.XML web services: Schedulers can create and update appointments; rather they are one-time, recurring, or shell appointments and provide full-service content for all types of appointments through Mail.XML. This technology is the one that supports ALL appointment and content management functionality.  Schedulers can use the Mail.XML to also ‘refer to’ existing content in Mail.dat in the PostalOne! system; The PostalOne! system, upon receiving the Mail.XML request for appointments, sends the content from its PostalOne! Mail.dat database to the FAST system.
  3. b. Stand Alone Content - Content providers can also create Stand alone content (with IMcb(s)) through Mail.XML and assign it to Schedulers (logistics companies). Schedulers can later on assign the stand-alone full service or non full service content with intelligent mail container barcodes to their appointment(s) through the Online FAST system or through Mail.XML.
  4. Mail.dat Transportation Updates (Recurring Appointments Supported): The Mail.dat specification, also known as the Mail.dat database file set, that is shared between parties can be used to provide recurring appointment information to the FAST system. The mailer who submitted the Mail.dat to the PostalOne! system in the first place needs to edit the Mail.dat with recurring appointment information, including the FAST Content ID and Scheduled induction date and time if available and send to the PostalOne! system through Transportation updates transactions.

Note: If the information (content or IMcb(s)) have already been provided to the USPS through Mail.XML appointment transactions, then it is NOT required to provide FAST appointment ID and other FAST information such as Content IDs, Scheduled Induction Date and time in eDocs (Mail.dat or Mail.XML Qualification reports). Mail.dat is only an option to provide contents for recurring appointments (only) to the FAST system.

 

What methods can you use for Full Service FAST Appointments:

One-Time Appointments Online  FAST Mail.XML Only  FAST Mail.XML with Mail.dat (referring to the Mail.dat data through Mail.XML in PostalOne!)
Logistics Create 
x
x
x
Logistics Update 
x
x
Content Create   
x
Content Update   
x
x

 

Figure 1.0 – The Full Service ONE TIME Appointment management methods

    

Recurring Appointments

Online 

FAST Mail.XML Only 

FAST Mail.XML with Mail.dat 

Container Updates via Mail.dat* 

Container Updates via Mail.XML* 

Logistics Create 

x

x

x

 

 

Logistics Update 

x

x

x

 

 

Content Create 

 

x

x

 

 

Content Update 

 

x

x

x

x

* Method is specific to electronic documentation submitted in PostalOne!       

Figure 2.0 – The Full Service RECURRING Appointment management methods 

 

Full Service Appointment Process in a nutshell

Figure 3.0 – The Full Service Appointment process conducted by multiple Full Service Roles which may or may not be the same business entity

REMEMBER – All of the above activity can be done by ONE business entity that is playing all the Full Service roles OR the above could be conducted by DIFFERENT business entities playing different  roles                 

Bottom line is that the USPS Full Service Intelligent Mail program requires that your pallets, to be transported to the USPS by you, must be identified through Intelligent Mail pallet barcodes and linked to the USPS FAST appointments.

Second article in this series, “Data is the King” will focus on what future benefits can be reaped by the industry and the USPS because of this content to appointment linkage requirement, such as saying good bye to paper 8125 and 8017 forms.

Shariq (aka Sharick) Mirza is the President and CEO of Assurety Consulting Inc. and currently serves as the IDEAlliance Technical Director for the Mail.dat and Mail.XML specifications. Mr. Mirza has over 11 years of USPS compliance and BPM experience. He can be reached at Smirza@AssuretyConsulting.com Assurety Consulting Inc. is the leading professional services company providing business consulting and mailing software solutions for the Full-Service and the mailing supply chain. For more information, visit the Assurety Consulting website at www.AssuretyConsulting.com or call 866-750-4924

Disclaimer: USPS, FAST, PostalOne! IMb, IMcb, ACS, Nixie are all trademarks of the United States Postal Service. IDEAlliance, Mail.dat and Mail.XML are all trademarks of the IDEAlliance. This is not a complete list of all USPS and IDEAlliance trademarks.

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