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Data Analytics Key to U.S. Postal Service Digital Transformation

Over the past decade, technological innovation has advanced at an increasingly fast pace, creating both opportunities and disruptions in virtually every industry. The postal industry is no exception. According to the report, “Step into Tomorrow: The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and Emerging Technology,” the Postal Service collects massive quantities of data on an ongoing basis. A challenge is putting this data to its most valued use to improve the customer experience. Changing customer expectations and increased competition for last-mile delivery have resulted in a demand for innovative solutions

Data-driven advanced algorithms and analytics can play a critical role in the design of these new, last-mile solutions. Postal infrastructure is, and will continue to be, supported and enhanced by the use of big data across the supply chain. The Postal Service transports millions of mail pieces and packages through its network every day.

To track where the mail is, how quickly it is travelling to its delivery destination, and identify any problems in the network, the Postal Service scans mail pieces at several points along its route. The network is vast, so the collection and utilisation of this information is best harnessed through data analytics

Data and analytics are at the heart of USPS operations, helping improve the efficiency and quality of services. They inform applications that track packages for residents and business mailers and could make the Postal Service more competitive and improve the quality of the products offered to their customers.

USPS’ Informed Visibility – Mail Tracking and Reporting service, for example, combines actual scans of mail pieces with assumed and logical scans during handling to provide near real-time data on the location of mail in the processing and delivery network and its expected delivery date.

In its research, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) interviewed industry experts and Postal Service management on the future of technological innovation in the postal industry. OIG also reviewed the USPS 10-year plan and asked international mailers and U.S. shippers to identify promising technologies.

Shipping industry representatives stressed the need for more visibility into processing and delivery issues. They cited benefits of enhanced tracking – whether through the use of GPS to track trucks and containers or the possibility of affixing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) labels to packages and eliminating the need for barcode scanning.

Data analytics are also key to delivery route optimisation. Dynamic routing using real-time analytics would be the next frontier, he told OIG, enabling better allocation of delivery resources (vehicles, drivers) and optimal vehicle loading. One international expert noted that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will be key to predictive analytics, which would also help USPS allocate human and financial resources more efficiently.

Most experts the OIG interviewed stressed the growing importance of data analytics in the past few years and in the near-term future. Continued development and implementation of tools reliant on analytics could make the Postal Service more competitive and improve the quality of the products offered to their customers.

USPS has deployed several technologies to improve its services, including advanced computer systems. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the agency uses the Edge Computing Infrastructure Program (ECIP), a distributed AI system. Each edge server processes 20 terabytes of images a day from more than 1,000 mail processing machines. The Triton Inference Server, an open-source software, provides the AI models each of the mail processing centres need.

USPS also has several other IT initiatives underway to combat those concerns. For instance, they are looking into using autonomous vehicles for mail delivery and monetising their geolocation data. A February Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report touted the use of robotics for last-mile postal delivery.

Extraordinary innovation has occurred at the USPS and the work that is occurring by building an enterprisewide AI program for the USPS can be a motivator for the U.S. federal government and commercial businesses and enterprises around the globe.

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