The Internet of “Postal” Things

According to Tony Long1, April 7th, 1969 is the “symbolic birth date” of the Internet.  Most people of that time had absolutely no concept for its potential uses, and wouldn’t have dreamed of the connectivity and amount of data that would be created and consumed daily.  In fact, the masses didn’t really use the Internet for another 20+ years.
To most of us today, the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is still largely an undefined reality.  We think of refrigerators that can create our grocery lists, but what is really possible with IoT and how long before we see it ingrained into every part of our life? Cisco estimates that worldwide IoT applications will yield more than $19 trillion in value by 2022.
Last week, Francis Rose2 from In Depth interviewed Paola Piscioneri, Director of Global Research, Office of Inspector General, USPS regarding a report published on “The Internet of Postal Things” (IoPT).  Four key areas were highlighted:

  • Transportation and logistics applications to monitor the status and performance of vehicles throughout the value chain. These applications aim to, for example, reduce fuel costs, limit the need for manual intervention such as in maintenance, and optimize how people, systems, and assets work together.
  • Smarter postal buildings that encompass systems to better manage energy usage, building security and safety, and reduce maintenance costs.
  • Enhanced mail and parcel services that include applications to protect and improve the core business. Sensors generate new data that increase the value of products for senders and recipients and enable the creation of new services.
  • Neighborhood services centered on applications that use IoT technologies to leverage the presence of postal vehicles and carriers in the same areas every day. “Connected” vehicles and carriers with handheld devices can become platforms able to support the collection of data and the provision of both postal and government services to local communities.

The USPS has 3 features that suggest it could benefit from an IoPT.

  • They have a very large operation including;
    • 35,074 Retail Facilities,
    • 8,500 Mail Processing Plants
    • 211,654 Vehicles
    • 1.2 Billion miles driven annually
    • 17.8 Million Mail Transport Equipment
    • 152.9 Million Delivery Points
    • 626,764 Employees
    • 172,203 Collection Boxes
    • 2500 Self Service Kiosks
    • 158.4 Billion Letters delivered Annually
  • They have vast experience in managing large amounts of data currently gathering 1 Billion tracking events daily.
  • There is a strong demand from its customers for more data, more timely data, better customer experience, and modernized services.

So what if you could:

  • Get notifications on your phone of what is available in your mail box before you stop to check it? (This is being tested now)
  •  Know your prescription was delivered and is in your secure, perhaps climate controlled mail box (i.e refrigerated)?
  •  Give temporary access to a family member to collect your mail?
  • Get real time mail piece tracking information to better target follow-up communication? (Groundwork being laid out now with “Informed Visibility” program right now)
  • Know exactly when the mail was or will be delivered?
  • Have your intelligent mail box sign for your package?
  • Have the Postal Carrier help find your lost dog?

The biggest gain may be in reduction of costs for the USPS in terms of efficiency gains from Predictive Maintenance, Fuel Management, Load Optimization, Real-time Dynamic Routing.  That would relate to maintaining lower ongoing postage rates.
The biggest challenge may be in allowing the USPS to operate like a business with Congressional and Union support.
Only time will tell.
Want to know more?
Paola’s interview can be found here.
Download the full report.
View a quick video on IoPT.
1 – Tony Long, Wired
2 – Francis Rose, Anchor, In Depth

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