Intelligent Mail : To Wait or Not to Wait?March 2010 By Erik Cagle
ANY CONVERSATION that involves maximizing postal discounts begins and ends with the United States Postal Service (USPS) and its Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) technology, especially in recent months. In order to claim automation discounts, mailers must switch from using the Postnet barcodes to what is casually referred to as basic or full-service IMB by May of 2011.
Simple, huh? Well, not quite. Sit down; this requires a little explaining, but it behooves you, as a printer/mailer, to do a little investigating of the options and canvassing of your mail clients to determine what is your best fit.
By USPS definition, the IMB is used to sort and track letters, cards and flats, and offers enhanced versatility by allowing many services to be requested and embedded within one barcode. It combines the data of the existing Postnet and Planet Code barcodes, along with other data, into a single barcode. The barcodes are affixed to mail trays and containers, as well as the mail pieces.
Proceed with Caution
For starters, not everyone is a fan of IMB in its current form. One such person is Mary Ann Bennett, president of The Bennett Group, who consults printers and mailers on all matters regarding the mail stream and reaping maximum benefits. She has compiled a list of 10 reasons why mailers should delay implementing the full-service IMB, but also cautions that the implementation of IMB is "very fluid" and the information is subject to change.
Bennett's list is proprietary and will not be restated here in its full form (visit www.the-bennett-group.com for more information), but we'll look at a couple of talking points. Some of the major drawbacks to full-service IMB, according to Bennett, include:
• Mailers will need to invest money to participate at the full-service level, and it does not provide an ROI benefit.
• The automation discounts are low—just $3 per thousand for First Class mail and $1 per thousand for Standard Class—and those incentives may go away in the future.
• The IMB is not human readable, which necessitates the purchase of scanning equipment to read and interpret the data embedded in the barcode.
"Right now, this is not mandatory," she says of full-service IMB. "The Intelligent Mail Barcode is fraught with problems on all levels. The financial risk is significant. There are major mailers in the country that have spent well over $1 million on trying to implement the full-service IMB. Imagine how long it's going to take for them to begin getting an ROI with the incentives that the post office is offering?