Eight Tips for Implementing Intelligent Mail
Go ahead and admit it. You have been procrastinating on the whole United States Postal Service® (USPS) Intelligent Mail® (IM) thing, and now you are starting to panic. The November date for introduction of the IM discounts is just around the corner, and you have not even started your implementation plans.
Don’t worry, you are not alone! There are lots of people who have been putting this off, just like you. Some were skeptical about the whole thing and wanted to wait and see if it was actually going to happen. Others figured there would be lots of changes and revisions to the USPS plans, so they wanted to wait for the dust to settle a bit. And for many of you, quite frankly, IM just scares the bejezzus out of you!
Regardless of what category you fall into, you really ought to start thinking about your implementation plans for Intelligent Mail. Here are some tips for getting started:
1) Do some detailed analysis to determine which level, if any, of IM that you will be using. You will need to do this analysis to first identify whether IM will be of benefit to your organization, and if so, whether Basic Service or Full Service is right for you. The USPS does provide some on-line benefit calculators to assist in this process, but you will likely need to enlist a number of members of your team, possibly in various departments, to get a complete picture. Keep in mind that while IM is currently voluntary, that may not always be the case. There have been statements made by the USPS that the current automation discounts will in 2011 be available only for mailers using the IM barcodes.
- 2) Once you have determined which level of IM service is best for you, you will need to obtain a Mailer ID (MID), or if you use service providers, Customer Relationship ID’s (CRID). Virtually everything under IM will be transacted using the Business Customer Gateway, so you will want to access the USPS presentation on using the Business Customer Gateway if you are not already familiar with it. Once you have reviewed the presentation, you can then go online to apply for your ID’s.
- 3) Start printing the IM barcode on your mailpieces. Even if your internal systems are not yet completely set up to handle the IM transactions with the USPS, you should start printing the IMb’s on your mailpieces as soon as possible. Before you do that, however, you should have some printed samples of your mailpieces containing the IMb reviwed by your local Mailpiece Design Analyst to make sure there are no problems. This includes any sack, tray or pallet tags as well as mailpieces if you are the physical preparer of the mail.
- 4) Become familiar with Mail.dat and Mail.xml if you are not already. These are the two primary means by which electronic transactions with the USPS take place. You will need to make sure that your mailing processes are capable of producing at minimum mail.dat files, and ideally both mail.dat files and mail.xml.
- 5) Investigate your internal mailing processes, including any software or hardware, to insure that they are IM compliant. Work with your hardware and software vendors and service providers to assist you with this process. You may need to do some testing and possibly some hardware or software upgrades or replacements. If you have very sophisticated, automated mailing processes, IM integration may require some custom designed systems to insure seamless integration.
- 6) If you plan to take advantage of the free Address Correction Services (ACSTM) in the IM Full Service Option, you should work with your database administrator, fulfillment house, or other service providers to determine how to incorporate the address corrections back into your database. ACS is much more complex under IM Full Service, and there is the potential to receive three different types of corrections, in three different formats, and at three different prices (not all ACS corrections will be free of charge).
- 7) Once you have your mailer ID, you should begin testing some transactions with the USPS using the Business Customer Gateway and the Test Environment for Mailers (TEM). This will allow you to work out any bugs in your internal systems and is also required for USPS authorization for IM Full Service. Once you have passed the TEM testing, you will be running tests in a parallel environment for a period of time until the USPS authorizes you as an IM Full Service mailer.
- 8) If you plan on implementing the IM Full Service option, consult the USPS checklist for IM Full Service mailers. It is an exhaustive list of all the points you need to do in order to qualify for Full Service.
Intelligent Mail is indeed very complex, but it is not as scary as it seems. Take one step at a time, and you will make it through the integration process. Take advantage of the knowledge of others, such as colleagues, service providers, vendors and suppliers, USPS representatives and mailing associations. Most importantly, don’t procrastinate any longer, get started TODAY!