March 4, 2010

Quick & Dirty: Can KM Save The US Postal Service?

Yesterday I finally decided to ditch Internet Explorer. I don't know why IE8 was so friggin' buggy but after months of having it crash on me for any reason (it didn't like the site I was was Monday...I used gel instead of conditioner to style my hair that day...whatever) I finally decided enough was enough. The worst part of using buggy IE8: I couldn't do my taxes. At least, I couldn't download the tax forms from because, every time I tried, the system went down on me...and not in a good way. After reviewing my options I decided to go with Google Chrome (even though you have to modify it so that those pesky new tabs don't put all of your business out in the street with random folks sitting down to use your system).

Anywho, I've got to run out and find some wooden racquets to spray paint gold as prizes for my Golden Racquet tournament on Saturday. They were cute the first year I held this tournament, but last time I found these awesome racquet-shaped paper weights that, unfortunately, have been out of stock with vendors for the past 6 months. So, like a good strategist, I adjust my game plan.

But, before I hit the door, I was watching a news report on Tuesday about the trials and tribulations of the US Postal Service in the digital age and - after I stopped being pissy about USPS officials blaming Americans for using email more often, as opposed to paying to send a letter that may take days to arrive, if it arrives at all - it seemed like a great KM opportunity.

The Sitch: In a nutshell, folks just aren't mailing enough letters to keep the Postal Service in the black. (Which is funny 'cause I still get plenty of junk mail.) The USPS has tried raising rates and is now exploring reducing services by eliminating Saturday delivery.

The Opportunity: Come up with creative ways to help the USPS leverage its capabilities to either re-purpose itself or expand its offerings.

Perhaps the greatest advantage that the USPS has is that (and I'm simplifying the hell out of this) the Constitution pretty much grants the USPS a Congressional monopoly over mail delivery. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, "Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has carved out an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters." (i.e., FedEx, Big Brown, DHL)

Has the time com for the USPS to get constitutionally-janky and decide it doesn't need the competition?

Quizás, quizás, quizás.

Pero, without getting too deep into this challenge (still gotta hunt down those racquets), I think that it's time the Postal Service looked into how it can expand or overhaul its service offerings. The fact is that we do live in a digital age and the way people communicate with one another has changed on an evolutionary scale (think "dinosaurs go bye-bye", "cavemen-stand-up-straight"). The major problem for the USPS is that they didn't go a very good job of staying up-to-date on how changing technologies would affect their core business. And blaming consumers for mailing fewer letters is a pretty lame excuse for not revamping and revising their primary service offering.

That said, I think they should look to their competitors (in the urgent mail biz) for some ideas. Has the Inspector General for the Postal Service done any evaluative comparisons of its service offerings to its commercial competitors? How frequently? And, what, if any were the lessons learned? Most importantly, assuming some type of competitive evaluation has taken place, how was learned knowledge applied? Surely these activities fall within the purview of the USPS' Office of the Inspector General.

One great starting place is the absorption of Kinko's by FedEx. Not that the USPS needs to copycat this approach, but I'm sure there are plenty of State and Federal paperwork/document processes that still require person-to-person contact that could be absorbed by the Postal Service. This wouldn't, necessarily, extend to all types of government paperwork but, just like USPS' Passport services, imagine being able to go to a place that provides access to and services around getting information and assistance with completing and submitting official documents and records.

What about expanding same-day delivery (courier) services? Or, competing for corporate contracts to provide urgent mail delivery services?

Whatever happened to resolution H.R. 3167, a bill that would have required the 2010 US Census to be conducted in partnership with the USPS (whose carriers are more familiar with cities across this country than some random hourly temp workers)? Seems to me like a great way to utilize the USPS, give the Postal Service a much needed infusion of cash, and conduct an important National study. Who the hell kept this bill tabled and why?

How about re-establishing a USPS savings systems? Especially now when so many folks (rightly, IMO) distrust commercial banking institutions and their practices.

What about a merger between Amtrak and the USPS? Since undergrad, it's been a dream of mine to be a part of re-organizing Amtrak and re-establishing the American rail service. Again, without getting too deep into this idea (that's definitely another blog post), a merger (for the USPS at least) could help to reduce a portion (if not all) of what the agency expends on contracting air and rail services.

Other quick suggestions include expanding the role of the USP Inspection Service and revisiting the decision to cancel sea mail (the service could be contracted solely to other Federal agencies, like the military).

To be fair, I think the Postal Service has done a great job of operating efficiently (which is a helluva lot more than you can say for a lot of government agencies and too many corporations), the introduction of e-postage is one example. And, if it was just a matter of time before this institution needed to shut its doors then this would be a completely different blog post, but despite changing technological trends, our Nation still has a pressing need for this service - the service just needs a makeover.

I think we've got a KM-911 here y'all.


Mario said...

Christian, as usual, you are spot on with your observations. I have had a couple of casual discussions with others about this same subject. A few postal workers have said that they like the idea of not working on Saturdays (like the rest of the government workers), but it's the Postal Workers Union that may stand in the way.
There are many more considerations that drive the cost of operations, but rest assured the people costs will be the biggest slice of the pie chart. No matter the efficiencies and innovations USPS can muster, the union will still figure big in the equation.
I'm not ranting against the union, but perhaps the union needs to re-think its utility in the coming years. People are always the biggest cost where unions are concerned....I'm just saying s'all.
Good luck in your tournament!

Christian Young said...

You are so right. Even though I am a HUGE fan of Unions, when it becomes more of a hindrance than a help, the model really does need to be updated. This was one of the issues I had with the auto manufacturers bailout; the tug-of-war between greedy, mismanaging execs and an outdated Union-model is what lead to so many of fiscal inefficiencies experienced by that industry. Let's hope the Postal Workers Union can make the necessary changes before things get any more critical.