Acting as a Neutral Delivery Platform Could Rejuvenate USPS
By Kenneth Corbin
WASHINGTON - The head of the regulatory body that oversees the U.S. Postal Service outlined a broad vision for putting the money-losing agency on a path to long-term sustainability by exploring a series of new business lines.
In a keynote address at the second annual PostalVision 2020 conference on Wednesday, Ruth Goldway, the chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, emphasized the value of the assets the Postal Service provides and suggested that its best bet for revival is to play to its strengths.
Echoing others who have argued that the Postal Service cannot achieve financial viability simply though deep cuts to its workforce and network of facilities, Goldway urged the agency to think creatively about how to leverage its infrastructure in ways that would be attractive to a broader range of private firms than the commercial shipping providers with which the agency currently has processing and delivery deals.
"Consider the Postal Service a platform, a neutral delivery platform that could in fact provide multiple users with multiple products to get to the homes and businesses that the Postal Service provides," Goldway said. "We do that to some degree with "coopetition," as we call it, with FedEx and UPS, but what else could we do? What other companies could we offer this logistics network for that may not just be postal? We could increase the variety of service provide and figure out a way in which the platform gets a cut of the action."
The notion of reimagining the Postal Service - with its unrivaled delivery network, vast reservoir of consumer data, intellectual property portfolio and other unique attributes - as a platform has been a central them of the PostalVision conference, which aims to explore long-term potential solutions beyond some of the more immediate policy questions weighing on the agency and awaiting action from members of Congress.
In addition to stressing the need for a broader set of partnerships between the Postal Service and private businesses, Goldway pointed out that the organization, by virtue of its universal nationwide footprint, is uniquely positioned to offer businesses the opportunity to push out a cohesive marketing message that no other channel can match, particularly at a time when consumers' media choices continue to proliferate.
"The digital age is wonderful, but it's fractured. It's based on so many different messages going to so many different people. There's really now only one system where you can be sure that the same message gets to everyone in a neighborhood or a community or a nation, and that everyone gets the message," she said. "The power of being able to say the same thing to everyone I think is underrated, and should be emphasized when the Postal Service is developing its business strategy."
She also suggested that the Postal Service could make better use of its intellectual property, particularly its vast trove of consumer data and the large repository of patents it has amassed over the years in areas such as sorting and processing technologies. She speculated that combing through those patents could provide the inspiration for as-yet-undeveloped products, and potentially generate additional revenue in the form of licensing agreements or other partnerships. But Goldway and other observers have noted that as an institution, the Postal Service has often shown an institutional discomfort with opening its intellectual property to outside parties.
"I think the Postal Service's problem in this area is it has been reluctant to share its intellectual knowledge and partner with others," she said. "Unless they feel they can take ownership of it in-house, they're reluctant to move forward."
She cited other avenues for growth, such as forging partnerships with local, state and federal government bodies, and leveraging the trusted brand of the Postal Service to advocate for programs that would increase the volume of sensitive mail, such as vote-by-mail programs and shipments of medicine.
In practice, the PRC has only limited regulatory authority over the Postal Service, and Goldway has been highly critical about some of the recent proposals the agency has advanced to help its balance sheet, including a five-day weekly delivery schedule and the estimates it has made of cost savings that would follow from extensive facilities closings.
But Goldway, who sees her role as a consumer advocate, genuinely believes in the value that the Postal Service provides. She has been skeptical of proposed deep cuts to the agency's menu of offerings, both for the potential harm they could visit on members of the mailing community, and out of the fear that scaling back service standards would only drive more people away from the Postal Service.
No one disputes the devastating impact that the rise of electronic communications has had on the Postal Service's bottom line. And it's all but impossible to find anyone who expects that trend to reverse.
But Goldway pointed out that for all the disruption that email, paperless statements and other electronic incursions into the Postal Service's core business have brought, door-to-door delivery continues to provide an essential civic function, particularly when around one-third of the households in the country still do not have broadband service. Moreover, some functions that the mail provides, such as the delivery of medicines, seem unlikely candidates for an electronic replacement.
"We have a need for a multi-tiered communications and transportation network in a sophisticated post-industrialized society," she said. "But multi-tiered does not mean that everything lives in the cloud. Multi-tiered means that you have layers from the cloud on down to what's really on the ground. And you have to protect what you have on the ground."
About the Author
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here .
About the author:
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.
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