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What is Transportation Messaging?

Bob Schimek
Posted by Bob Schimek Senior Director of Postal Affairs Thursday, May 31, 2018 - 18:13

Schimek applies his 26-plus years of mailing industry experience to provide product management and strategic direction for Quadient’s mailing business, formerly known as Satori Software. As Senior Director of Postal Affairs for Quadient, Bob Schimek serves as primary liaison between Quadient and USPS on technical matters affecting the company’s mailing solutions, which include CASS and PAVE certified software, integrated 48-month NCOALink processing and post-sort solutions. 

Customer Experience Update
What is Transportation Messaging?

To best answer this questions requires taking a couple of steps back to provide some needed context.  A couple of years ago the Postal Service™ established the NOCC – National Operations Command Center.  The Postal Service has divided the United States into seven districts (Northeast, Capital Metro, Eastern, Great Lakes, Southern, Western, and Pacific) and each district has a Vice President of Operations.  Each district has a NOCC and it is used to communicate and coordinate the flow of mail through all the Postal Service processing plants.  Note, there is also an eighth NOCC located at USPS Headquarters in Washington DC. 

The NOCCs provides real-time monitoring of mail processing within each district and allows them to see and communicate what is going on within and across districts.  The NOCC is used as a tool to identify facilities that are at risk of not meeting service standards and machines that are not meeting planned operations, which can include throughput, run hours, and connectivity.  This information is refreshed every 15 minutes and provides a real-time status of processing operations across the entire United States.  

In addition to being able to monitor the status of individual processing facilities and machines, the NOCC has the ability to monitor the flow of mail between districts and processing facilities.  It has the ability to track the status of flights that are carrying mail and know if they are on-time, delayed, or possibly even cancelled. 

Since the NOCC was initially deployed, the Postal Service has GPS enabled all of the trailers they use to move mail between processing facilities via surface transportation.  This GPS information gives the NOCCs the ability to see what trucks will be showing up early, on-time, late, or critically late.  This helps them to better manage the yard, dock doors, and more appropriately staff processing facilities and schedule processing equipment based on the mail they know will be arriving.  Any truck arriving critically late can be given priority in yard over a truck that is showing up early.  The obvious goal is to get it parked at the dock as quickly as possible and get the mail unloaded and moved to the appropriate processing equipment to try and prevent service standards from being missed. 

The NOCC has become an extremely valuable tool for the Postal Service to ensure mail that is at risk of missing service standards, regardless of the cause, can be identified and given priority and attention that is needed.  

All this additional visibility is allowing the Postal Service to do predictive workflow planning.  Essentially predictive workflow planning is determining the optimal amount of equipment, sort schemes, and labor that will be need to process the mail based on what is known about the quantity, type, and status of the mail that will be showing up.  While this is helping the Postal Service to balance reducing labor hours while also maintain or improving service standards, there is still a significant amout of mail that the Postal Service does not have visibility into.  This would be all the mail that is being transported and/or dropped shipped by the mailing industry.  

Having visibility into all of the mail showing up on industry transportation could benefit the mailing industry and allow the Postal Service to extend the benefits that they are currently taking advantage of with their own transportation.  Improved yard management, knowing if a truck is going to be arriving early, on-time, or late for it’s scheduled appointment.  Possibly automatic check-in when a truck arrives at a processing facility.  Better dock management and staffing to reduce wait times for unloading.  Better predictive workflow planning based on knowing the type, sortation, and quantity of mail that is arriving on industry trucks.  Obviously there are some clear win/win scenarios for the mailing industry and the Postal Service.  

In April 2018, the mailing industry took the first step to help enable these benefits.  In the Idealliance® Mail.dat® 18-1 specification, which the Postal Service started supporting on April 8, 2018, several new files were added to enable transportation messaging across the mail supply chain.  This would include communication between industry partners but could also be used to communicate much of the same information that the NOCC’s are using for their internal postal transportation.  This initial release of transportation messaging probably will not see a live implementation.  However, it has served an important purpose, which is to get the dialog between the mailing industry and Postal Service started.  There will be a lot of additional work that will be taking place to better define use cases and required data elements.   Ultimately transportation messaging could be the next big step forward to further optimize the end to end mail supply chain, providing benefits and cost savings for both the mailing industry and the Postal Service.