Sunday, June 22, 2014

Postal Service Explores Sensors, Data Collection Via 'Vehicles, Mailboxes, Machines, Letter Carriers'

    The U.S. Postal Service is seeking a company to help develop a program called The Internet of Postal Things. The Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC), part of the Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), is looking for a supplier "who possesses expertise and critical knowledge of the Internet of Things, data strategy and analytics, and the Postal Service’s operations, infrastructure, products and services."  The OIG is exploring ways for the Postal Service to benefit from the technology that provides "virtually unlimited opportunities to collect and process data from any device, infrastructure, machine and even human beings."
    The idea was first raised at a January 28, 2014 meeting sponsored by the OIG and the Universal Postal Union. The "Internet of Things" concept is defined in the documents accompanying the OIG's solicitation as:
[T]he ability to embed sensors and other data collection technologies into physical objects, infrastructures, and the surroundings in which people live and businesses operate – is one of the latest technology revolutions that are affecting the nature of business.  
The OIG acknowledges the issue of privacy and asks that respondents have "appropriate knowledge to assess the impact of privacy and transparency policies on the design of data strategies is also requested."
    The documents note that the collection of data is nothing new for the Postal Service, and that the new technology will supplement and enhance the information already collected in various ways:
The U.S. Postal Service has always been a major creator of large datasets – from mail origin/destination information to quality of service data, and letter mail scans.   
The application of sensors and other data collection technologies to the various components of the postal infrastructure (vehicles, mailboxes, machines, letter carriers etc.), combined with powerful software and analytical tools, could help the Postal Service bring data management to the next level. It would create new rich data sources that could help the Postal Service improve operational performance, customer service, create new products and services, and support more efficient decision-making processes. The “Internet of Postal Things” could also have a positive spillover effect on other adjacent non-postal sectors, as the information collected by and for the Postal Service could be useful to others[.]
    The contract for the research and reporting for the Internet of Postal Things project is expected to be less than $100,000. The timeline calls for the work to be completed with various presentations and possibly a white paper on the subject before the end of 2014.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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