The US Postal Service is considering dropping the number of postal delivery days from six to five.  The only problem with this idea is not going far enough.

What’s the right delivery frequency?  I’d suggest starting with weekly deliveries.  This would not significantly degrade the quality of service.   Most mail is not time-critical.  Larger items that are time sensitive could be handled just as well by services like UPS and FedEx.  For short messages, we have telephones, email, IM, SMS, or, for those who want to drag along, fax machines.

Physical mail should not be protected as if it were still the only or even the best form of long-distance communication.  It’s one option among many and neither needs nor deserves the level of subsidy and protection it receives.  More, as recent losses have demonstrated, it simply can’t afford to operate at these levels.

It’s time to allow the postal service to adjust to current realities.  Congress needs to drop the requirement for daily delivery and the USPS needs to respond with more than a minor restructuring.  These services have their place and can be profitable, but not if they remain stuck in the past.

Transitional Services

January 7, 2009

While preparing a post on the topic of transitional services, I found out that someone else had already done a great job of introducing the topic.  Mike McDerment of Freshbooks gave this definition:

Transitional Services are services that facilitate a user’s transition from one platform to the next – or at the least, ease their pain.

Before going on, I’d recommend you read the rest of his post.  For Freshbooks, their transitional service was offering paper invoices as an adjunct to their core tool of providing online invoicing.  It made it easy for users and companies to shift to the online system while making the old process (paper invoices) even easier than before.  That’s the best sort of transitional tool.  Make the old easier.  Smooth the transition to the new.  Don’t leave people behind in the process.

This is precisely the service Postful has been able to offer to a number of other sites (many too small to either efficiently handle their own print production or outsource).  We let them shift to a digital workflow while making it easy for users who still prefer or need paper.

By doing so, we have no illusions about print returning to it’s central role in communication.  But we do believe that, like any worthwhile transition, this one will be accelerated and eased by not making it an all-or-nothing decision.

While billions of documents are still printed and mailed every day, the information that composes those documents is increasingly stored on the web.  Providing a bridge between that data and print output is a huge task and offers equally large opportunities.

More, as we develop these processes for print, we’re building the tools that will be needed to help the rest of the manufacturing sector integrate with the computing cloud.  Print is just the first of the these physical processes to make the transition.  When the wave hits the rest of the manufacturing sector, we can look forward to a surge of innovation which promises to make the next decade a very interesting time.

Less Paper

January 6, 2009

Xerox’s Francois Ragnet recently released a whitepaper contrasting the goal of a fully paperless office with the idea of focusing on using less paper.  We enthusiastically embrace both goals, but agree with Francois that the place to start is with less paper.

Too many efforts at creating paperless offices have forced an all-or-nothing decision.  By pushing organizations to make a single large leap, costs are vastly increased and change becomes disruptive.  Internal opposition often stops such projects before the implementation is complete.

More, for the moment, paper remains a valuable tool for communication and is still essential for reaching certain parts of the population.  Given that, the real question is how best to build hybrid workflows.  How can we keep the advantages of paper while transitioning to digital documents and tools?

Obviously, there is no single answer.  There are a number of pieces that are still developing rapidly.  Huge improvements are yet to be made in everything from document management systems to digital readers and portable devices.

Services like Postful can provide one piece of the puzzle by allowing a fundamentally digital workflow to easily output physical documents.  For users who still wish to use paper, this can provide a better experience than even a traditional paper-only process. All users are left better off rather than having some left behind.

The key concept is that a digital document is not tied to a particular output format.  A document can be viewed by one user as an email, by another as a printed letter, and by another as a series of SMS messages.  The medium isn’t the message.

Such systems can take into account the preferences of all users and do so in a way that maximizes the advantages of the digital core.  It allows for a smoother transition and more useful final result.

And, while we all keep working towards the paperless office, check out Francois’ whitepaper for some great ideas on simply using less paper.