Saturday, August 07, 2010

Scan to Post Office idea

Problem solving is just fun as an exercise and it seems to me that it's useless for me to work puzzles--man-made problems--as I'm just not good at them, and so hate puzzles, but I love real-world problems.

And the US Postal Service is in the news a lot these days about huge losses, as they try to adjust to the changes brought on by the Information Revolution, where people just don't physically mail as much these days, and I came up with a simple idea--which I have sent to them--which is to allow people to scan a letter at one post office, which is printed out, put into an envelope and physically mailed out from another, closer to the letter's destination.

So the idea simply removes physical transport of the letter between post offices, having it go through cyberspace instead to then be printed out and delivered like a normal letter.

And you may think, why bother? Why can't someone just email or fax the info then?

What if they can't, for any number of reasons? Like not giving their email address? Or not having one for the destination? Or not having a fax number, or not having someone who can accept email or faxes?

Or even better, what if they need a postmark date on the letter? Or proof of delivery?

Problem solving can be about abstracting benefits, and if you think that getting a letter from the postal service is just about the information in the letter, then yeah, email covers that, but if you say, but wait, there's more! Then you can see the postal service gives BENEFITS beyond just the information within a letter, like a postmark date.

Postal services then need to shift in the new world by figuring out all the benefits they give, like the postmark date. I'm sure there are many others that are not covered by things like email and fax.

What I'd like would be to be able to mail a payment for a bill where I can't do that payment online in this way, where I go to the post office and scan in the bill, so that I could avoid late fees or worrying about whether or not the letter would make it on-time. Oh, with that variant on the idea, you'd buy a postal money order--probably with a debit or credit card--for the the amount of the bill, and your bill would be scanned to the closest post office to its destination, printed out, and a money order printed out with it, and inserted along with it to be physically mailed to its destination.

The postal service then saves money on physical transportation of the mail, and can charge full price for the cost of the service, which can be a benefit to consumers, who need a physical letter to arrive fast.

And that is a problem solving exercise for the postal service.

And as it IS an exercise I'm not saying it's THE answer, but I think it's worth putting out there along with whatever other ideas are floating around.

Note, any postal service in the world, of course, can use the idea. It's open source!

Which means free as long as I'm given attribution as the source. Though hey, if someone else had it before, good for that person! It's not like it's a complicated idea, but at least at this point as far as I know, it's an idea original to me.

And I say, real world problems are lot more fun than man-made puzzles.

James Harris