Why do some postal workers become so disgruntled? “Because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. There’s never a letup. It’s relentless,” ranted Newman on “Seinfeld.” Classic sitcom humor aside, if the US Postal Service is actually overwhelmed by the volume of mail it handles, then perhaps it is time to get with the times and make a change.
That appears to be the direction the USPS wants to take, as it is currently exploring ways in which the blockchain can be used to upgrade an obsolete system that can best be described as organized chaos. With the help of the consulting firm Swiss Economics, the Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has published a report enumerating the many applications of the blockchain. The report breaks down how the technology could impact four areas: financial services, identity services, device management, and supply chain management.
As far as financial services are concerned, the USPS is kicking around the idea of developing its own cryptocurrency that would tentatively be called “Postcoin.” This in-house digital currency could help to alleviate problems with international money transfers and also make it easier to streamline existing resources. The OIG report reads: “The flexibility and convenience associated with the Postcoin could potentially allow the expansion of electronic money transfer services to anyone in the world.” Expanding its operations seems like a no-brainer for the Postal Service.
Another way the USPS might be looking to branch out is with the Internet of Things and how it would affect logistics. “Imagine if postal vehicles and sorting equipment could manage their own tracking, monitoring, and maintenance,” the OIG report says. “For example, a vehicle could monitor the performance of its brake pads, determine when one is about to wear out, find out if that part is still under warranty, create a contract with the manufacturer to install a replacement part, and then pay for the brake pad and service–all autonomously.”
All of that falls within the parameters of the blockchain. What’s more, the OIG report estimated the USPS could cut maintenance costs by roughly 7% if such a mechanism were used to connect their network of delivery trucks. A recent federal audit revealed the USPS annually wastes millions of dollars because of glaring inefficiencies in its vehicle maintenance. As evidenced by the OIG’s findings, one possible solution to this problem could very well be the blockchain.
Furthermore, the USPS claims it processes and delivers 509 million pieces of mail on a daily basis. That is no small sum. The OIG report explains how the blockchain could help the monitoring of the supply chain by embedding parcels with sensors that could keep track of their chain of custody while also executing smart contracts for payment and customs clearance. The report reads, “Using blockchain to manage interactions between these different entities could speed up shipments, particularly international ones.”
Expansion and efficiency. That’s what the blockchain can do for the USPS. As someone who has had to wade through long, labyrinthine lines at the post office which make the DMV’s service look like a fast food restaurant by comparison, I can honestly say I’d like to see the Postal Service implement the technology. All that remains is the USPS giving the blockchain its final stamp of approval.