GB2443213A - Coded indicia for postal item - Google Patents

Coded indicia for postal item Download PDF

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Publication number
GB2443213A
GB2443213A GB0620485A GB0620485A GB2443213A GB 2443213 A GB2443213 A GB 2443213A GB 0620485 A GB0620485 A GB 0620485A GB 0620485 A GB0620485 A GB 0620485A GB 2443213 A GB2443213 A GB 2443213A
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GB
United Kingdom
Prior art keywords
postal
item
mail
data
system
Prior art date
Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Withdrawn
Application number
GB0620485A
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GB0620485D0 (en
Inventor
John Russell Kitchen
Norman Edward Parker
Anthony William King
Current Assignee (The listed assignees may be inaccurate. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the list.)
Royal Mail Group PLC
Original Assignee
Royal Mail Group PLC
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Application filed by Royal Mail Group PLC filed Critical Royal Mail Group PLC
Priority to GB0620485A priority Critical patent/GB2443213A/en
Publication of GB0620485D0 publication Critical patent/GB0620485D0/en
Publication of GB2443213A publication Critical patent/GB2443213A/en
Application status is Withdrawn legal-status Critical

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Classifications

    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B07SEPARATING SOLIDS FROM SOLIDS; SORTING
    • B07CPOSTAL SORTING; SORTING INDIVIDUAL ARTICLES, OR BULK MATERIAL FIT TO BE SORTED PIECE-MEAL, e.g. BY PICKING
    • B07C1/00Measures preceding sorting according to destination
    • B07C1/02Forming articles into a stream; Arranging articles in a stream, e.g. spacing, orientating
    • B07C1/04Forming a stream from a bulk; Controlling the stream, e.g. spacing the articles
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06KRECOGNITION OF DATA; PRESENTATION OF DATA; RECORD CARRIERS; HANDLING RECORD CARRIERS
    • G06K19/00Record carriers for use with machines and with at least a part designed to carry digital markings
    • G06K19/06Record carriers for use with machines and with at least a part designed to carry digital markings characterised by the kind of the digital marking, e.g. shape, nature, code
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/08Logistics, e.g. warehousing, loading, distribution or shipping; Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement or balancing against orders
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07BTICKET-ISSUING APPARATUS; FARE-REGISTERING APPARATUS; FRANKING APPARATUS
    • G07B17/00Franking apparatus
    • G07B17/00185Details internally of apparatus in a franking system, e.g. franking machine at customer or apparatus at post office
    • G07B17/00435Details specific to central, non-customer apparatus, e.g. servers at post office or vendor
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07BTICKET-ISSUING APPARATUS; FARE-REGISTERING APPARATUS; FRANKING APPARATUS
    • G07B17/00Franking apparatus
    • G07B17/00016Relations between apparatus, e.g. franking machine at customer or apparatus at post office, in a franking system
    • G07B17/00024Physical or organizational aspects of franking systems
    • G07B2017/0004Determining the location of mailpieces outside apparatus
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07BTICKET-ISSUING APPARATUS; FARE-REGISTERING APPARATUS; FRANKING APPARATUS
    • G07B17/00Franking apparatus
    • G07B17/00185Details internally of apparatus in a franking system, e.g. franking machine at customer or apparatus at post office
    • G07B17/00435Details specific to central, non-customer apparatus, e.g. servers at post office or vendor
    • G07B2017/00443Verification of mailpieces, e.g. by checking databases
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07BTICKET-ISSUING APPARATUS; FARE-REGISTERING APPARATUS; FRANKING APPARATUS
    • G07B17/00Franking apparatus
    • G07B17/00459Details relating to mailpieces in a franking system
    • G07B17/00467Transporting mailpieces
    • G07B2017/00475Sorting mailpieces
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07BTICKET-ISSUING APPARATUS; FARE-REGISTERING APPARATUS; FRANKING APPARATUS
    • G07B17/00Franking apparatus
    • G07B17/00459Details relating to mailpieces in a franking system
    • G07B17/00508Printing or attaching on mailpieces
    • G07B2017/00572Details of printed item
    • G07B2017/0058Printing of code

Abstract

A coded indicia 505, for use on a postal item, includes data associated with: the identification of the sender's account with the postal service; the identification of the consignment associated with the postal item; and a unique identification of the postal item. The data may be used to track and report on the postal items. A postal sorting system is also provided to reroute postal items based upon the flow of postal items in the sorting system.

Description

POSTAL SYSTEMS

Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to postal systems, particularly to improvements in the tracking of postal items, and information exchange between postal services and their customers.

Background of the Invention

Mail can be in many different forms and can come from many different sources. For example, a large proportion of mail produced is in the form of letters, or flats'. Other types of postal item are also processed, such as parcels and postcards etc. A postal authority is required to deliver these mail items according to a specific product's criteria bought by the customer of that postal authority. There are numerous products available to customers, which provide a specific service that aims to fit in with the customer's requirements.

The term customer' is defined in this application as any entity, small or large, that purchases a delivery service from the postal authority in order to deliver a postal item to a specified destination or addressee. A customer may vary from a large Mailing House that produces on behalf of a client thousands of postal items a day to be sent across the whole country, and large companies who need to send out billing and account information for a large group of customers, down to small to medium enterprise (SME) companies who send out regular but smaller amounts of mail for their clientele and even individuals who wish to post a letter to a friend.

For example, a mailing house may create a large volume of mail that includes product advertising that is aimed at specific list of consumers. The consumers in the list are chosen based on either a set of criteria collected in data warehouses operated by the mailing houses, or by data provided by the Mailing Houses Customer or consumer marketing companies who collect the data on behalf of the companies who are advertising their products.

Other examples of customers include, for example, banking institutions, credit card companies and utility companies. Taking the example of a bank or credit card company, statements are sent out to all customers at regular intervals, resulting in an extremely large volume of mail. Further, cash or credit cards and associated PIN (Personal Identification Number) are also sent out, which require a certain level of security associated with the mailing procedure. In the case of utility companies, regular invoices and account details are forwarded to millions of consumers every month as well as return payment being sent back to the utility companies from the consumer.

Each type of customer has specific important criteria associated with the delivery of their mail which they would like to ensure is maintained. Some examples of the criteria important to the customer may include, for example, the speed of delivery, the accuracy of the delivery method, the overall quality of service of the method of mailing, how it was delivered, when it was delivered and the security of the postal item throughout the mailing process.

A mailing house, for example, maintains a database of consumer records, such as addresses, in order to forward relevant mail-shots to specific individuals. If the address database is not accurate or up-to-date, unnecessary cost arises whereby mail is sent to incorrect or non-existent addresses, or sent to the same recipient at the same address twice due to slight variations in the address. Therefore, a mail house would like to reduce the costs associated S with incorrect addressing information.

The process of preparing these vast databases of customer data involves the mailing house or originating customer collecting data on individuals that are targeted in their current mailing scheme, gathering the data and organising it so it can be used to provide a list of potential targets for the current mailing scheme. However, if the address data is ultimately incorrect, time and money is wasted producing the mail item or a potential customer is lost.

If a mailing house, or indeed any other customer, is using incorrect address data, this can have a significant impact on the operational efficiency of the postal authority. For example, in the case where the address provided is incorrect in the sense that the recipient does not reside at the associated address, the postal authority may spend time in attempting to track down and forward the postal item to the correct recipient, or spend time in returning the postal item back to the original sender. In the case of incorrect addresses being printed on postal items in terms of insufficient information or errors in the data, the postal authority may need to spend time in attempting to deduce the correct address from the information provided. In each case, the source of the problem, i.e. the database holding the incorrect information, is not rectified resulting in the problem reoccumng time and time again. e

Even if the address data maintained by a mailing house is correct, there are other problems associated with direct mailing. Although the mailing house will have compiled a list of targeted recipients based on customer data or third-party databases, the mailing house may have no information as to how the targeted recipients are likely to react to direct mail, either in general or to the type of direct mail being sent by the mailing house. In extreme cases, a recipient may opt out of receiving direct mail altogether, but most recipients dislike only certain types of direct mailing, and may respond to other types.

Another problem with direct mailing, particularly where a reply envelope is sent, is that the entity handling the replies cannot accurately predict the resources needed to handle the replies. Some direct mailings may elicit an unexpectedly large number of replies, others very few.

Credit card companies forward new credit cards to their own customers, or to new customers, at regular intervals. This requires additional security ensuring I S that the card is traceable throughout the entire process of production of the postal item to delivery. Although it is known to have a product such as signed for', which require the recipient to sign for each individually received postal item, without being able to trace individual postal items throughout the postal system it is not possible to determine where any potential security flaws have occurred. That is, the system only informs the customer that the delivery process was successful and, in the case of an unsuccessful delivery, does not provide full details of the entire process enabling the customer or Postal Service provider to deduce what went wrong, how it went wrong and how to fix the problem. With a product such as signed for' only a one-dimensional service is available that provides feedback to the customer of when and where the mail was delivered. It is not possible for the customer to request additional information concerning other potentially relevant information such as the route, what else was delivered at that time from the same company etc. In the example of a SME company, it may be necessary to provide information to clients based on documents received in the post. This information may be time dependent and so needs to be acted upon within a certain deadline. Therefore, a problem may arise when mail is received late at the SME, for example, several days after the sender has sent it. In this situation, the SME is not able to determine how to solve the problem of the mail arriving late other than to go back to the sender and request they investigate. Therefore, the sender is not able to rectify the problem or even identify where in the delivery system the problem is occurring.

Royal Mail (RTM) provides database services such as: -PAF data which records current valid addresses within the UK -PIF data which adds postcode and delivery point data to PAF data -Postzon data which links postcode data to other data such as geographical area.

These database services are licensed to customers for managing their mailing lists, but Royal Mail cannot currently determine whether the recipient address on a mail item has been checked against PAF/PIF data.

Another problem relates to a lack of information about delivery addresses.

Some postal customers delivering resalable goods through the mail find that there is a high incidence of loss of those goods to specific addresses, postal areas, or types of address. For example, deliveries to communal apartments may be prone to theft. As an extreme measure, such customers may refuse to send such goods to certain addresses or areas, based on previous reported losses. However, these customers are unable accurately to determine which addresses pose a high risk.

Another problem relates to non-payment of invoices or accounts, which can be paid by cheque through the post. A final reminder may cross with a cheque in the post, so that the reminder is unnecessary and possibly irritating to the recipient. A similar problem occurs when debt recovery action is commenced when a cheque has already been sent. Conversely, a non-payer may sometimes attempt to evade a debt recovery action by claiming that the cheque is in the post'. The debt recovery agent cannot disprove this statement and therefore discontinues the action.

Further, the postal authority also has specific criteria that are important to it in order to maintain an efficient and viable service. For example, the postal authority would ideally like to be able to receive the correct fees for every piece of mail that is associated with a particular service provided, as well as be able to monitor the processing of postal items from the point of acceptance through to delivery.

In current systems, there can be a mismatch between the amount of mail the customer says it is dispatching to the postal authority and the actual amount of mail handed over. For example, when a mailing house produces a batch of mail for delivery by the postal authority a docketing system is used. The docketing system is a paper system that tells the postal authority how many postal items are being handed over by the customer for delivery. It is not uncommon for there to be a mismatch between the number of items supplied and the number of items listed on the docket. This may be, for example, because of a delay in the print cycle of the postal items during production at the mail house. The mail house may then include the missing' postal items in a later batch of postal items handed over to the postal authority thus resulting in another mismatch between the docket and the actual consignment. Also, due to the large number of postal items being produced, it may not always be possible to give accurate information on the exact number of postal items being dispatched to the postal authority for delivery. These inaccuracies can result in overcharging or conversely lost revenues for the postal authority.

Further, the disparity of information requires the customer to spend time tallying up what has actually been produced and the information on the dockets.

Royal Mail Group plc provide a system called E*pro, which enables customers to detail their consignments in an electronic format online.

Although this system allows customers to reduce the amount of paperwork, the problems of tallying up the information with actual consignments and lost revenue due to incorrect information are not solved. Both the paper based and electronic based docketing systems rely on a summary volume of mail being stated on each line of the order: this is not checked by Royal Mail except on a sample basis.

Courier services monitor the delivery of parcels from their point of pickup to delivery. Monitoring is carried out by the courier applying a unique code to the parcel at the pickup point and scanning the code at specific points throughout the supply chain process, often with a manual scanner. This system works for postal items such as parcels due to the relatively small volume of parcels (with respect to the volume of regular flat postal items) that are required to be tracked, and the increased charge applied to use such a service to cover the cost of tracking. The system employed by parcel tracking services is too slow and cumbersome for monitoring a large number of individual postal items, such as letters or flats'.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) have introduced a service that monitors individual postal items by using a tracking system that applies a 31 digit, 4 state barcode to the postal item. The reading of this code at various points in the supply chain enables USPS to trace the performance of the service at an individual item level attributed to a specific customer. However, the customer is required to expressly request this service in advance for a specified number of postal items in order to use it. Therefore, if a customer suddenly realises there was an error in the delivery of a certain postal item, and has not already included that postal item as part of the service, they are not able to retrieve any information regarding that postal item. Also, the data provided is in a raw data format which then requires the customer, or a third party, to decipher and formulate into coherent information. Further, the information provided within the code is limited.

Example of a Known Postal System As an example of the processes carried out by a postal authority, Royal Mail Group plc provides a distribution and delivery service involving, for example, the following schemes.

Figure IA is a schematic illustration of the various components of a known postal system, such as that which has been operated successfully for many years by the Royal Mail on behalf of the United Kingdom postal authorities.

As shown in Figure 1A, collection and delivery of postal items (such as letters, postcards, parcels etc.) in the Postal System I is split into three general stages, a collection stage 3, a sorting stage 5, and a delivery stage 7.

At the collection stage 3 postal items are collected from a variety of different sources, such as from post boxes 9 distributed around the country, from post offices 11 where the postal items have been handed by the public to the postal authorities, and direct from businesses 13.

The collected postal items are gathered together at local nodes of the postal system and are then sent to one or more district collection hubs 15 where postal items from a number of local nodes are gathered together.

In the second stage 5 of the postal system, all the items Sent to the district collection hubs 15 are sent to a so-called "outward" mail centre 1 7 for sorting.

The outward mail centre 17 is so named because it deals with postal items that are on their way from collection to the wider postal system network. The outward mail centre 17 may also receive outgoing mail directly from licensed mail carriers.

At the outward mail centre 17, postal items are sorted into those items which are destined for delivery in designated districts local to the outward mail centre (local items), and those which are destined for delivery to other, more remote districts (remote items).

Local items are finely sorted (for example into items for particular towns and/or streets) and are then sent on from the outward mail centre to appropriate local delivery offices 19 for delivery to the postal item addressees in the third stage 7 of the postal system I. Remote items are roughly sorted (for example into items for particular regions of the country) and are sent onto the appropriate inward mail centre 21 for each region of the country. At the inward mail centre 21 (so named because it deals with postal items that are coming in from the wider postal network prior to delivery) the items received from outward mail centres 17, and from elsewhere, are finely sorted into, for example, items for particular towns and/or streets. Although the outward mail centre 17 and the inward mail centre 21 are identified are different types of entity, these will normally each comprise a mail distribution centre handling both outward and inward mail. ii

The third and final stage of the postal system I is the delivery stage 7 where postal items sorted by the inward mail centre 21 are transferred to local delivery offices 23 for delivery to the postal item addressees. At this stage of the process the local items sorted by the outward mail centre 17 are also delivered by the local delivery offices to the item addressees.

Figure 2 is a schematic illustration of the various processes that occur when postal items are sorted at one of the aforementioned mail centres for example the outward mail centre 17.

As shown in Figure 2, postal items of a variety of different types arrive at the mail centre from the collection hub 15. The arriving postal items 25 can be roughly split into meter pouch items 27 which have been pre-sorted into class pouches (red pouches for first class mail, green pouches for second class mail) by customers, collection items 29 which have been collected from post boxes 9 and post offices 11, account items 31 which have been received from customers with Royal Mail accounts, and priority service items 33 which have an additional payment for one of the many different types of priority service.

Typically, meter pouch items 27 are those that have been collected from businesses in the collection stage 3 of the postal system shown in Figure 1.

Account items are typically from businesses that send out a large amount of correspondence, for example direct mailing companies. Account items are often known as PPI mail (or Printed Postage Impression mail) due to the fact that the envelopes used are usually pre-printed with the appropriate postage.

Collection items 29 will typically not have been sorted for class of service (e.g. 1st class or 2nd class), or for size of mail. In the next stage of the sorting process, postal items in meter pouches 27 are transferred to a meter table 35 where the postal items are manually removed from the pouches and either transferred to an Integrated Mail Processor 37 (known as an IMP) or direct to a primary sortation facility 39 for further processing.

Collection postal items 29, once received by the mail centre, 17 are transferred to the IMP 37 for further processing. Account postal items 31 may be passed to a revenue protection facility 41 before also being passed to the IMP 37.

In the revenue protection facility 41, bags and/or trays of postal items received from account customers are weighed and/or counted, and the read weight or count is checked against a bag weight printed by the customer on a ticket attached to the bag. The charge billed to the customer's account can be adjusted in the event of any discrepancy between the weight and/or count declared by the customer and the weight and or count read by the revenue protection facility.

Priority service postal items 33 are kept separate from the remainder of the postal items and are passed to a secunty locker 43 where they are sorted manually prior to being dispatched at a security despatch station 45.

As mentioned above, all of the collection items 29, some or all of the meter pouch items 27, and the account items 31 are passed to the IMP 37 for sorting.

S

Any mail unsuitable for sorting via the IMP 37 is rejected and sent to the primary sortation facility 39.

The operation of the IlvIP 37 will be described later, but at this juncture it suffices to mention that the IMP operates (for those items which can be automatically sorted): (i) to detect the class of the postal items (i.e. whether first or second class); (ii) to cancel postage applied to the postal items; (iii) to apply two machine readable codes, one of which uniquely identifies the item within the sorting stage 5 and the other of which comprises a route code to aid in onward sorting (iv) to sort the postal items by destination.

Any items which cannot be processed by the IMP 37 (or meter pouch items 27 not routed via the IMP), for example because they have an unusual shape or because the address cannot be read, are passed to the primary sortation facility 39 where they are fine sorted by hand into mail for local regions and rough sorted into mail for remote regions. The items for remote regions are then passed to a secondary sortation facility 47 where they are more finely sorted.

Once the postal items have been sorted, either by the IMP 37 or by the primary and secondary sortation facilities 39,47, they are passed to a despatch facility 49 where they are despatched to local delivery facilities or to an inward mail centre 21 such as that described above with reference to Figure 1.

Figure 3 provides an illustrative schematic view of the various components of the IMP 37. It is not essential that these components are integrated; they may be provided as discrete components, and some may be omitted altogether.

In a first step 51, the IMP 37 is manually loaded with postal items with obviously outsize (or otherwise unsuitable) postal items being rejected by the individuals loading the machine.

The postal items entering the IMP pass up a conveyor belt to a culler 53 where the postal items are spun in a rotating drum. The sides of the drum are slotted so that postal items that are suitable for automatic processing fall through the slots. Postal items that are too large for automatic processing are rejected (in step 57), in that they move through the drum and fall out the end.

These outsize, or otherwise unsuitable, items are collected and taken to the primary sortation facility 39 for hand sorting. Typically, the IMP will reject any postal items that have a thickness that is greater than 6mm or so.

Postal items falling through the slots in the drum in the culler 53 are passed to a facing and classing unit 55 where the items are appropriately orientated, and the postal class of the items is determined. Again, any items which cannot be classed, or which cannot be faced are rejected (in step 57) and passed to the primary sortation facility 39 for hand sorting.

Correctly faced and classed postal items are then passed to a cancelling unit 59 which cancels postage applied to the items by overprinting the postage with a post mark. Once the postage has been cancelled the items are passed to an OCR device 61 where an image is taken of the address block on the item and an optical character recognition process is employed to attempt to determine the postal code of the address block.

An Address Interpretation (Al) system may be incorporated within the OCR device 61. The A! system applies a set of rules for interpreting destination addresses read from each postal item. A check is made to see if the given address matches the given postal code, and if not, whether the conflict can be resolved based on a pre-determined set of rules.

If the postal code cannot be read for any of these items, the image of the address block may be sent to a remote Manual Data Entry Centre (MDEC) to determine the Postcode and or Address and the items in question are passed to a delay line 63 which sidelines the postal item in question for a predetermined period of time. Whilst a given item is in the delay line, at additional cost to Royal Mail Group, an operator in the MDEC is presented with the image of the address block and that operator is provided with a short period of time to determine and input the correct postcode from the image presented. The correct inputted postcode, once inputted, is assigned to the associated postal item, and the item is then coded (in step 63) and sorted (in step 65).

If the operator cannot identify the correct postcode from the image presented, then the item concerned is rejected (in step 57) and passed to the 20 primary sortation facility 39 for hand sorting.

If the postcode is determined, either by the OCR device 61 or the MDEC, then the identity and route codes are applied to the front of the postal item by a barcoding device in step 63 and the item is sorted in accordance with the applied code in step 65.

As shown in Figure 2, items that have been correctly coded and sorted by the IMP 37 are passed directly to the despatch facility 49 where they are despatched to local delivery facilities or to an inward mail centre 21 such as that described above with reference to Figure 1. The identity code applied by the outward mail centre 17 to an item is transmitted electronically to the inward mail centre 21 to which that item is routed. Hence, the identity codes are shared between outward and inward mail centres, for the purposes of internal tracking and sorting within the second stage 5. However, the identity codes are used entirely for internal routing purposes and the information concerning the routing of mail items is lost once the mail items leave the postal service.

The SmartStamp (RTM) service, provided by Royal Mail Group plc, 1 5 allows a registered user to print postage indicia onto their postal items. The indicia have the capability of holding information associated with the sender and recipient. However, this only allows postal items to be identified as belonging to the associated sender, but does not give the capability of identifying each individual postal item in a unique maimer.

Although the systems described above provide a quick and automatic method of determining correct addresses, if irresolvable incorrect addressing information is provided on the postal item, the postal item may enter the postal system only to be returned to the sender. If the addressing information cannot be resolved automatically, it may sometimes be resolved by manual inspection or guesswork, but only at great cost. If the addressing information cannot be resolved manually and no return address is provided, the postal item will be lost.

Another problem with existing postal systems is that they do not allowing tracking of an exchange of postal items relating to an underlying transaction.

For example, a bank may send a direct mailing inviting the recipient to apply for a loan. The bank does not know whether the recipient has replied to the invitation until the reply is received through the mail. Only then can the bank begin to process the loan application to prepare a loan offer to the recipient.

The loan offer is then sent by mail, but the bank cannot process the loan until the acceptance form is received from the recipient. Hence, the transaction is unnecessarily delayed by the need to receive a written reply through the mail before proceeding to the next step.

Statements of the Invention

According to one aspect of the invention, there is provided coded indicia for use on a postal item, the coded indicia comprising data elements adapted to hold data associated with the identification of the sender's account with the postal service, the identification of the consignment associated with the postal item, and the unique identification of the postal item.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a postal item tracking method for tracking a postal item through a postal system comprising the steps of associating each postal item with a code that uniquely identifies the postal item from any other postal item within the postal system, applying the code to the postal item using a data mark, recording the code in a first database, monitoring postal items at a predetermined monitoring point within the postal system, identifying the postal item by reading the code, and recording within a first database data associated with the monitoring point.

According to another aspect, there is provided a postal item tracking system for tracking a postal item through a postal system, the tracking system comprising code generation means adapted to generate of a code that uniquely identifies the postal item from any other postal item within the postal system; application means adapted to apply the code to the postal item using a data mark; recording means adapted to record the code in a first database; monitoring means adapted to monitor postal items at a predetermined monitoring point within the postal system; identification means adapted to identify the postal item by reading the code, therecording means further adapted to record within the first database data associated with the monitoring point.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a postal item tracking database comprising means to track a postal item using a code that uniquely identifies the postal item from any other postal item within the postal system, the database adapted to receive data from a predetermined monitoring point within the postal system, the data associated with the postal item at the time it is monitored, the database adapted to store the data in data records, the data records being associated with the postal item by the code.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a postal item tracking system comprising production means, communication means and data storage means, the production means comprising printing means for printing data on the postal item, the printing means adapted to produce a unique code associated with the postal item, the communication means adapted to communicate the unique code to the data storage means, the data storage means adapted to provide an electronic file associated with a predetermined group of postal items, the electronic file comprising a list of unique codes for each item within the predetermined group of postal items.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a postal sorting system adapted to provide redirection of a priority postal item, the postal item comprising a unique code associated with the postal item, the code adapted to indicate that the postal item is a priority item, and a redirection means adapted to redirect the postal item upon detection of the code by a detection means.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a postal sorting system adapted to provide rerouting of postal items based on data associated with the flow of postal items within the sorting system, the system comprising a data collection means adapted to collect data associated with the flow of postal items at a predetermined point in the system, a processing means adapted to determine if the flow of postal items is above a predefined threshold, and a rerouting means adapted to reroute postal items at the predetermined point if the flow exceeds the threshold.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a reporting system for reporting data associated with the processing of a postal item within a postal system, said data indicating when and where the postal item was processed, the system comprising a unique code generating means, a monitoring means, a storage means, a detection means and a reporting means, the unique code generating means adapted to apply a unique code to each postal item, the detection means adapted to detect the unique code at predetermined points, the monitoring means adapted to record, in the storage means, upon detection of said postal item by the detection means, information associated with the processing of the postal item in the postal system, the reporting means adapted to provide data to a customer based on the information recorded in the storage means.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a pipeline performance measurement system adapted to be used in a postal system, wherein a postal item within the postal system is identified by a unique code, said postal system comprising detection means adapted to detect the position of the postal item at a predetermined point within the postal system, the postal system further comprising a storage means adapted to store data associated with the position of the postal item based on information received from the detection means, the pipeline performance measurement system adapted to determine, based on the information stored in the storage means, whether the postal item was or was not processed in the postal system according to a predefined measure of quality.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided an address monitoring system adapted for use in a postal system, the address monitoring system comprising address identification means, the address identification means adapted to identify the address printed on the postal item, determination means adapted to determine if the address is an invalid address, and correction means adapted to rectify any invalidity.

In another aspect of the present invention the postal service provides a series of rules for the automatic identification of mail through its network. These rules detail what information is to be provided and how it should be presented on the envelope and where appropriate how the supporting electronic mailing manifest' should be created and transmitted to the postal service. The mailer then applies these rules during the creation of the mail item. For bulk mail discounted products the mailer transmits an electronic mailing manifest' detailing the unique identification placed upon each mail item. The mailing manifest provides the mailer with additional information-related benefits which can not be achieved from relying wholly on the unique identification of the mail item.

Unique identification of the mail item to the postal service may be applied automatically, by a franking machine or the like, as part of the preparation of the mail item for sending to the postal service. In this case, the address of the mail item need not be communicated to the postal service in advance, but other information typically entered on a franking machine, such as postal class, delivery region (national/international region) and the like, may be communicated to the postal service. The postal service communicates the identifying data to the franking machine, which then applies the machine-readable indicia to the mail item.

According to another aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of tracking a mail item, wherein a sender identifies to a postal service a mail item to be sent through the postal service. Data uniquely identifying the mail item may include the recipient address andlor information, which may be verified by the postal service at this stage. The postal service enters the identity of the mail item in a mail tracking database and replies to the sender with unique identifying data that the sender encodes as machine-readable indicia on the mail item prior to submitting the mail item to the postal service.

The postal service tracks the mail item through a postal delivery network by reading the machine-readable indicia automatically, and notifies the sender (or another party) that the mail item has reached a predetermined point in the network.

In another aspect of the invention, a sender may purchase a pre-paid envelope carrying machine-readable indicia, and may mark on the envelope a recipient address and notification details, such as a mobile telephone number or email address, prior to posting. The postal service reads the machine-readable indicia, which indicate that the envelope is a pre-paid notification mail item, together with the recipient address and notification details, by means of OCR or the like. When the mail item reaches a predetermined point in the mail network as determined by the postal service, such as the recipient address, a notification message is sent according to the notification details e.g. a text message is sent to the mobile number, or an email is sent to the email address.

In another aspect, the present invention provides a mail response tracking method in which a sender sends a mail item including a mail return item, such as a reply envelope, carrying identifying data as indicia that may be machine-readable. The sender may notify the postal service that the mail return item is being sent such that the identifying data are established with the postal service prior to return of the mail return item. The identifying data may have been generated by the postal service prior to the generation of the indicia by the sender, or the identifying data may have been generated by the sender and notified to the postal service. When the mail return item is returned through the postal service, the indicia are read (preferably automatically) by the postal service and the sender is notified by the postal service that the mail return item is being returned, in advance of the mail return item being delivered.

Alternatively, some or all of the party sending the mail item, the party receiving the return mail item and the party receiving the notification may be different entities.

in another aspect, the present invention provides a system for enhanced information exchange between a postal customer and a postal service operator. The postal service operator maintains a postal service database, including address data (such as addresses and postal codes) and data associated with, but not forming part of the address data. The associated data may be historical data concerning previous postal deliveries to the associated address, or status data indicating the deliverable status of the associated address. Alternatively, the associated data may be data derived from external databases, such as socio-economic data referring to the associated address.

The postal customer maintains a recipient database, also including corresponding address data. The address data in the customer's recipient database may be linked to the address data in the postal service operator's database, to enhance information exchange between the customer and the postal service operator.

One application of this information exchange is in address verification; for example, the customer communicates to the postal operator a set of recipient addresses to which mail items are to be sent. The postal operator verifies the recipient addresses against the postal service database. The addresses are verified for accuracy and/or deliverable status. For those addresses that are verified by the postal service, corresponding identifying data is sent to the customer. The customer sends the corresponding mail items to the postal service, each item bearing machine-readable indicia corresponding to the identifying data for that mail item. The indicia are read automatically by the postal service and are used to confirm that the corresponding mail item is deliverable. The identifying data may indicate the address of the intended recipient, which may be reproduced in the corresponding indicia so that the address is read automatically from the indicia without the need to read the address printed on the mail item in alphanumeric characters (i.e. human readable form).

Another application lies in statistical reporting from the postal service to the customer. In this application, the customer sends mail items with machine-readable indicia corresponding to the recipient addresses. The indicia may have been generated from identifying data sent from the postal service to the customer prior to submission of the mail items, or may be generated by the customer autonomously of the postal service, but in such a way as to indicate the recipient address to the postal service. In either case, the postal service reads the indicia automatically and sends information to the customer indicating postal statistics by address. For example, the postal statistics may indicate the time taken to deliver to each address, or which addresses could not be delivered to at all.

Another application lies in address-based statistical reporting from the postal service to the customer based on previous deliveries to recipient addresses, possibly including deliveries made by other customers. For example, the customer may request information on a specified address and the postal service may provide historical information corresponding to that address, such as the proportion of successful past deliveries to that address, or the proportion of deliveries requiring acknowledgement that were acknowledged.

Another aspect of the invention relates to information exchange between the customer and the postal service, independently of the relationship between addresses on a postal service database and a customer's recipient database.

For example, the postal service may notify the customer of the quality of service of a specified set of mailings, such as the percentage delivered successfully, or within a specified time. Billing to the customer may be dependent on such quality of service metrics, so that the customer is issued with a credit for items not delivered, or delivered later than a specified time.

Specific embodiments of the present invention provide an integrated data rich environment that benefits the sender or producer of the mail and the postal service distributing the mail. For example, improved security is provided for individual postal items, such as high value items including credit cards, wherein the postal item is traceable throughout the postal system.

In one specific embodiment, monitoring the service provided to the customer indicates that the service actually provided matches that requested. In addition, this information may be used by the postal service to ensure that the specified service is provided. These advantages may make the revenue checking process more efficient and transparent to customers.

In another specific embodiment, internal diagnostics of the operation of the postal system within the postal service environment are provided to the postal service in order to aid the reduction of bottlenecks and failures due to network fragility.

In yet another specific embodiment, enabling the source of errors to be corrected provides an improved management of customer address databases and reduction in errors.

In yet another specific embodiment, it becomes possible to provide detailed statistical reports on the complete delivery and distribution process of any defined postal item in order to help the customer determine if and what changes are required to improve the delivery process and therefore save costs, increase efficiency etc. Further, the information collected allows the postal service to ensure that the customer is paying for the exact number of postal items that are being processed, as well as ensuring that the postal service obtains the correct payment for processing the correctly identified number of postal items.

Brief Description of the Drawings

Specific embodiments of the present invention will now be described by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which: Figure 1 A is a schematic illustration of the various components of a known postal system; Figure lB illustrates the relationship between invoices, contracts, accounts and legal entities used in a billing loop; Figure IC shows a data flow diagram according to an embodiment of the present invention; Figure ID shows an example system and highlights example points of information collection according to an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 2 is a schematic illustration of the various processes that occur when postal items are sorted at one of the outward mail centres shown in Figure IA; Figure 3 is a schematic illustration of the various components of an IMP such as that shown in Figure 2; Figure 4A is a schematic illustration of a data mark for use in an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 4B is a schematic illustration of the codes used in the data mark of Figure 4A according to an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 5 is a schematic illustration of the process of preparing a postal item and manifest according to an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 6 shows a block diagram of the system architecture according to an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 7 is a schematic illustration of coded indicia for use in an embodiment of the present invention; Figure 8 is a diagram of a first embodiment of the invention; Figure 9 is a diagram of a second embodiment of the invention; Figure lOis a diagram of a third embodiment of the invention; and Figure 11 is a diagram of a fourth embodiment of the present invention.

Coded Indicia -First Embodiment Figure 4A depicts a first embodiment of coded indicia for use as a machine-readable code in embodiments of the invention. The coded indicia 67 is a so-called "four state bar code", and is sometimes referred to as the Royal Mail 4-State Customer Code (RM4SCC). Royal Mail specially developed the RM4SCC for automated mail sorting processes. However, according to this embodiment of the invention, the information stored within the code differs from the information usually stored, as will be explained later.

The RM4SCC is based on 36 barcodes that are capable of representing alphanumeric characters 0 to 9 and A to Z, and start and stop characters "(" and ")" respectively. As shown in Figure 4A, in the barcode a small black bar extends upwards, downwards or in both directions, and any one alphanumeric symbol is encoded by four bars -two of which have an upward extension and two of which have a downward extension.

Figure 4B illustrates in graphical form the bar combinations and corresponding alphanumeric symbols. In Figure 4B, the symbols to the left of the slash represent upward bar extensions and the symbols to the right of the slash represent downward bar extensions. In each case, a plus symbol means that the bar is extended and a minus symbol means that the bar is not extended. The information in the code is encrypted using any suitable technique known in the encryption industry.

Figure 5 shows a schematic illustration of the process of preparing a postal item and electronic manifest. A key element in the process of preparing and delivering postal items is the handover of those items from the customer to the postal delivery service. If, as is usual in current practice, information identifying the supplied postal items to the postal service does not match with the information identifying the postal items received by the delivery service, both parties can incur huge costs in attempting to reconcile the differences.

In this embodiment, a postal item (postal item) 501 has a destination address and addressee information 503 applied to the front face of the postal item 501. Also printed on the front face are the coded indicia 505 in the RM4SCC format.

In this particular embodiment, the RM4SCC includes the following data: Service ID: An identification of the mailing product by which the postal item 501 is to be processed by Royal Mail.

Consignment ID: An identification of the consignment of postal items in which this particular postal item is to be included.

Unique Item JD: A unique reference that enables the postal item to be uniquely identified from all other postal items, possibly in conjunction with other data within the coded indicia.

Account ID: An identification of the customer's account enabling the IS postal service to identify the customer.

Post Code: The Postal Code identifying the area to which the postal item is to be delivered.

Check Digit & Encryption Code: To enable correct decryption of the code, and to ensure correct encryption occurred.

Using this information, a customer prints 507 all their postal items for a particular consignment. When all the postal items are prepared such that the consignment is complete, the mail is physically handed over by the customer to the postal delivery service.

Unique ID By using a combination of an account ID, a consignment ID and a unique ID, each postal item prepared can be uniquely identified from other postal items at any point within the postal system. In particular, the unique code is unique to a particular consignment. As each consignment ID is unique from other consignment IDs, each postal item is uniquely identified.

Manifest generation Prior to handover, the customer prepares an electronic manifest 509 that details all the postal items within each consignment being handed over to the postal service. The electronic manifest can provide information such as, but not limited to: Poster ID: The identification of the poster (customer).

Despatch date: The date that the mail is despatched to the postal delivery service.

Customer Job Reference: A reference number used by the customer to identify the postal item as being part of a particular job.

Service lID: An identification of the mailing service by which the postal item is to be processed by the postal service e.g. posting class, special delivery.

Application: The purpose for which the customer is using the service,

e.g. sending out bank statements.

Consignment ID: An identification of the consignment of postal items in which this particular postal item is to be included.

Account 1D: An identification of the customer's account enabling the postal service to identify the customer.

Format: Identifies the format of the postal item, such as letter, parcel etc. Class: Identifies the level of service the customer has applied to this particular postal item, such as class, 2nd class, priority service etc. Unique item ID: A unique reference that enables the postal item to be uniquely identified from all other postal items in the postal system.

The mail item manifest (electronic manifest) is prepared by the customer during the production of the postal items, and stored in a database accessible by the customer. The information in the electronic manifest is provided by various processes carried out during the production of the postal item, as will be explained in more detail later. The database may be, for example, on the customer premises, or may be located elsewhere and connected by a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN).

Alternatively the customer database may be located remotely from the customer's premises and may be accessible over a wired or wireless network, for example, via the Internet using a secured connection.

Once the manifest is generated 511, it is then transmitted 513 to the postal delivery service. Alternatively, rather than transmitting the manifest, the manifest may be made available to the postal service through the provision of a password, which enables the postal authority to access and retrieve the relevant data.

Handover The arrow indicated as 515 depicts the physical handover of the mail items from the customer to the postal service. The postal service will officially accept these postal items upon receipt of, or access to, the electronic manifest that is associated with the consignments handed over.

In this embodiment, the postal items are handed over to the postal delivery service by the process of collection vehicles belonging to the postal service driving to the premises of the customer and collecting the postal items.

It will be understood that other various methods of handover may occur.

The postal items will be provided to the postal authority in a number of trays or bags, which are then placed into the collection vehicle to be taken to a sorting office for sorting. The postal items may be associated with the corresponding collection vehicle by assigning a unique identity to each tray or bag or to each consignment, and a unique identity to each collection vehicle.

These identities may be provided as machine-readable indicia so that the mail items may be tracked into the collection vehicles and the collection vehicle tracked into the mail sorting centre, Processing of postal items Upon collection from the customer, the postal items are transported to a mail sorting centre. The mail is processed using Integrated Mail Processors ([MPs) wherein the coded indicia are read 51 7. Data read from the postal item is stored 519 in the address interpretation (Al) database 520. The Al system then measures the compliance 521 of the information to see if it complies with rules associated with addresses in its database. Upon determining that the data stored complies with the addressing rules, the data is downloaded 523 from the Al database and forwarded 525 to the main data warehouse 527.

Electronic manifest acceptance and processing Meanwhile, the earlier transmitted electronic manifest is accepted 529 by the postal service. The data in the manifest is loaded 531 into an analysis and reporting database 535 via a data gateway 533. This data is then merged 537 at the main data warehouse with the data received directly from the postal items.

In this manner, it is now possible to easily reconcile the information associated with the postal items provided by the customer with the actual postal items received by the postal service. That is, every physical postal item is identifiable through the detection of that postal item during the physical processing step as well as being identifiable by the listing in the electronic manifest provided by the customer to the postal service.

System architecture A description of the system architecture will now be provided.

Figure 6 shows a block diagram of the system architecture according to this embodiment. Referring to Figure 6, a customer 601 provides information to its client database 603. This information includes addressing and identification information for all their clients, as well as an electronic manifest that identifies all clients who are part of the current mailing pnnt job.

Information for the current mailing print job is forwarded to the print preparation unit 605 that forms part of the mailing operation. The print preparation unit ensures the data is in a format suitable for the printers to be able to print the information. The next two stages involve a print unit 607 for printing the envelopes with the address information and the coded indicia, and an insertion unit 609 for inserting the inserts into the envelope.

The client database 603, print preparation unit 605, print unit 607 and insertion unit 609 all have data output units (604, 606, 608, 610) that provide data associated with the postal item to the main data warehouse 611 via a main data input device 613.

Once the postal items have been prepared, they are handed over to the postal service optionally either through a mail verification process 615 via postal service logistics 616, or a revenue protection process 617.

Alternatively, the revenue protection and mail verification services may be bypassed. At the handover point data is provided to the main data warehouse indicating which mail items have been received.

Various sorting process are carried out on the postal items such as outward machine sorting 619, inward machine sorting 621 and walk sequence machine sorting 623 in order to sort the postal item down to a granularity for delivery by the postal service. Information associated with these sort processes, such as the machinery used to carry out the sorting and the date/time of the sorting, are forwarded to the main data warehouse via data output units (620, 622, 624).

All the information received by the main data input device 613 is recorded in the main data warehouse as data entries against the unique ID of each postal item.

Further sorting of postal items may be carried out by a sequence sortation unit 625, wherein data is forwarded to the main data warehouse using a data output unit 626.

The mail is then passed to postmen for the mail to be delivered to the doorstep 627 of the indicated addressee on the envelope. The coded indicia may be scanned on delivery and fed back via a data output unit 628 to the main data warehouse indicating that the particular postal item has indeed been delivered, and additionally providing a date/time of delivery and a GPS location of the delivery. Providing a scanning unit to each postman enables this. The scanning unit is used to scan the coded indicia. The scanning unit might also includes a GPS system enabling co-ordinates to be uploaded to the main data warehouse along with the delivery data.

If the postal item is undeliverable for any reason, the relevant information is input into the scanner unit indicating the reason for the non-delivery. For example, the addressee may have gone away from the indicated address.

The main data warehouse 611 is connected to a data analysis unit 629, which enables the data within the data warehouse to be analysed accordingto certain specific requirements Therefore, as the postal item is processed by the print, production, handover, sorting and delivery systems, it is tracked using the coded indicia.

At various points during the process, scanners will scan the coded indicia and record a date and time stamp as well as information identifying the point where the scan took place. This information is entered into the main data warehouse alongside the other information associated with that particular postal item.

As each postal item enters, passes through and leaves the system, the data in the main data warehouse is kept up to date with tracking information of each postal item. The data is stored as data entries against the relevant individual postal item using the unique ID code read from the coded indicia on the postal item.

The main data warehouse is a large database that is constantly updated as a continuous flow of postal items enters, passes through and leaves the system. The main data warehouse may be a single data warehouse located in a single location. Alternatively, the main data warehouse may be a combination of smaller data warehouses linked together either locally or remotely using any available technology. In this embodiment, the main data warehouse might be linked with the database of the vehicle-tracking database in order to enable the monitoring of the postal items during the handover of the mail from the customer to the postal service.

Additionally, the main data warehouse is also be linked to both the Al database and the customer's database containing addressing information of their clients. This provides means for addressing data to be directly updated at the source in order to stop repeated errors occurring due to incorrectly addressed data being applied to postal items. If the data within the customer's databases is of a confidential nature, an alternative mechanism for correcting the source data would be to supply the unique ID reference to the customer rather than allowing access to the whole database. In this way, the unique ID reference provides an indication to the customer of the error that has occurred.

The data entry would be identified from the unique ID enabling the customer to retrieve their confidential information in the database and carry out any necessary update, repair or correction work to the source data.

A customer creates a particular print job based on the requirements of the customer's business. For example, the print job may be to provide an updated bank statement to all the customer's clients in addition to providing an advertisement concerning a new available credit card provided by the bank. As previously explained, the customer may themselves have the necessary printing equipment to create the statements, advertisements and envelopes, or may allocate this task to another company specialising in preparing postal items.

A list of the customer's clients is provided as a consignment in an electronic manifest. This consignment list includes the client's names and addresses for this particular consignment. The names and addresses are obtained from the customer's client database. Due to the large number of potential clients, the printing of statements may be carried out in batches, for

S

example, based on the first letter of the client's surname or postal address areas. In this way, a number of different consignments of postal items are produced.

The data in the electronic manifest is passed electronically to the print engine of a printing machine, which then allocates a unique number to each client within that consignment. The electronic manifest is also forwarded to the main data warehouse by any means suitable, such as, for example over a secure WLAN.

The unique number allocated is a sequential number rising in increments of one for each mail piece in the consignment. The allocated unique number is then stored within the electronic manifest against the client information. The printer prints the addressing information in standard typeface as well as the RM4SCC coded indicia on the front face of the envelope. The information in the coded indicia includes the data mentioned above. Further, a code identifying the printer is forwarded to the main data warehouse to be stored against the unique number for that particular postal item.

Further down the production line, an inserter machine inserts the client statement into the envelope as well as inserting any pre-printed advertisement inserts. As the postal item passes through the print production line, the print line control engine currently scans the mail piece for OMR marks to ensure print mailing integrity. Information, such as the location of the production line, the type of machines being used etc, may also be recorded via the Mailing Manifest in the main data warehouse as data entries against the particular postal item.

The postal items are placed into trays or bags and passed over to collection vehicles as explained above.

Mail may be transported to mail sorting centres using collection vehicles.

As explained above, upon receipt of the postal items, they are sorted using various sorting machines depending on the address indicated on the envelope and its intended destination. At each machine, a scanning unit reads the coded indicia and passes information associated with the process back to the main data warehouse for recording as data entries for that particular postal item.

Delivery of the postal item is then carried out as explained above.

Although the above description descnbes monitoring points at specific locations, it will be understood that there may be monitoring points other than those described above. Further, it will be understood that there may be less or more monitoring points than those described above.

The following Table I depicts the information that may be stored with the coded indicia of this embodiment.

Table 1

Section of field Name Definition Size Value Comment Data _________________ ____________________ ___________ ________________________ Customer Account Identifies the 8 Alpha-Related to the Postal Data ID unique account numeric Administration reference between accounting system the posting customer and the Postal Administration __________ Consignment Identifies the 5 Alpha-A list of allocated ID discrete unit of numeric consignment Ids is mailing' from the provided by the Account customer Postal Administration and cycled by the _____________ __________________ _____________________ -____________ poster Postal Unique Identifies a 7 Numeric A sequential count of Service ID unique item the items in each Data within each consignment starting Consignment of a at 0000001' allows particular up to 9,999,999 items Account customer __________ per consignment Product ID Identifies the 2 For a 2 bit size there product of the are 99 potential _______________ item __________ products available Customer Data * Account IdentifIer This contains the account reference used between the postirig customer and the Mail administration.

For example, in the case of mail being delivered by the postal service, this contains the account reference used by the postal service's customer.

* Consignment Identifier This contains an identifier relating to the posting customer's consignment.

For example, in the case of mail being delivered by the postal service, this contains the next' enter in a list of allocated consignment ID provided by the postal service to the posting customer.

Postal Service Data * Unique Identifier Each item is uniquely identified in order to be able to track the item in an automated pipeline.

This tracking mechanism is enabled, for example, by using a

combination of fields within the coded indicia.

A mail piece is uniquely identified as a combination of Account ID', Consignment ID' and Unique ID'. The combination of these three elements will allow a unique identifier for each item of a customer's mailing.

To make printing of the coded indicia as simple as possible for printers, the Unique ID is based on a sequential number starting at 0000001' and incrementing for each new item in a particular Consignment JD.

Product Identifier This field defines the product applied to the mail piece.

Offline processing is carried out to provide any number of services requested by the customer.

For example the following types of services may be provided for the benefit of the customer and/or the postal service.

This embodiment may be realised through the implementation of various applications. For example, one application provides improved security through the ability to trace individual mail items throughout the entire production, processing and delivery elements of the postal system. This is particular useful in the case of, for example, credit card companies who are issuing new credit cards or replacement credit cards to their clients. With this mechanism in place it is possible to trace all credit cards from insertion into postal items up until the point of delivery. Therefore, if a credit card is not delivered to the client on time, it is possible to retneve data from the main data warehouse and determine where the postal item was last seen. That is, an error may have occurred during the print production stage or sorting stage for example. On the other hand, it may be possible to prove that the postal item was actually delivered to the client at a specific time or on a specific date.

Another application provides the ability to monitor the services provided by the postal service. That is, it is possible to determine whether the services being provided actually match up with the service requested by the customer.

For example, if a customer provides 1000 postal items for delivery by the next day, a detailed report may be provided to show how long it took to deliver each of those 1000 postal items. This report is provided by generating information from the main data warehouse associated with the delivery times of the postal items. In this manner, it is possible to provide a refund to the customer if a certain percentage of next day delivery items are not delivered within time. This ability to monitor the services provided enables predefined measures of quality to be measured during the process in order to determine whether the system is running according to specification.

One example of a measure of the pipeline performance measure would be to determine whether the postal item was delivered to the destination indicated on the postal item. That is, to provide detailed information on the number of items provided by the customer that was delivered to the correct address.

Again, refunds may be available if a certain percentage of items are delivered to incorrect addresses.

A further example of a measure of the pipeline performance measure would be to ascertain whether the postal item was delivered using a predefined route.

That is, the customer may require that the postal items are delivered using a preferred route for security purposes. A list of the routes taken for a set group of postal items may be provided in a report outlining whether this predefined measure of performance was indeed implemented.

A further example of determining whether a predefined measure of performance was carried out would be to provide a report indicating the processing time of specific postal items within the postal sorting system provided by the postal service. That is, specific items from the customer may be required to be processed in a fast track route in order to ensure that they are delivered to the customers clients in a fast as time as possible. The postal service can use embodiments of the present invention to carry out internal diagnostics of the sorting and delivery process within its organisation. That is, the monitoring points within the sorting and delivery process enable the postal service to identify bottlenecks within the system. When these bottlenecks are identified, re-routing of specific postal items within the system may be carried out in order to avoid these bottlenecks. For example, the postal items may be directed toward a different machine for sorting or towards a different sorting centre. Further, higher priority postal items may be detected prior to reaching specific bottlenecks enabling the high priority postal items to be re-routed or fast tracked via a different route, for example by using a different mail sorting machine or sorting centre.

A further example of an implementation of the present invention will be to identify incorrect or insufficient data in the address information provided by the customer. For example, the address provided may not match up with the actual address of the client. Further, the information provided may be insufficient in that only a name is provided in a block of flats whereas further information is required to the specific or actual number within that block of flats. Embodiments of the present invention enable the ability to correct the data within the source database. This ensures that repeated errors do not occur. Further, it becomes possible to re-route undelivered mail to a specific undelivered mailbox associated with the customer. The customer is then informed by the postal service that a number of items have been undelivered due to incorrect information being provided from their database. The customer may then retrieve their undelivered mail, and also be provided with the necessary data to correct their address information, upon payment of a fee.

A further imçlementation of the present invention enables the identification of faulty machines within the print production process. For example, if a certain printing machine is printing addresses that cannot be read by the sorting machines of the postal service, for example, because the ink level is too low, the machine can be identified through the information stored within the main data warehouse against the unique identification number of the individual postal item. Therefore, the postal service is able to provide an indication to the customer that certain machines are not printing postal items sufficiently clearly enough for them to be processed by the postal service in an efficient manner thus enabling the customer to rectify the situation.

A further example of a specific application according to an embodiment of this present invention would be to provide, via an additional fee, a priority service to the customer where upon specific postal items can be identified on entry into the mail processing system of the postal service. That is, the customer would provide an indication to the postal service of which postal items are part of a high priority service through an indication of the unique identification number attached to that postal item. When the postal item is scarmed by one of the machines within the processing system of the postal service, the machine will be able to detect that the postal item is a priority service piece and divert it in order for it to be processed using a higher priority process than normally processed postal items. This provides a fast track system for processing high priority postal items as identified by the customer.

In another application, the ability to provide statistical reports to customers based upon numerous requirements is provided. For example, it is possible to provide an indication of whether certain items have been posted to a client or returned by the client and are being processed within the postal system. That is, because each postal item includes a unique identification number, as soon as it is scanned by the postal system its location is registered within the main data warehouse. Therefore, the customer can be provided with information associated with the exact location of the postal item. One specific example of this application would be wherein clients are required to return payment via a prepaid envelope that is sent out with the request for payment. The unique identification number printed on the outgoing envelope to the client is associated with another unique id number printed on the pre-printed and addressed envelope for return to the customer. Therefore, the customer is able to detect when the payment is being returned and so is able to inform the client that the return item has not yet been posted.

Another application related to providing information within a statistical report is that of providing a list of the number of postal items delivered to a specific area within a specific time, for example, within one day of receipt. Also, information may be provided on the turn around time of items within the postal processing and delivery system. Other examples of identifying whether items have been returned by post to the customer include that of signed contracts and payment. Further, various financial institutions are able to use statistical reports provided by the postal service in order to identify whether specific addresses are receiving a large volume of insurance claim forms thereby enabling the customer to detect fraud.

Financial institutions such as credit card companies may wish to be provided statistical reports based on how soon statements are delivered to their clients to ensure that prompt payment is provided. Further, the clients of these credit card companies may wish to know if they are receiving their financial statements in a reasonable time after they have been printed by the credit card companies in order to ensure that they are able to pay their bills on time without incurring excess charges.

A major advantage of the above-described system is that the information provided to the customer or postal service is not provided at all times. The postal service or customer decides which information they want and when they want it. That is, the feedback of data associated with provided is arranged to be switched on and off at the request of the customer Coded indicia -Second Embodiment Coded indicia different to that shown in the first embodiment may be used to implement certain embodiments of the present invention. For example, in a second embodiment the coded indicia used may be a two-dimensional matrix as shown in Figure 7.

The additional space for storing coded information enables further information to be provided within it, which will in turn enable further services to be provided. The amount of information stored within the 2D coded indicia will be determined based on the scan rates of the scanners used throughout the postal processing environment. That is, if the scanning rate only allows a certain amount of data to be read within the processing time window allocated for each postal item, then that amount of data is not exceeded. Upon improvements in scanning systems, further information may be included to enable data from every postal item to be read from the coded indicia.

A data element is provided within the 2D coded indicia that enables customers to insert their own data. The type of information provided in this data element is at the choice of the customer. The data may be further encrypted prior to inserting it into the coded indicia by the customer to ensure that the third parties or the postal service is not able to determine what may be sensitive information. Through the use of this feature, many different applications become available to the customer. For example, the customer may include a customer reference number that is meaningful to the customer for billing reconciliation purposes or customer relationship management purposes.

The following Table 2 indicates the data elements that are encoded with such coded indicia.

Table 2

Section of Field Name Definition Size Value Comment Data _________________ _____________ Customer Account Identifies the unique 8 Alpha-Related to the Data ID account reference numeric Postal between the posting Administration customer and the accounting ______________ Postal Administration ___________ system Consignment Identifies the discrete 5 Alpha-A list of ID unit of mailing' from numeric allocated the Account customer consignment Ids is provided by the Postal Administration and cycled by ___________ _______________ _____________________ ____________ the poster Postal Unique Identifies a unique 7 Numeric A sequential Service ID item within each count of the Data Consignment of a items in each particular Account consignment customer starting at 0000001' allows up to 9,999,999 items ______________ ____________________ -___________ per consignment Product ID Identifies the product 2 For a 2 bit size of the item there are 99 potential products _____________ _________________ ________________________ _____________ available Channel Date Identifies a date, the 5 Decimal type of date is expression derived by the of Julian channel of the item Day,

_______ _________ _____________ DDDYY __________

User Customer A unique reference 12 Alpha-Reference available to the numeric ___________ Data customer In addition to the data elements discussed above in relation to the first embodiment, the following data elements are also provided within the coded indicia.

Channel Defined Data * Date This field contains a decimal expression of the date associated with the coded indicia. This may be the date the item was printed for Business Sorted products or the date the item must be posted for Meter products. The format is as follows.

Format 5 numeric characters DDDYY DDD being the day of the year. 1st January being day 1. the value shall be incremented for each day at midnight UTC. Leading blanks will be padded with zeros YY being the least significant two numerics of the decimal representation of the year. For example, 2006 would be encoded as 06'.

User Defined Data This field is available for customers to include their own information. For example, the customer may include a customer reference number that is meaningful to the customer for billing reconciliation purposes or customer relationship management purposes. As long as the information entered complies with the relevant UK and International Laws, there is no restriction on what is entered in this field. The postal authority has the power to stop customers placing illegal or insensitive information within the User Defined field. For example, the powers man include the impounding and returning, at cost to the sender, of all mail pieces containing such information. In addition, the use of coded indicia by the customer may be suspended with subsequent loss of access to the postal authorities discounted mail streams.

Coded Indicia -Further Embodiments It will be understood that with the use of 2D coded indicia it is possible to provide a unique code for each postal item regardless of the consignment. That is, every postal item created includes a code unique from any other code produced. For example, the code may be unique based on the exact time and date of initial preparation along with a unique code identifying the place of production.

Further, it will be understood that various data elements may be modified to allow data used in other countries to be inserted. For example, the date formats and postal code formats may be modified to suit different arrangements used.

Further, it will be understood that additional data elements may be used in the coded indicia. For example, the following data elements listed in Table 3 may be used in combination with those discussed in previous embodiments.

Table 3

Section of Field Name Definition Size Value Comment Data Header UPU Country Identifies the UPU 3 JGB' As per the UPU ID country and that the standard S36 and code is the type using the country relevant to the UK identifier from _____________ Postal Industry __________ ISO 3166 Information Identifies the I B' A' is reserved for Type ID information content the postal service _____________ of the code __________ OLP products Version Identifies the data I For configuration content version of management the code purposes a version number for the data content is ___________ _______________ ____________________ ____________ included Customer Account Identifies the 8 Alpha-Related to the Data ID unique account numeric Postal reference between Administration the posting accounting system customer and the Postal _____________ Administration Consignment Identifies the 5 Alpha-A list of allocated ID discrete unit of numeric consignment Ids mailing' from the is provided by the Account customer Postal Administration and cycled by the ____________ ________________ ______________________ _____________ poster Postal Unique Identifies a unique 7 Numeric A sequential Service ID item within each count of the items Data Consignment of a in each particular Account consignment customer starting at 0000001' allows up to 9,999,999 items per __________ ______________ ___________________ ___________ consignment Delivery 11 outward Content in this

Address (4), space, field is considered

inward (3), to be validated for space, DPS use in sortation to (2) (all left walk sequence justified, right filled with _______________ ____________________ paces) __________________ Return Ii outward Address (4), space, inward (3), space, DPS (2) (all left justified, right filled with _______________ ____________________ spaces) __________________ Product ID Identifies the 2 For a 2 bit size product of the item there are 99 potential products ______________ __________________ ___________ available Class i i=i class, _________________ ______________________ class etc Format I Follows PIP formats and weight ___________ _______________ ____________________ ____________ combinations Channel Date Identifies a date, the 5 Decimal type of date is expression derived by the of Julian channel of the item Day,

_________ _____________ DDDYY ____________

Channel ID Tö Alpha- ________________ _____________________ numeric Pnce Paid 5 00000 to __________ ______________ __________________ pence ________________ User Customer A unique reference 12 Alpha- Reference available to the numeric ___________ Data customer Header Data UPU Country Code Identifier An identifier is provided within the code that identifies the code as a type relevant to the UK Mail Industry. This shall conform to UPU S36 and use the 2-character country identifier from ISO 3166 i.e. UK will be encoded in 3 characters as JGB'. These 3 characters shall be located at offset zero within the code.

This identifier can be used by 2D barcode readers to determine if a code on a mail piece is relevant to the Mail industry in the UK.

It will be understood that the contents of this code can be modified for use by other postal service providers in other countries.

Information Type Identifier The fourth character in the code (offset 3) contains an alphanumeric character that defines the information content of the code. Note A' has been reserved for an existing Royal Mail product Smart Stamp (OLP) already available to the public.

* Version For configuration management a data content version is included. This is a single character field. Should a version of information carried by the coded indicia be changed it is intended over a short period of time that all previous versions shall cease to be used.

Postal Service Data * Destination Address This field contains the delivery postcode in the following format.

Outward<space>inward<space>DPS where: I. Outward is one format of AAA AN AAN ANN AANN ANA AANA, where A=Ietter and N=numeral a 2. Inward is format of NAA 3. DPS (Delivery Point Suffix) is format of NA 4. Note AAA format outward code is the only code that is encoded without a valid Delivery Point.

It will be understood that this format may be modified to include foreign addressing.

* Return Address This field contains the return postcode in the following format.

1. Outward is one format of AAA AN AAN ANN AANN ANA AANA, where A=letter and N=numeral 2. Inward is format of NAA 3. DPS (Delivery Point Suffix) is format of NA 4. Note AAA format outward code is the only code that shall be encoded without a valid Delivery Point.

* Class This field defines the class of the product. For example, 1=First Class 2'=Second Class * Format This filed defines the format based on the Pricing In Proportion formats and weights Channel Defined Data * Channel Identifier This field contains an identifier of the originating poster. In the case of a Meter product this contains the meter machine identifier. For Business products, this contains the identifier associated with the company responsible for the generation of the mail piece.

* Price Paid Can be used for pre-paid channels such as, for example, Meter and SmartStanip.

Glossary Entity Definitions Entity Name Entity Definition Class of Mail The speed at which a mail item is to be delivered _______________________ as specified in the product procured.

Consignment The physical unit of mail despatched by the poster and received as a discrete posting into the Postal _______________________ service Network for a specified contract customer.

Customer The organisation with which Postal service has ________________________ contracted to deliver a service.

Item Format The physical dimensions of the mail as categorised _______________________ by the descriptions letter, flat, packet or parcel.

Mail Application The purpose for which the customer has procured ________________________ the Postal service service: Mail Item The unique item of mail which is received ______________________ distributed and delivered by Postal service.

Order Line A statement of the number of items within the consignment relating to one Postal service product _______________________ for one contracted customer.

Posting Organisation The organisation that undertakes the printing, enveloping and despatching of the mail. This maybe the contracting customer or a mailing house _____________________ undertaking the work on behalf of the customer.

Posting Location The premises from which the customer or its ______________________ mailing house despatch the mail.

Print Job The meaningful reference to both the customer and its mailing house that identifies the specific _____________________ mailing.

Process Location The identification of a specific activity at specific _________________________ Postal service premises.

Product The Postal service branded product that is _______________________ procured by the contract customer.

Product Class The speed of service specified for a specific ______________________ product Recognition Status The means by which an item was recognised by the automation equipment including its rejection ______________________ from automation.

RM Location The Postal service premises into which the mail _________________________ item is processed RM Process The description of the activity through which the ________________________ item has been executed.

Track Event The identification of the time, date, process and _______________________ place through which an item has been executed.

Attribute Definitions Entity Name Class of Mail Attribute Name Attribute Definition Class Name The title given to the class such as 1St,2h1(1, 3rd Speed The number of days specified from collection to _______________________ delivery for each class of mail.

Entity Name Consignment Attribute Name Attribute Definition Consignment Number The unique identifier given to each consignment or ______________________ order Date of Despatch The date on which the discrete physical posting is _______________________ despatched by the posting organisation.

Entity Name Customer ______________________________________________ Attribute Name Attribute Definition Customer Name The name of the contracted customer Contract Identifier The contract number which identifies the agreement between Postal service and the _________________________ customer.

Entity Name Item Format Attribute Name Attribute Definition Format Name The title that categonses the dimensions of the mail item.

Entity Name Mail Application Attribute Name Attribute Definition Application Name The name that describes the purpose for which the mailing is being executed such as advertising or

_______________________ statement notification.

Entity Name Mail Item _______________________________________________ Attribute Name Attribute Definition Unique Identifier The identifier that is solely attributed to the item _____________________ providing its uniqueness.

Destination Address The description of the location to which the item is _______________________ to be delivered.

Entity Name Order Line _____________________________________________ Attribute Name Attribute Definition Account Number The Postal service Account Number used for _____________________ billing.

Item Count The number of items which make up the order line.

Entity Name Posting Organisation Attribute Name Attribute Definition Poster Identity The unique identifier which is attributed to the ______________________ posting organisation such as a mailing house Poster Name The name of the posting organisation Entity Name Posting Location Attribute Name Attribute Definition Location Name The title given to the specific premises Location Address The premises address from where the mail is _______________________ despatched Entity Name Print Job ___________________________________________ Attribute Name Attribute Definition Contract Customer The reference identifier that identifies the job to Reference the customer and the poster.

Print Date The date on which the mailing was printed Print Time The time at which the mailing print was completed Entity Name Process Location Attribute Name Attribute Definition Process Name The description given to an activity that is executed on a mail item as part of the pipeline ________________________ process.

RM Location The name attributed to the Postal service premises _______________________ where mail is processed Entity Name Product ___________________________________________ Attribute Name Attribute Definition Product Name The Postal service brand given to the service ______________________ offering Entity Name Product Class Attribute Name Attribute Definition Product Name Postal service brand identifier Class of Mail Class of mail identifier Entity Name Recognition Status Attribute Name Attribute Definition Status Name The description of the processing outcome for a mail item, such as Auto Reco, MDEC, Reject.

Entity Name RM Location Attribute Name Attribute Definition Location Name The name attributed to the Postal service premises where mail is processed Location Address The postal address of the Postal service premises.

Entity Name RM Process Attribute Name Attribute Definition Process Name The description given to an activity that is executed on a mail item as part of the pipeline _______________________ process.

Entity Name Track Event Attribute Name Attribute Definition Date Executed Date the mail item went through the process Time Executed Time the item went through the process Machine Identifier The machine which executed the process Further Embodiments -applications Database Linkingflntegration Embodiments of the invention may depend on an improvement in the linking andlor integration between a customer database and a postal service database, or at least improved communication between these databases. Conventionally, a customer database such as a CRM database contains a variety of customer details, such as addresses. As explained above, a postal service such as Royal Mail (RIM) may provide a database of postal addresses and postal codes, which may be made available to customers andlor the general public. Up to now, there has been no means of checking whether a mail item submitted to a postal service carries a recipient address that has been verified against such a postal service database.

One embodiment is shown in Figure 8. A customer database 802 includes contact records linked to mail item records that relate to mail items to be sent.

The link between the records may comprise an address field or general address identifier.

The customer database 802 communicates electronically with a postal service database 804 to send details of the mail items to be sent, which are validated against records stored in the postal service database. If the mail item details are validated, the postal service database creates mail item records corresponding to the mail items to be sent by the customer, including a unique ID code relating to each of the mail items. The unique ID codes are sent electronically to the customer database 802 that updates its mail item records to add the corresponding unique ID codes.

The verification process may include verification of recipient addresses of the mail items. The postal service database 804 stores address records relating to valid delivery addresses, which it attempts to match to the recipient addresses for the mail items specified by the customer. If the addresses match, either exactly or to within predetermined criteria, the mail item may be validated.

Additionally or alternatively, the verification process may include verification of the identity of the customer and/or verification of the customer's account status.

Once the mail items to be sent have been verified by the postal service database, the customer creates physical mail items 806 corresponding to the mail item records in the customer database 802. Each mail item 806 carries the corresponding [D code, preferably in machine-readable format. The customer then submits the mail items 806 to the postal service, which reads the ID codes and updates its mail item records to show the current status of the mail items 806. Preferably, the postal service tracks the mail items 806 through its mail network by reading the ID code at predetermined points and updating the status information accordingly. The status information is communicated from the postal service database 804 to the customer database 802, which updates its mail item records accordingly.

The information exchange described above may be used to provide additional services. The postal service receives information about intended mailings by the customer (and other customers) in advance of receipt of the actual mail items 806. The postal service may therefore predict demand for immediate future mailings and may allocate resources accordingly, for example according to the volume of mailings through various points of the postal network. The mail item details may include expected submission times/dates of the mail items 806, which the postal service may use further to refine its predictions. The actual submission times/dates of the mail items may be compared to the expected submission times/dates arid used to generate financial credits/debits to the customer.

The postal service may compare the ID codes of the mail items 806 received from the customer with the ID codes stored in the postal service database, and notify the customer of any mail items that were notified in advance to the postal service but not received. This may allow the customer to check and possibly resubmit any mail items 806 not received by the postal service.

In another variant, the customer is not required to verify mail item records with the postal service prior to submission of the mail items; instead, the ID codes are generated from the mail item details by the customer, using predetermined rules. The ID codes may include a customer ID code, so that a mail item that is otherwise uniquely identified among mail items sent by the customer will be uniquely identified in combination with the customer ID when submitted to the postal service.

Compiling Historical/Recipient Data Although conventional postal services maintain a database of valid addresses, they do not generally keep records of delivery performance to specific addresses. As mentioned in the background to the invention, some postal customers find that certain addresses pose a high risk of loss or non-delivery, based on their own past experience.

Fig. 9 illustrates another embodiment, based on the ability of the postal services database 804 to determine status information for mail items 806, for which the delivery addresses have also been determined. The postal service compiles a historical database 804 of the results of past mailings to specific delivery addresses and/or delivery areas and/or delivery address types. The database 804 is made available to postal customers for checking contact details or mail item records relating to mail items about to be sent (subject to any applicable data protection laws).

In one more specific embodiment, a customer receives a request for goods to be delivered to a specified address. The customer checks the specified address against the postal service's historical database 804, which has stored information relating to previous deliveries to that address, including deliveries by other senders, who may be other customers of the postal service. This information may include previous unsuccessful deliveries, including reported losses. The information may also specify the type of delivery, since this information may have been provided by the postal services customers for the previous deliveries.

In this way, the customer obtains much more accurate information about the likely outcome of the requested delivery to the specified address, because the customer need not rely only on the outcome of past deliveries by the customer to that address. For example, the request for delivery may be first the delivery the customer has made to that address, but the information obtained from the postal service database 804 indicates that 50% of attempted deliveries of goods to that address were unsuccessful. The customer may then decline to deliver to the specified address, and may prompt the requester to specify another address, such as a work address. The checking of the delivery address against the postal service's historical database may occur during an online transaction, so that the requester is given an opportunity to specify an acceptable delivery address before the transaction is completed.

Return Mail Notification Another general embodiment relates to a novel tracking method, in which a sender provides the recipient with a return mail item carrying a unique, machine-readable identity code. The sender requests the postal service to notify the sender (or another specified party) when the return mail item is received into the postal service, so that the notification is received in advance of delivery of the return mail item through the postal service network.

As shown in Figure 10, a customer generates mail item details in a customer database 802. The mail item details specify a return mail item 812 having a return address. The customer notifies the postal service of the mail item details and receives in reply a unique return ID code. The customer then creates a physical mail item 806 including the return mail item (e.g. a reply envelope) carrying the return II) code in machine-readable format.

The mail item 806 is then delivered through the postal network 810 to the recipient. The mail item 806 mail include its own unique ID code that is used for tracking as described above. Optionally, the return mail notification function described below may not be enabled unless the mail item 806 is tracked as having been delivered to the recipient.

The recipient opens the mail item 806 and if appropriate, returns the return mail item 812 to the postal service, which identifies that the return mail item 812 is being returned by automatically reading the return ID code. In response to identification of the return ID code, the postal service sends a return notification to the customer or some other predetermined party, which is thereby notified that the return mail item 606 is being returned, in advance of receipt of the return mail item 812.

This embodiment may be used to overcome at least some of the probJems identified in the background to the invention. For example, a company may send a special offer (e.g. an invitation to apply for a loan, or to order specified goods) to a recipient via mail, with a reply envelope. It is likely that the recipient will only return the reply envelope if he or she intends to take up the offer; negative responses to unsolicited offers are not often sent. Although the company needs to receive the reply envelope before the transaction can be completed, it is notified that acceptance is likely when the reply envelope enters the postal network. The company therefore receives advance notification of acceptance, so that documents for completing the transaction can be prepared in advance and sent to the recipient as soon as the return envelope is received. This method may significantly increase the speed of mail-based transactions.

In another example, the return notification method may be used to receive advance notification of likely payment of an invoice or account. A request for payment is sent to the recipient via mail, with a prepaid return envelope carrying the unique return ID code. If the recipient sends payment via mail, it is likely that he or she will use the prepaid return envelope. The debtor receives notification of the payment as soon as it enters the postal network, giving some degree of comfort that payment is expected. In this way, the debtor may avoid sending further reminders or initiating recovery action Prepaid Mail Notification Figure 11 illustrates another embodiment including aspects of the embodiments described above. This embodiment provides a simple way for individuals to track mail items. A sender buys a prepaid mail item 806, such as an envelope, carrying a unique machine-readable ID code that has been generated in advance by a postal service. The mail item 806 includes a space for the user to enter a recipient address and an electronic notification address, such as a mobile telephone number or an email address. The sender puts the desired contents in the mail item 806, seals it, and posts it through the postal service 804. Within the postal service 804, the unique ID code is read automatically, and the recipient and notification address is read using OCR techniques similar to those currently employed for reading addresses and post codes, as described above. These details are entered on a postal service database 804 and a notification message is sent to the notification address, such as the sender's mobile phone 814 as a text message, when the mail item 806 is tracked as arriving at a predetermined point such as the recipient address.

This embodiment provides a tracking service that is very easy for an individual to use by means of a pre-purchased product. It has particular application for greetings card envelopes or parcel boxes.

It will be understood that embodiments of the present invention are described herein by way of example only, and that various changes and modifications may be made without departing from the scope of the invention.

Claims (38)

1. Coded indicia for use on a postal item for delivery by a postal service using a postal system, the indicia comprising data elements adapted to hold data associated with the identification of the sender's account with the postal service, the identification of the consignment associated with the postal item, the unique identification of the postal item.
2. The coded indicia of claim 1, wherein the data associated with unique identification enables the postal item to be uniquely identified from all other postal items.
3. The coded indicia of claim I further comprising a data element adapted to hold data associated with information provided by the originator of the postal item.
4. The coded indicia of claim I wherein the unique identification is due to a code unique to the consignment of postal items in which the postal item belongs.
5. A postal item with coded indicia according to any of claims 1 to 4 formed thereon.
6. A postal item tracking method for tracking a postal item through a postal system comprising the steps of: associating each postal item with a code that uniquely identifies the postal item from any other postal item within the postal system, applying the code to the postal item using a data mark, recording the code in a first database, monitoring postal items at a predetermined monitoring point within the postal system, identifying the postal item by reading the code, recording within a first database data associated with the monitoring point.
7. The method of claim 6, wherein the data associated with the monitoring point includes any one of: time of monitoring; date of monitoring, a code identifying where the monitoring point is located; a code identifying any machines that have been used to process the postal item.
8. A postal item tracking system for tracking a postal item through a postal system, the tracking system comprising: code generation means adapted to generate of a code that uniquely identifies the postal item from any other postal item within the postal system; application means adapted to apply the code to the postal item using a data mark; recording means adapted to record the code in a first database; monitoring means adapted to monitor postal items at a predetermined monitoring point within the postal system identification means adapted to identify the postal item by reading the code, the recording means further adapted to record within the first database data associated with the monitoring point.
9. The system of claim 8, wherein the data associated with the monitoring point includes any one of: time of monitoring; date of monitoring, a code identifying where the monitoring point is located; a code identifying any machines that have been used to process the postal item.
10. The system of claim 8 further comprising a second database adapted to track vehicles associated with the delivery of the postal item, the second database linked to the first database, wherein data associated with the delivery vehicle is associated with the code stored within the first database.
11. A postal item tracking database comprising means to track a postal item using a code that uniquely identifies the postal item from any other postal item within the postal system, the database adapted to receive data from a predetermined monitoring point within the postal system, the data associated with the postal item at the time it is monitored, the database
A
adapted to store the data in data records, the data records being associated with the postal item by the code.
12. A postal item tracking system comprising production means, communication means and data storage means, the production means comprising printing means for printing data on the postal item, the printing means adapted to produce a unique code associated with the postal item, the communication means adapted to communicate the unique code to the data storage means, the data storage means adapted to provide an electronic file associated with a predetermined group of postal items, the electronic file comprising a list of unique codes for each item within the predetermined group of postal items.
13. The postal tracking system of claim 12, further comprising reconciliation means adapted to determine if the number of purported postal items within the predetermined group matches the actual number of postal items with the predetermined group, and reporting the determination to at least one of the sender or recipient of the postal items.
14. The postal tracking system of claim 12 further comprising acceptance means adapted to provide, in the data storage means, an indication associated with the unique code, upon receipt of the postal item by a postal delivery service, that the postal item has been accepted for processing by the service.
15. A postal sorting system adapted to provide redirection of a priority postal item, the postal item comprising a unique code associated with the postal item, the code adapted to indicate that the postal item is a priority item, and a redirection means adapted to redirect the postal item upon detection of the code by a detection means.
16. A postal sorting system adapted to provide rerouting of postal items based on data associated with the flow of postal items within the sorting system, the system comprising a data collection means adapted to collect data associated with the flow of postal items at a predetennined point in the system, a processing means adapted to determine if the flow of postal items is above a predefined threshold, and a rerouting means adapted to reroute postal items at the predetermined point if the flow exceeds the threshold.
17. A reporting system for reporting data associated with the processing of a postal item within a postal system, said data indicating when and where the postal item was processed, the system comprising a unique code generating means, a monitoring means, a storage means, a detection means and a reporting means, the unique code generating means adapted to apply a unique code to each postal item, the detection means adapted to detect the unique code at predetermined points, the monitoring means adapted to record, in the storage means, upon detection of said postal item by the detection means, information associated with the processing of the postal item in the postal system, the reporting means adapted to provide data to a customer based on the information recorded in the storage means.
18. A pipeline performance measurement system adapted to be used in a postal system, wherein a postal item within the postal system is identified by a unique code, said postal system comprising detection means adapted to detect the position of the postal item at a predetermined point within the postal system, the postal system further comprising a storage means adapted to store data associated with the position of the postal item based on information received from the detection means, the pipeline performance measurement system adapted to determine, based on the information stored in the storage means, whether the postal item was or was not processed in the postal system according to a predefined measure of quality.
19. The measurement system of claim 18, wherein the predefined measure of pipeline performance comprises at least one of the following: the delivery of the postal item within a specified time period; the delivery of the postal item to the destination indicated on the postal item; the delivery of the postal item via a predefined route; the processing of the postal item within a predefined time period;
20. An address monitoring system adapted for use in a postal system, the address monitoring system comprising address identification means, the address identification means adapted to identify the address printed on the postal item, determination means adapted to determine if the address is an invalid address, and correction means adapted to rectify any invalidity.
21. The monitoring system of claim 20, wherein the correction means is further adapted to correct the source of the address data so the source data contains the determined correct address.
22. The monitoring system of claim 20, wherein the correction means is further adapted to inform the source of the address data that the address provided is invalid.
23. A method of providing information about a mail item in a postal service network, the method comprising: creating a mail item carrying machine-readable coded indicia uniquely identifying the mail item within the postal service network; submitting the mail item to the postal service; identifying the mail item within the postal service network by reading the coded indicia; and providing information from the identification of the mail item.
24. The method of claim 23, wherein the coded indicia are generated from mail item information according to predetermined rules.
25. The method of claim 23, wherein the coded indicia are generated in response to verification of mail item information by the postal service.
26. The method of claim 25, wherein the mail item information comprises address data for verification with address data stored by the postal service.
27. The method of any one of claims 23 to 26, wherein the coded indicia are applied by automatic mail item preparation means.
28. The method of any one of claims 23 to 27, wherein the information provided from the identification of the mail item comprises information that the mail item has reached a predetermined point within the postal service network.
29. The method according to any one of claims 23 to 28, wherein the step of creating the mail item includes the step of manually adding to the mail item a notification address, wherein the information provided from the identification of the mail item is provided to the notification address.
30. A method of notification of a mail response, comprising: receiving by postal service a mail item including a mail return item carrying a unique machine-readable return item code; delivering the mail item to a mail recipient; receiving the mail return item by the postal service; identifying the mail return item within the postal service by reading the return item code; and sending a notification in response to identification of the return item code.
31. The method of claim 30, wherein the mail item carries a unique machine-readable mail item code, and the step of delivering the mail item includes sending a notification indicating delivery of the mail item.
32. A method of reporting historical data representing the outcome of attempted mail delivery from a plurality of senders through a postal services network to a plurality of delivery addresses, the method comprising: automatically tracking attempted deliveries of mail items through the postal services network using unique identity codes carried by the mail items; and recording the outcome of the attempted deliveries as historical data.
33. The method of claim 32, wherein the unique codes identify a type of mail item, the historical data recording the outcome of attempted deliveries according to said type.
34. The method of claim 32 or claim 33, wherein the historical data records the outcomes according to delivery address.
35. The method of any one of claims 32 to 34, wherein the historical data records the outcomes according to delivery area.
36. A system for performing the method of any one of claims 23 to 35.
37. A method substantially as herein described with reference to the accompanying drawings.
38. A system substantially as herein described with reference to the accompanying drawings.
GB0620485A 2006-10-16 2006-10-16 Coded indicia for postal item Withdrawn GB2443213A (en)

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AU2007311671A AU2007311671A1 (en) 2006-10-16 2007-10-16 Mail systems

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WO2008047117A3 (en) 2008-07-31
GB0620485D0 (en) 2006-11-22
EP2082362A2 (en) 2009-07-29
AU2007311671A1 (en) 2008-04-24

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