The future of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) could be as the eyes, ears and sensor network for the smart city. If cities played along the USPS could also derive a revenue stream that reverses billions of dollars of annual losses.
According to a panel at the Smart Cities Summit in Boston, the future of the USPS may revolve around big data, Internet of things and smart cities.
Here’s the gist of how the USPS could be a smart city enabler:
- Trucks and assets drive through cities everyday.
- These assets could monitor conditions and the environment for things like potholes, potential for blight and infrastructure conditions.
- Data could be delivered back to cities to enhance services.
- This data enablement could be a new revenue stream assuming that the Postal Service would be allowed to expand into new services. Regulations prevent the Postal Service from entering non-postal businesses.
Kristin Seaver, chief information officer of the USPS, said the possibilities are endless, but there are a lot of issues to sort out. “Conceptually, we would have to identify what we could and would do,” said Seaver.
“From U.S. citizen perspective, we’d have to see what would the sentiment be. Is it ‘hey I’d rather have the Postal Service collecting that information.’ Or is it ‘I’d rather not have the Postal Service do that.’ It’s never as simple as it seems,” said Seaver.
The idea that the Internet of things and big data can revamp the USPS, which has 500,000 employees, is well timed. After all, from fiscal years 2013 to 2015, the USPS had a net loss of $15.5 billion. For fiscal 2016, the preliminary net loss is $5.6 billion. In addition, the USPS has hit its Treasury borrowing limit. The service needs a strategic plan for services that don’t make money and is restricted by law to expand into non-postal businesses.
Jessica Raines, public policy analyst at the USPS’ inspector general office, has recently published research on the partnering possibilities for the USPS and smart cities. Raines group looks into new technologies such as blockchain, drones and IoT and how they could apply to the USPS.