Who would have thought ideas meant to facilitate mail delivery would not only help nearly everyone in the country, but also boost the economy as well?
Take, for instance, the U.S. Postal Service’s Address Management System (AMS), a database of around 127 million deliverable addresses. Since its inception, the Postal Service has kept track of addresses to assure continuity and currency of location information. Every change-of-address that is filed – 36 million in 2019 alone – updates the AMS.
This elaborate system helps USPS make sure that people and businesses get their mail. The AMS also helps business mailers correct street addresses and city names in their mailing lists. But it has done a lot more. For example, USPS worked closely with counties, converting old rural route style addresses to street addresses, which were then recorded in the AMS and led to improved 911 services.
The AMS is also a resource for disaster recovery, as was the case in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the Louisiana state government and the American Red Cross used the database to help track down displaced people.
Then there’s something so commonplace now that for most people it’s an afterthought, if they think about it at all – the ZIP Code. Developed in 1963, the Zone Improvement Plan Code was originally intended to allow for automation of mail sorting and thus move mail more efficiently. It ended up creating unimagined socio-economic benefits as an organizing and enabling device, becoming a tool for displaying demographic information as well as a support structure for entire industries such as insurance and real estate.
It even featured symbolically in a 1990s hit TV show, Beverly Hills, 90210 – a location identifier associated with luxury and privilege.
Moreover, the Postal Service offered the ZIP Code and its ability to organize data by geography on an open platform as a free public service for anyone to use. As we noted in our 2013 white paper, The Untold Story of the ZIP Code, IBM computed that the additional revenues and reduced costs resulting directly from the ZIP Code in all its uses amounts to close to $10 billion annually in value across the economy.
These are just two ways the Postal Service plays a role in the national infrastructure. Can you think of others?