In May, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General released a report on blockchain. Blockchain technology allows peers to exchange money, skipping a traditional financial intermediary. And, Bitcoin, a digital asset and a peer-to-peer payment system, is the most known example.
The report was interesting. It showed the USPS exploring postal coin technology that can take it into the future. The document further explores alternate uses of blockchain technology beyond finances. The very core of this technology is its decentralization, transparency, and security. This means at its very heart, there are many opportunities for use.
The obvious use of blockchain technology is in the financial world, where it got its start with Bitcoin. The research done by the OIG suggests the future of PostalCoin cryptocurrency. Having this monitored and controlled by the Universal Postal Union would make sense. The International Monetary Fund could also become the exchange-rate partner from cryptocurrency to hard cash.
National posts and non-national posts taking part in financial transactions would be huge. Here’s how:
– postal money orders could transfer to anyone in the world
– users can send “money” to their friends in other countries instantly and securely
– cash-on-delivery (COD) transactions could take place swiftly
– the sender of the items would start the transaction and the receiver would accept it
– the postal authority would receive notice that the package is good to deliver.
– finally, no payment, no delivery. The carriers could even start this process and become walking retail outlets, never carrying real cash.
Your Postal “Wallet”
The PostalCoin could pay for your Centralized Account Processing System (CAPS) account and even replace it. Set up your “wallet” through your MyUSPS.com account and you’re done. One could make payments or fund the account from anywhere in the world while getting current status reports quickly. The USPS would not have to rely on its current centralized network and could create and promote a vast decentralized database with data and history that would exist “forever.”
Come to think of it, maybe one would be able to buy their postage online. All those meter machines out there would be nothing more than a wallet. And one could fund their postage meter instantaneously. I wonder what the meter vendors would think. It sure would eliminate the amount of “float” in the industry.
What about the value-added refunds (VAR) the presort industry gets for workshare discounts?
The transactions could tie directly back to each meter, and the VAR payments would apply automatically when submitting and accepting Mail.Dat. No more waiting for weeks to get the funds (the “wallets” would just be moving the PostalCoin around).
I wouldn’t mind being the “bank” or Postal Coin exchange service that converts cash to Postal Coin and back. The USPS or UPU would act as the “miners” validating and recording the transactions and taking a very small transaction fee.
International Trade, Tracking, and Identity Services
From a national post view, Postal Coin in a variety of wallets could fund and transact all mail exchanges. Today every postal authority spends tons of time and money balancing those accounts.
If we used blockchain technology, someone could develop an application that accounts for the wallets, as each letter counts as a transaction. We could track payment for processing and handling mail – from receipt to delivery. Balancing the accounts would happen automatically. Then, it would validate at receipt into the postal network.
Every Intelligent Mail Barcode placed on a mail item could now be a piece of the data part of the PostalCoin transaction. Every mail item could live in the cloud. It looks like Informed Delivery™ on steroids.
The Internet of Postal Things
The OIG report also touched on other uses like the “internet of postal things.”
We’ve heard about all the data collected by sensors on postal vehicles. Blockchain technology would fit this well because it serves as an already decentralized and searchable service. The USPS could sell this secured data and make it available to others, no massive data centers needed.
Identity services play a necessary part of the process if adopting Postal Coin. Blockchain technology already applies to this. Identity-service capabilities also tie well into homeland security or passports.
The fact that the OIG is considering blockchain gives me hope that innovation is alive and well in the USPS. To me, this fits, as the USPS deals in financial transactions, and personal and physical identities (addresses). The need for huge databases and data centers shouldn’t be a deterrent to launch this new technology.
Maybe we will see blockchain technology as a topic at the next PostalVision 2020 conference. Now that could be a game-changer.