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Paperless Government Might Finally Be Possible

This post originally appeared on the Reach The Public.

By Scott Burns, CEO & co-Founder, GovDelivery.

I have two questions for you:

  1. Why can’t I send an electronic message to a mailing address?
  2. Why can I get my credit card statement and my mortgage statement electronically, but I can only get my Social Security Statement and County Taxes in the mail?

If I know where you live, I can send you a box of chocolates, a DirecTV ad, or a campaign brochure, but I can’t send you something electronically…  Why?  This makes no sense and kills a lot of trees.

Sometimes the most obvious questions have the most confusing answers. It’s possible that the privatization of the Postal Service in the 1980s created a situation where the Postal Service needs to focus on maintaining its $68B revenue stream in paper mail delivery rather than promote a more modern form of delivery. That doesn’t really matter to me, but what does matter is how a new approach to address-based digital delivery could save the government a ton of money and help the environment.

Icon-zumbox-paperless-please-envelope-150x175If government could send the public statements / publications /etc. based on mailing address, imagine how much money it could save.

Government sends over 200 million electronic messages per month through GovDelivery by email, SMS, and social media on topics ranging from H1N1 to egg recalls to updates in local park hours. Effective today, we’re trying something new that will lead to governments being able to send “Digital Postal Mail” direct to a mailing address. You can sign up for free through our partnership with Zumbox here to check it out and let me know what you think.

For the past several years, we’ve been looking for ways to help government save money on printing / postage / transaction costs while also improving communication. There are many exciting ways to do this. A government office can transition print newsletters and publications to electronic form, move more citizens online for “customer service” issues, reduce costly traditional public advertising with more direct communication, and communicate proactively on ongoing issues so people don’t call in to costly call centers.

However, it’s very challenging to point to a single piece of mail going to a single individual— a DMV renewal notice, a Census survey, a Social Security Statement, a Tax Statement, and say that you can send that piece of mail electronically just by knowing someone’s mailing address.

The challenge leads back to one frustrating issue. You cannot send traditional “mail” to someone electronically unless you get them to sign up for it. The problem is, even when e-statements are offered, each person has to sign up separately for e-statements from their bank, credit card company, mortgage company, city, county, state, federal government, and everyone else.

Our new partnership with Zumbox is the result of a search for a service that is safe and secure where a citizen can sign up one time to get an electronic mail box that anyone, including the government, can reach simply by knowing the person’s address.

From a government perspective, here are the key capabilities we saw as “must have”:

  • Free for government to use (would be nice if the U.S. Postal Service gave govt. free sending… a digital service should provide that benefit even if private companies will have to pay)
  • Can be used across government (if people sign up to receive Social Security statements, they need to be able to get County tax statements in the same manner)
  • Reach people based on their location with geo-specific notices
  • Send secure documents to a mailing address rather than a larger documents
  • Enable the documents for online payment and for “paper statement opt-out”
  • Save documents forever as “secure storage” for the owner of the mailbox

Our new partner, Zumbox, meets these criteria and more (HIPAA compliance, etc.). Now, our challenge is to figure out how to get members of the public to signup to participate. We’re running a pilot with a major city soon, and we’re seeking other government agencies to participate so let me know if you’re interested in a cost saving / green initiative that will also improve public communication.

I would love your ideas on what will help get members of the public to signup:

  • Go green / Go paperless
  • Save the government money
  • Get permanent online storage of your mail
  • Some other message

Thanks for your feedback, and please signup for your own Zumbox and let me know what you think of the signup process and how best to get the public to buy into this.

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