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Mission: Possible U.S. Postal Service Investing in the Future
By Randy Miskanic, CIO & EVP, United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service handles roughly 40 percent of the world’s mail and is the core of today’s $1.4 trillion mailing industry. It has the single largest civilian delivery fleet in the world, and also has one of the most robust and extensive communications and information technology networks.
"We needed a device that would give real-time intelligence throughout our network from the acceptance of mail and packages to final delivery to our customer"
While the Postal Service is required by law to serve every city in every state and territory in the country, it receives no taxpayer dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. .
To stay competitive in today’s “on-demand economy,” the Postal Service is heavily investing in technology and innovation to better serve customers. One of the innovative approaches we undertook was focused in how we could effectively and efficiently deliver mail and growing package volume to meet the demands of our customers. After all, we are a delivery organization.
We needed a device to augment our mobility and connectivity throughout our delivery and processing infrastructure to achieve higher levels of operational efficiency and greater customer satisfaction. The challenge was to enable two-way communication between postal carriers and their supervisors that had not previously been possible. We needed a device that would give real-time intelligence throughout our network from the acceptance of mail and packages to final delivery to our customers.
Deploying a new multifunctional tool across one of the largest workforces in the country was no small task. We had an aggressive timeline which sought to have all new devices deployed by September 2015.
In less than 24 months, the Postal Service deployed more than 260,000 Mobile Delivery Devices (MDDs) to Post Offices and mail carriers across the country, installing as many as 5,000 new MDDs each week.The devices were deployed ahead of schedule thanks to the collaboration of our dedicated employees and suppliers.
The Postal Service accomplished this task by employing agile development and deployment best practices. End users and employee unions were involved throughout the implementation process and helped select which hardware model would ultimately be chosen for the new device. Coordination of operations and engineering teams helped align technology with Postal Service processes, and vice versa. This collaborative, user-focused effort has been critical to the Postal Service’s success in its efforts to technologically overhaul one of the most expansive organizations in the country.
The MDD is a next-generation, hand-held mobile device with a Windows operating system that Postal Service employees across the country are using to revolutionize the way USPS does business.Through real-time GPS data transmission, text and radio-based two-way communications, and the digitization of tasks that used to be done by hand such as filling out slips of paper for incomplete deliveries, the MDD has already begun to revolutionize the way the Postal Service works, from parcel pickup to delivery—and that’s just the beginning. The MDDs enable more accurate predictive delivery—a core component of USPS customer experience—dynamic route optimization, and more flexible and agile operational capabilities.
At the most basic level, the MDDs were developed to replace our previous generation of barcode scanners, the Intelligent Mail Devices (IMDs). These scanners had been in use for over a decade, and were at the end of their lifecycle. The need to replace them was urgent: ‘smart’ delivery of packages and mail are at the core of services the Postal Service provides.
From the very beginning, we knew the MDD had to be more than just a scanner. We wanted to develop a single tool that could make current operations more efficient using state-of-the-art sensors and networks, lay the framework for future growth, and bring the Postal Service community— that is, the business, its customers, and its employees—closer together.
One of the most important metrics for this initiative was sticking to the aggressive schedule. In the short time since deployment, MDDs have drastically improved core functions of the Postal Service. It used to take as many as five hours to notify a customer of a package delivery; now it takes 10 minutes or less. The increased accuracy in package visibility is critical to maintaining customer loyalty. Soon, the Postal Service will use the real-time GPS data provided by the MDDs to support predictive delivery.
The Postal Service learned a number of lessons throughout the development and deployment of the MDDs; yet we took advantage of industry best practices and lessons learned from previous innovation efforts to avoid many pitfalls that would have hindered our success.
One major recurring challenge was that of connectivity. Because the Postal Service operates in some very remote areas, ensuring connectivity and GPS satellite visibility was challenging. Additionally, simply by the nature of our aggressive schedule, the Postal Service had to assume some significant risk in its product development, even starting to develop software before the hardware was settled on. Training thousands of users on the new devices across the country was also a difficult logistical challenge, but the integration of regional and local operations employees into the deployment teams helped ensure that the training materials were appropriate for the audience, that stations had sufficient space for chargers, and that the end-user’s needs were the focus of the MDD development and design.
While it is not funded by tax dollars, the Postal Service is still subject to many of the same laws as the rest of the federal government, including procurement policies. By leveraging commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions, we were able to shorten the development timeline and make the most out of a limited budget. In fact, we even adjusted some of our processes to be more aligned with the capabilities of COTS items.
In addition to collaborating across departments within the Postal Service and with suppliers, we worked closely with our labor unions to get stakeholder buy-in. A tool is only as good as people’s willingness and ability to use it, and with the unions’ help, the Postal Service was able to better communicate the game-changing role these new devices are now playing in our efforts to deliver innovation and technology solutions for our employees and customers.