New technologies key to Postal Service revitalization

Wednesday - 11/21/2012, 2:18am EST

Nov. 21, 2012 - Agency of the Month

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When Ellis Burgoyne started at the U.S. Postal Service in 1978, the idea of receiving mail online or tracking it via GPS was unimaginable. But today, the mail carrier turned chief information officer is leading a team of technologists and IT specialists making that a reality.

In 2013, Burgoyne said his office will focus on five main projects aimed at cutting costs while improving efficiency and growing revenue. USPS needs help in that department after finishing fiscal 2012 $15.9 billion in debt.

"The pace and the level of innovation that's happening at the Postal Service has been tremendous," Burgoyne said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month show. "For many that aren't involved in it, you may not appreciate it. But being able to see it up front, it's been very comforting to know that the investment we're making in technology and innovation is significant."

(Read Burgoyne's full bio. Photo courtesy of USPS.)

At the top of Burgoyne's list is digitization of mail, the idea that every physical piece of mail can also live in some type of electronic format.

"We are working very hard to try to get letters and flats and packages and mailing statements, and somehow convert them into digital form so we can apply technology to it," said Burgoyne. "Once you have it in a digital representation, you can do a lot with it. You could get a physical piece of mail and also get a digitized version of it in your smartphone or at your desktop. We actually have that technology available now. The question is, how much value does that offer to customers and mailers and folks in the marketing industry, and is there consumer demand for that?"

Burgoyne said the agency's new digital department is working to answer these questions.

"[The digital department is] looking at ways that customers can use a digital platform along with our physical infrastructure and hard copy to see how customers might be able to use that digital image for their own marketing purposes."

Burgoyne said this type of digitization will offer Postal Service customers a type of business intelligence they haven't had before.

The Postal Service's Intelligent Mail barcode is the keystone of that effort. The barcode serves as a unique identifier to the piece of mail it is attached to. USPS is currently in the process of rolling out IMb to customers who wish to receive postage automation discounts. But, Burgoyne said, eventually all mail will require an IMb so that it can be tracked throughout the mailing process.

"Companies are starting to barcode even fruit because it's important in terms of inventory control to know where your product is, how long it's on the shelf, how it's moving, and be able to manage the flows around your product and understand better cost and revenue implications of that product. For us, it's no different," Burgoyne said. "We move over half a billion pieces of mail a day. ... We want every piece to be unique. We want to know who mailed it, where it's going, we want to be able to know where it is in our mail stream."

That barcode will also help the Postal Service with delivery confirmation. By the end of 2013, Burgoyne expects to have real-time delivery confirmation for 100 percent of the packages it sends. He said this service should be available for all mail sometime after 2014.

Currently, only 50 percent of all mail has a unique identifier while 85 percent of packages do.

"There's really an untapped volume of mail that we really don't have intelligence for and we want to close that gap by 2014," Burgoyne said.

Burgoyne said the agency is also looking at GPS to help customers — both the sender and the receiver — understand where their mail is in real time.

USPS is also deploying new technology on the retail side. The agency's mobile app allows customers to find the closest post office, order supplies and submit requests for their mail to be held while they're out of town. And, Burgoyne said, the agency is working to deploy tablets to post office clerks so they can move from behind the counter and into the lobby to assist customers.

Listen Now: Burgoyne discusses his five main priorities for 2013.

In addition to spending money on new technologies, Burgoyne said his office is also looking at ways to save money on the current systems it has in place.

The Postal Service has already migrated its EDiscovery email archiving system to the cloud.

"That's a pretty big system that requires a lot of storage. We process over 3 million emails a day. Some folks may not really understand that. We don't just do mail we actually do a lot of email," Burgoyne said. "We have one of the largest intranets in the world and one of the largest email systems in the world. So storing all that data and being able to process it for litigation, it's a lot of work."

Burgoyne said the agency is also using cloud applications for the agency's procurement process and is determining how the cloud could potentially help the agency's disaster recovery systems.

Identity Management

The Postal Service is in a unique position — it's ahead of the curve when it comes to identity management issues. In May, the Postal Service's Inspector General released a report examining how USPS could help the government, as a whole, in this arena.

"We're working very closely with the White House and the efforts that are being done on the federal horizon," Burgoyne said. "We're looking at some ways we can leverage our trusted brand and our platform to maybe help with the identity management concerns that are out there and help develop some solutions."

Burgoyne said the Postal Service is currently involved in the White House's FCCX project.

"Every agency has their own priorities and their own uniqueness but, I think, in the federal space there's some efforts to try to rationalize that and to find, maybe, one provider that can help be that trusted broker of information, so we're exploring that," Burgoyne said. "Our new digital group is exploring that with the rest of the federal space to see if there's an opportunity for us to help in that arena. It's an exciting opportunity. With it comes a tremendous responsibility too to make sure we continue to deliver a safe environment in terms of emails and online transactions."

Listen Now: Burgoyne discusses how his long history with the Postal Service prepared him for his role as CIO. (Listen to the full interview at the top of the page.)


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