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Chapter 2 Postal Operations
Deployment of 74 APPS machines began in 2004 and was completed in October 2006.
2. Remote Encoding
The automated distribution of mail relies on barcodes that represent the delivery address. Processing equipment translates the address and applies the barcode to pieces that are not pre-barcoded by a mailer. Letter and flat mail image volumes continue to decrease as improvements are deployed, while ongoing deployments of APPS machines and the Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS) are providing additional sources for images sent to the RECs. The keying requirements for each are different and the REC handles them as separate operations. The results are transmitted to the facility that has the mailpiece, thereby keeping it in the automated mailstream.
During the past several years, a series of computer-based image recognition improvements have significantly reduced the number of images that require manual keying at the RECs. As a result, the Postal Service has been able to reduce the number of RECs in the national network from a high of 55 in 1998 to only 12 today. Additional image recognition improvements are expected during the next few years, which will allow the continuation of the REC consolidation effort. Two additional REC closings were announced for 2007.
The Postal Service is pursuing the integration of image coding operations as part of a larger effort to develop a replacement for the end-of-life image processing subsystem for letters. The Remote Encoding System (RES) will enable unresolved mailpiece images to be sent from a facility to multiple REC sites instead of just one designated REC as is done today. The RES architecture will be flexible to accommodate different requirements at small, medium, and large facilities. A RES development contract was awarded in 2006.
3. Process Improvements
A. 24-HOUR CLOCK
This year the Postal Service expanded process control and lean management efforts with considerable success. A key initiative was the systemwide introduction of the 24-Hour Clock, a highly-structured means for managing mail flows to achieve optimum service and efficiency. It features eight standard indicators and targets, each a key step in the daily flow of mail. Managers are responsible for meeting these targets at all postal facilities nationwide.
Adherence to these standard “handoffs” provides strict operating discipline throughout the system, reducing variability regardless of location or facility type. Missed dispatches, redundant transportation, and sub-optimal processing are all reduced. Complementing the 24-Hour Clock was implementation of IOP-Tour, a process for integrating operating plans (IOP) and managing handoffs among tours within a plant.
B. INTEGRATED DATA SYSTEM
The Integrated Data System (IDS) continuously collects data from all processing equipment within a facility. It allows applications to leverage this data to better manage equipment performance, and thus improve productivity and reduce operating costs. IDS also provides more accurate data on mail volumes and equipment utilization. More precise information by destination and availability for dispatch make it possible to reduce transportation costs. Equipment data are the basis for activity-based costing models which can be used to better control operating costs. The IDS functionality extended to associate Post Offices, linking processing data from remote sites to the host IDS at processing plants. The MPEwatch software application, which monitors processing equipment performance in near real-time, was implemented on IDS to increase application efficiency and response time. IDS also included a security patch management application and an anti-virus solution that will protect the mail processing equipment computing environment against potential security violations and threats.
C. POSTAL AUTOMATED REDIRECTION SYSTEM
Deployment of the Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS) for letters continued on schedule with completion expected in 2007. So far, 161 plants have converted to PARS. This system identifies and redirects forwardable mail during processing, which reduces the time required for mail to be delivered to the new address. It eliminates steps associated with forwarding and address correction services (ACS). With implementation of the Intelligent Mail barcode/ACS program this year, it will no longer be necessary for RECs to key ACS data.
PARS-forwarded volume is growing significantly as both the number of systems and areas of coverage increase. PARS handled more than 2 billion pieces in 2006, more than twice as much as last year. It reduced workhours in forwarding operations and resulted in the consolidation of 72 computerized forwarding system sites. More consolidations are expected in 2007.
PARS also has been shown to reduce forwarding time and improve customer satisfaction. As more customers realized PARS benefits, customer satisfaction survey ratings on questions regarding forwardable mail have increased significantly. Tracking data shows more than a 50% decline in complaints related to changes of address from 2004 to 2006. The potential of PARS was clearly demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The PARS system enabled the Postal Service to more efficiently reconnect customers with their mail following the hurricanes. With the National Change of Address (NCOA) database accessible to mail processing plants nationwide, the plants intercepted and forwarded mailpieces at their very first machine handling, which diverted enormous volumes of mail away from hurricane affected areas and on to their new destinations. Future plans include the extension of PARS to forward flat-shaped mail.