Postal kiosks serve up HR services
If USPS employees 'aren't happy with some-thing, they'll tell us,' CIO Robert Otto says .
J. Adam Fenster
If your agency has 500,000 employees without computers, how do you offer them administrative services electronically?
That's the exact predicament the Postal Service faces. To overcome it, the service is installing more than 300 computer kiosks to give employees online access to human resources applications.
The Personnel Central Kiosk initiative expands on the earlier PostalEase program for benefits changes via intranet and interactive voice response.
'The IVR system has been around for some time, but IVR was never mandatory so it didn't get a lot of use,' USPS information systems coordinator Dixie Wiles said. For example, employees have been able to apply by IVR for jobs since 1993.
The postal intranet serves up the HR apps to the 200,000 employees with desktop computers, 'but we have a half-million employees who don't have access to a computer,' such as mail carriers and most workers at distribution centers, USPS chief technology officer Robert Otto said.
'We wanted to open another channel for those who didn't want to use the phone,' he said.
Each single-purpose station from Kiosk Information Systems Inc. of Louisville, Colo., has a keyboard, a trackball, speakers, a thermal printer and a 17-inch LCD touch screen with a privacy filter.
'You can't shoulder-surf,' said Peter Snyder, the vendor's senior enterprise manager. 'Anybody who is 2 degrees off center will see a blank screen.'
Kiosk Information Systems initially will produce and support 310 kiosks under a $4.1 million contract, and USPS has an option for another 300. The installation isn't large, Snyder said, but it is being done in a hurry.
'We had to bring them out very quickly,' he said. 'The first 310 we cranked out in about three weeks.'Larger sites
By early September, more than 200 were online, Wiles said. They went first to the 197 processing facilities and bulk mail centers with the most employees. Most large sites will have two kiosks. The first 310 will serve 350,000 to 400,000 employees.
Not all 38,000 postal sites will get a kiosk, however. 'It wouldn't make sense to put one in a one-person post office,' said Tim Patterson, program manager for IT business systems.
Each kiosk incorporates a Hewlett-Packard Co. thin-client computer acquired under USPS' Advanced Computing Environment program.
'It has nothing on it but a browser,' Otto said.
A user interface developed by Netkey Inc. of Branford, Conn., overlays the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, hiding buttons and controlling keystrokes to limit users' activities, said Bob Ventresca, Netkey's marketing director.
The Netkey server software manages the kiosks remotely from a USPS data center in Minneapolis. Each kiosk has a 100-Mbps connection to the USPS intranet over WorldCom Inc.'s MCI network.
The kiosk program is too new to have produced many statistics, but within days of the first installations, 8,700 log-ins were recorded. Heaviest usage is during the second and third shifts, starting at 3:30 p.m.
'Those folks use it a lot because they don't have access to personnel offices' during their shifts, Wiles said.
The feedback so far has been positive, which Otto said he takes as a good sign. 'Our employees are not shy,' he said. 'If they aren't happy with something, they'll tell us.'