Postal Service's WINGS pilot takes flight with 14 kiosks

The Postal Service last week rolled out the first 14 kiosks for the governmentwide
kiosk program at sites around Charlotte, N.C.


The maiden versions of the service's multiagency information delivery system launch a
six-month test. USPS will install 30 more kiosks this summer and perhaps another 70 or so
during the course of the test.


Postal officials hope Americans eventually will use the Web Interactive Network of
Government Services, known as WINGS, as a link to the government the same way people use
automated teller machines instead of visiting bank branches.


The first kiosks are not interactive, said Susan L. Smoter, USPS' gateway services
program manager. Ultimately, the multiagency kiosk team led by the Postal Service wants a
network that will let citizens transact business with federal, state and local governments
via kiosks around the globe.


"There's primarily good, useful information on there right now. It's a little bit
shy of transactions," Smoter said. Among the federal agencies with information
available on the kiosks are the Postal Service, Social Security Administration and the
departments of Interior, Labor and Health and Human Services.


Cordant Inc. of Reston, Va., developed the prototypes under a contract awarded last
year [GCN, Dec. 11, 1995, Page 8]. Three other contractors are expected to deploy
their prototypes soon.


The 14 kiosks have been placed throughout Mecklenburg County at the county government
center, libraries, a regional hospital, shopping malls and post offices. WINGS has an even
broader reach via Charlotte's World Wide Web site, known as Charlotte's Web. The city has
over 147 public access terminals to the Internet that will support a link to WINGS.


Marv Rosenberg, Cordant's director of interactive public access systems, said the
kiosks were developed with off-the-shelf products.


For the hardware platform, Cordant used terminals manufactured by Touchnet Information
Systems Inc. of Lenexa, Kan., a maker of touch-screen kiosks. Touchnet built the WINGS
prototype around an Intel Corp. Pentium 100 processor. The applications run under
Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT.


To support the services and provide data for WINGS, the kiosks are linked via the
Internet to a Sun Microsystems Inc. Sparcserver at a Postal Service center in San Mateo,
Calif., Rosenberg said.


Although bare bones now, the prototypes are seen as the first step toward proving the
utility of a single multiagency, multilevel government kiosk.


"What we've been doing is putting a lot of time on building a model that we can
roll with," Smoter said. "Now we actually have models and templates for
application building, which will streamline the process."


During the prototype and test phase, USPS has four contractors working competitively on
WINGS. Besides Cordant, they are Digital Equipment Corp., IBM Corp. and North
Communications Inc. of Marina del Ray, Calif. The agency expects to spend about $5 million
on the prototypes.


The goal is to roll out as many as 114 pilot kiosks, evaluate the testing and then run
a procurement for instituting 10,000 machines in 1998.


So far, the information content has focused on local government, Smoter said, since the
prototypes are placed in specific areas. But she added that federal agencies are working
to make it possible for citizens to do more business with Uncle Sam via the kiosks.


Postal officials have said that getting the proper mix of information and transaction
capability, along with meshing the programs of innumerable agencies, will be the toughest
part of the program.


"We have multiple fronts being attacked," Smoter said. The Postal Service
aims to expand the number of kiosk locations while agencies work to make the machines more
useful.


The program will fail if the machines are widely available but not useful, she said,
just as it would not succeed if the kiosks offer valuable access and information but are
not easily accessible.


Most federal agencies "haven't even seen it, and they really want to" be
involved, Smoter said.


To search for information on the kiosks, users can look for data by government level or
by particular service topics, such as recreation or health.


Smoter said an initial step in the implementation was creating a standard for the kiosk
user interface. "We feel very strongly there needs to be a common navigational
standard that is adhered to so that the end customer has at least a common navigational
tool across these sites," she said.


The Postal Service has been working with federal, state and local agencies to create
possible standards that are being tested with the prototypes. "It's not real
beautiful at this point. It's the first version. This is just the beginning," Smoter
said.


USPS chose North Carolina as the location for the initial rollout because of the
infrastructure already in place and an early interest expressed by state and local
governments, postal officials said.


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