USPS hands mail supervisors Windows CE on handheld PCs

A Postal Service handheld computing initiative, designed to streamline mail delivery,
has become one of the nation’s largest Microsoft Windows CE deployments.

About 2,000 supervisors in the service’s Great Lakes region, which covers
Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, use Hewlett-Packard Co. 320LX and 620LX handheld units to
track daily mail deliveries. Each unit runs Windows CE 2.0 and pocket versions of
Microsoft Excel and Word, plus calendar, calculator, e-mail and tape recorder functions.

On the touch screens, supervisors enter the volume of mail that each carrier must sort
and deliver each day. From that volume, they can determine how long the delivery should
take and work to eliminate any time-wasting practices, said Rich Rooney, an operations
analyst in Bloomingdale, Ill.

“It allows us to make real-time productivity checks, something we were never able
to do before,” Rooney said.

Each carrier handles 2,000 to 5,000 pieces of mail a day on a set route. The Great
Lakes Delivery Programs Support Group worked with Polaris Technology Inc. of Louisville,
Ky., to develop two programs—the Office Management System and the Street Management
System—that let supervisors calculate where the carrier should be at a given time.

Supervisors can dock the handheld units into desktop PCs and upload information,
eliminating trips to a printer for revised schedules.

The handhelds also store vehicle data and times and approved locations for
carriers’ lunch or other breaks.

“It’s more data than a delivery supervisor could learn in 20 years,”
Rooney said. “It opens up a whole new window for managing carriers.”

The Postal Service bought 2,000 HP 620LX computers with active-matrix color screens
after first using eight monochrome 320LX units, which had the largest screen and memory of
any handheld in their class, Rooney said.

An initial 500 units went into service a year ago, and Great Lakes officials plan to
roll out 1,500 more this year and provide user training, Rooney said.

Another 1,000 HP handhelds eventually will be bought so that every delivery supervisor
has one. 

For five years, the Great Lakes supervisors had used data collection devices from
Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y., but they found that upgrading one
unit’s memory would cost as much as $500. The HP handhelds cost $522 each in volume.

Rooney said the carrier’s union has been critical of the managerial use of
handhelds, although feedback has been positive from carriers themselves.

Postal Service headquarters is reviewing the Windows CE applications for possible
national use, Rooney said, but “we don’t want to spread it until we’re

With 16M of RAM, each HP handheld can store data on as many as 4,000 routes.

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