USPS starts on foundation for electronic services

The Postal Service has awarded a four-year, $22 million noncompetitive contract to
Secure Computing Corp. to help develop and implement its Security Infrastructure Plan.

USPS is modernizing its business practices to be Web-enabled, said John Sekevitch, vice
president and general manager of professional services for the San Jose, Calif., company.
“The idea is to become more competitive,” he said.

USPS is planning a security infrastructure as the underpinning for the future
electronic services it wants to sell.

Post offices now process 182 billion pieces of mail a year, about 43 percent of the
world’s total mail volume. But competition is growing from overnight delivery
companies and electronic media such as e-mail. A security infrastructure is necessary for
new internal business practices as well as a number of online initiatives the Postal
Service has undertaken in the past year.

USPS last May announced it would co-operate with Canadian and French postal
administrations to field-test the Post Electronic Courier Service. Post ECS electronically
delivers business documents across multiple systems with encryption, password protection
and real-time tracking services.

Qualified test partners are trying it out now, and USPS has plans to incorporate
public-key cryptography, digital signatures, and proof of delivery and receipt.

PostOffice Online, a USPS pilot announced last year, consists of Mailing Online for
electronic creation of mass mailings and Shipping Online for automated shipping.

Mailing Online customers can simply e-mail to USPS all their documents, correspondence
and first-class mail along with their mailing lists. The Postal Service routes the digital
documents to a contract printer for processing and mailing.

Each time a list is uploaded, the Postal Service checks it against the National Address
Management System to standardize abbreviations and ZIP codes. Any unverifiable addresses
are sent back to the customer for correction.

Shipping Online lets customers calculate and pay postage, prepare labels, schedule
pickups, and track and confirm Express Mail and Priority Mail deliveries.

An Electronic Postmark Service provides a tamper-resistant time and date stamp to
authenticate electronic documents. It is now undergoing tests by selected USPS customers.

If the Postal Service is to position itself as a value-added provider of secure
services, it must set up the infrastructure rapidly, Sekevitch said. The Secure Computing
contract has two base years and two one-year options.

“There is such a crunch to get it going,” he said, that four years is not an
unreasonable time to spend on testing and running before putting it in operation. 

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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