USPS system tracks customers' special deliveries

The Postal Service last month launched an electronic tracking option for priority
mail customers who want to ensure the delivery of important letters or packages. The
project cost the Postal Service $300 million to develop and implement.

“It’s a wonderful piece of machinery that really allows customers who deal in
bulk mailings, like small and medium-size businesses, an added degree of control over
their shipments,” said Julie Rios, program manager for the project.

Some customers’ systems print a tracking bar code; others use a bar code provided
by a post office. The customer then drops the item in the mail or requests a pickup and
sends the file via File Transfer Protocol to the post office. The file contains
information about the package, such as what is being mailed, its destination, weight and
other details. The customer files reside on an IBM RS/6000 SP Scalable POWERParallel

The package goes through the usual routes of delivery and is eventually picked up by a
carrier who scans the bar code with a Dolphin handheld scanner from Cymbol Technology of
New York. The 12-ounce Dolphin scanner has a 33-MHz 386 processor.

On returns to the post office, the carrier places the scanner in a cradle that
automatically uploads the information and transmits it to the host IBM computers at
various locations across the nation.

There are two ways to move the information from the scanner to the host computer. The
first is a 56-Kbps line that sends data to the collection server, a four-way Digital
Equipment Corp. server.

The second method is a dedicated line between a company’s LAN and the Postal
Service’s WAN. The WAN connections will depend on the size of the facility and could
range from a 56-Kbps line to two T1 lines.

The Postal Service processes the information nightly and makes it available to
customers at the end of each day.

“What we’re really proud about is the fact that we managed to provide this
service to our customers far under budget,” Rios said.

“The Postal Board of Governors originally told us we could spend up to $700
million, and we spent less than half of that amount,” she said.

There are 326,000 scanners being used in 36,000 locations.  


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