Postal Service's upgrades of electronic mail readers exceed target goals

Postal Service's upgrades of electronic mail readers exceed target goals

Upgrades of remote computer readers let USPS cut overtime expenses for manual mail sorting at remote encoding centers, such as this one in Pittsburgh.

By Merry Mayer

Special to GCN

The Postal Service has begun upgrading hardware and software for remote computer readers to try to raise to 80 percent by 2001 the amount of hand-addressed mail that is sorted electronically.

The Postal Service selected Lockheed Martin Postal Systems of Owego, N.Y., to oversee the reader upgrades. The contract's maximum value is $153.8 million, with deployment scheduled to begin this month. The deal, which calls for upgrading 255 remote computer readers, includes incentives for handwritten-mail read rates above 75 percent and for decreased error rates.

Besides the goal of an 80 percent read rate for handwritten mail by 2001, the Postal Service wants to improve the computer reading of machine-printed addresses by 8 percent, said Edward Kubert, manager of image and telecommunications technology at the agency.

Readers now sort about 53 percent of hand-addressed mail, Kubert said.

The old system rejects mail with bad handwriting, and finding the address on an envelope can be a challenge for a computer, Kubert said. 'You would be surprised where you find the address on some mail.'

Improved technology lets computers read marginal handwriting and secondary addresses such as apartment and suite numbers, Kubert said.

Remote computer readers were sorting only 2 percent of hand-addressed mail in 1997.

'We have exceeded our target sooner than expected and are ready to move forward,' said William J. Dowling, the Postal Service's vice president for engineering.

There is one remote computer reader at each mail processing site. Each reader consists of two SGI Origin 200 servers. One of the servers is for backup, Kubert said.

The servers run SGI's Irix operating system. Servers have either two 4G hard drives or one 1G and one 9G hard drive. Server memory ranges from 256M to 512M. Readers have 20 to 100 processors, depending on the site and the heaviness of the mail flow, Kubert said.

The software is all custom, Kubert said. He credited recent improvements in reader technology to the State University of New York at Buffalo, Lockheed Martin Federal Systems and the Parascript Group of Boulder, Colo.

The upgrades will reduce overtime paid for manual mail-sorting and let the Postal Service close nine remote encoding centers.

The agency developed the centers as a temporary way to automate the processing of mail that has handwritten or poorly printed addresses, said John Rapp, vice president for field operations support. The service can no longer afford to let attrition take care of the reduced work requirements at the centers, he said.

Rapp said that he expects more centers to close but that they might not become obsolete because there could always be some mail that computers cannot read.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected