Sun, EPS team to offer Java-based mail forms

The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that it will work with Sun Microsystems Inc. and Enterprise Productivity Systems Inc. to develop a series of Java-based applications for electronic forms that should save USPS time and money.

Under the agreement EPS will make available on USPS' Internet home page all 13 versions of postal forms that bulk mailers use to calculate postage costs. The so-called Web Forms will be written in Java script which was developed last year by Sun to allow users to temporarily access an application over the Internet without downloading it to a computer. The Web Forms' Java application will be a computation engine which is similar to a mini-spreadsheet and will automatically calculate postage rates said Kirk Brown the chief technology officer and founder of EPS.

The forms also will support a multimedia window that USPS will use to train end users and to post daily or hourly alerts to users on various topics such as an update on a form.

"The idea is to use electronic commerce to try and make it easier for our customers to do mail " said Bob Reisner vice president of strategic planning at USPS. "The big picture is We're creating electronic points of access for paper to enter our traditional mail stream. Ultimately the measure of how well we do is our customers."

Currently most bulk mailers manually fill out forms and calculate rates which is a complex task that often results in calculation errors Brown said. "The Postal Service decided to bring a better set of services to its [customers]."

Initially mailers will download the forms fill them out on-line print them out and then send them with bulk mailings. But eventually mailers will submit the forms electronically to USPS.

Web Forms will be easy to access fill out and update and because the forms are stand-alone applications users do not need to use a Java-enabled browser to download them Brown said.

USPS chose to use Java because it met the necessary requirements. "They asked for an interactive cross-platform and portable [solution] that had to maintain the existing platforms " Brown said. "It also had to be networked."

Ren Moore the market development manager for electronic commerce at Sun said the electronic forms should permit USPS to cut costs significantly because the forms will reduce "the amount of human interaction required to deal with paperwork." The Web Forms also will improve USPS' forecasts of where and when to expect bulk mailings because statistics can be tabulated and analyzed more easily.

USPS will test the first Web Forms this month. Some forms will be available for general use later this year and all 13 forms will be available on the Internet by mid-1997.

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