USPS starts Desktop Post Office project

The U.S. Postal Service this month released details on a program that would let small and home-based businesses prepare packages for mailing and pay for postal services over the Internet.

USPS released to six pre-qualified vendors a request for comments for its Desktop Post Office (DTPO) which will give small-office and home-office (SOHO) customers the ability to access through a World Wide Web browser a variety of existing and new USPS applications such as secure credit card payment over the Internet. USPS pre-qualified Andersen Consulting Battelle BDM International Inc. Digital Equipment Corp. MOS Scale International and Tracor/Cordant.

The formal solicitation will be released Oct. 7.

USPS estimates that 7 million small businesses and about 24 million home-based businesses currently operate in the United States. "We want to be of service to all mailers and this is an effort to [target] that particular [SOHO] market which is one that is quickly growing " said Robin Minard manager of new business implementation at USPS.

Vendors declined to estimate the value of the project.

All the DTPO applications and will be accessible through the USPS home page on the Web. Some applications already under development such as the Electronic Postmark which places a time and date stamp on electronic messages as proof of mailing and NetPost which is an electronic-to-print service will now fall under the DTPO program.

With NetPost which is being developed by Tracor Information Systems Co. users can create a document on a PC and send it through the NetPost home page to a printing center operated by Xerox Corp. under the Tracor contract. The center will print the documents sort them and then mail them.

While USPS expects the service to be used for many types of documents Tom Liberti marketing director at Tracor said advertisements and marketing materials are examples of documents that can be sent via NetPost. "It's convenience more than anything else " Liberti said. "Everyone in business today is overloaded. They don't have the time or the people to do it [all]."

The DTPO program also will include new applications such as Postal Ship which is designed to be similar to Federal Express' FedEx Ship and the United Parcel Service's UPS Online. Among other things Postal Ship will allow users to compute the shipping cost of a package pay for it print airbills and labels to attach to the package request package pickup and track the location of the package - all online. Postal Ship is different in that it will be a Web-based application that accepts credit card payment over the Internet.

USPS has an aggressive rollout schedule for the DTPO program: The agency wants to test the system in January and complete deployment nationwide by March 1999.

This DTPO program is just one more step in the federal agency's focus on staying competitive said Sam Graber market analyst at Federal Sources Inc. "The DTPO will Web-enable and augment the Postal Service's range-of-service to consumers thus evolving the ease of business to a flick of a switch and click of a mouse."

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