Delivering the cutting edge

Having spent the past 26 years of his career at the U.S. Postal Service, William Orr, manager of the agency's Distributed Systems Central Management Facility in Raleigh, N.C., is intimately familiar with the challenges of an agency trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

Orr is responsible for USPS' Associate Office Infrastructure program, slated to become the largest distributed base of computers within the agency. AOI includes agencywide programs such as Point-of-Service One, which will deliver state-of-the-art retail terminals to post offices nationwide, and the Distributed Systems Operational Support contract, which will centralize help-desk and support services for users of AOI systems.

"What appealed to me about this job? I guess everything that has appealed to me about things in the past," Orr said. "It was something new that we hadn't tried before. It was challenging, it was state-of-the-art, and it wouldn't leave you bored. I don't like to be bored."

Orr spends much of his time making sure all the pieces of the program fit together and that the right people are there to support users in the field. He considers these to be the toughest aspects of his job. "Planning is probably the key [to the program's success]," he said. "Execution of that plan is crucial. And we all need to understand our jobs— what to do and how to do it. Teamwork is a necessity."

Orr said he excels at getting people to work well together. "This sounds trite, but you really can't do it on your own," he said. "You really have to do it as a team, and I think I've learned that over time. I think what I bring to this project— and what my boss thought that I would bring— is the depth of experience in all of the things I have touched over my entire career."

Orr knows firsthand what it takes to rally the troops to bring a major program to fruition. USPS plucked Orr from Control Data Corp., where he had been working on a $130 million contract to build an online data collection system for the agency. In 1972, when the company was no longer supporting the program, Orr accepted a job at the USPS office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a move that allowed him to continue to apply his in-depth knowledge of the system. At the time, the data collection system was the largest internal network in the country, he said.

Five years later, he moved to USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., to lead the group responsible for procuring hardware and software for the then-six USPS data centers located throughout the country. In the early 1980s he became operations manager supporting the Postal Inspection Service and the Postal Service corporate databases.Orr was then reassigned to the Wilkes-Barre facility to redesign the time and attendance data collection system he had helped to develop in the early 1970s. He later moved to Raleigh to help deploy that system.

In 1992 Orr took on the five-year task of consolidating three postal data centers into one, and last year he moved to his current post.

Throughout his career, Orr has experienced many changes at USPS. When he started with the agency, "it was almost as if the information systems [organization] was a part unto its own and not even part of the postal process," he said. "We knew absolutely nothing about what was happening in the organization.

"Obviously, everyone has seen how the Postal Service has turned around," he said. "Today we understand we are part of a team. We are getting a consistent message from our senior management, and we are trying to deploy that message all the way down through the organization. We are here to serve the customer ultimately, and everything we do needs to be focused toward that customer."

The message is obviously getting through. "Before 1992, when people asked me what I did, I would say I worked for the federal government," Orr said. "Post-1992, I say I work for the Postal Service. I'm very proud of it, and I think that's the difference."

In his spare time, Orr likes to listen to radio shows and music of the 1940s and 1950s. He is also a home-theater enthusiast. "I've got a big setup," he said. "I don't necessarily watch a lot of movies, but I love the technology. Like everything else, it's technology that moves fast."

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