USPS names chief tech officer to build 'info platform'

William Henderson, postmaster general at the U.S. Postal Service, announced last week the appointment of Norm Lorentz as the agency's first chief technology officer, who is tasked with carrying out the agency's new vision of an integrated "information platform."

Lorentz, who has been with USPS since 1994, will have responsibility for engineering, information systems, operations and electronic commerce. "We will put it all under one roof for the sole purpose of making it a priority in creating a new information platform," said Henderson, who spoke at the U.S. Postal Forum in Washington, D.C., last week.

Lorentz also will become a senior vice president and maintain his current position as chief quality officer at USPS.

Information Platform Concept

The information platform concept, which USPS will develop over the next five years, will integrate and deliver real-time information to USPS managers to provide better customer service.

"Today the information we get is about what happened yesterday," Henderson said. "What will really make a difference is [to] link all the information into a new platform."

The information platform will provide USPS customers the ability to know where their mail is in the mail stream, when it was processed and which machine handled it.

It also will help USPS manage its resources better and develop an accounting system that measures how much the agency's products and services actually cost and prices them appropriately.

Lorentz, who plans to draft a five-year technology plan for USPS, acknowledges that the agency is "information-poor. We do not have the real-time information to do the things we need to do."

To better manage information, USPS plans, among other things, to build a data warehouse to tie together all the information it collects and create a "single information stream," Lorentz said.

Lorentz said USPS has three infrastructure issues it must tackle: how to collect, store and use data for analysis. "As big as we are, it's a profound opportunity," he said. "[But] one of the reasons we've been successful is by focusing on what the customer wants."

The USPS Board of Governors last week approved a new Identification Code Sort Program that adds a new function to 9,000 existing bar code sorting machines. This new function will enable USPS to track and trace letters based on information, such as processing time, that is stored in the fluorescent bar code on the back of letters. The board also approved the Commitment Management-Integrated Operations program, which will provide the infrastructure necessary to use this data for other planning and diagnostic uses.

The new programs will help USPS compete with other delivery companies and will prepare the agency for the time when it will no longer retain its monopoly on first-class mail, Henderson said. Technology must become more important to the agency if it is to remain competitive, he added.

"The USPS of the future has to enhance technology, lead deregulation and...do that with a unified family," he said. "I promise you, we will achieve that."

William Kovacic, a visiting law professor at George Washington University, called USPS' strategy a vital step if USPS is to position itself to succeed in the commercial marketplace. "Doing it now means when the competitive floodgates are opened up, the Postal Service will be able to adjust," he said, adding that the agency probably has three to five years of "breathing room" before it loses its monopoly.

One advantage that USPS' competitors have is their ability to adapt quickly to changing technology, Kovacic said. "The Postal Service's competitors are already there and are running harder than ever to maintain their advantage."

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