Mobility

Mail carriers get new mobile device

USPS mobile device

Postal carriers are getting a new mobile hand-held electronic device to track packages and communicate with their local offices. While the main function is to scan packages at delivery, USPS officials are reluctant to call it just a scanner.

The Mobile Delivery Device collects and transmits transactional data for packages at the post office and as packages are out for delivery. It can operate over the networks of multiple wireless carriers, as well as internal USPS networks. The next generation device, built by Honeywell, is the leading edge of a larger USPS plan to support the kind of multiple-event end-to-end tracking used by commercial shippers.

The device stores details about the workday of the carriers, said USPS CIO James Cochrane at a meeting with reporters at the annual National Postal Forum. Carriers will use the device to track their movements and their working time, and can even input vehicle data on the device. "It really becomes more of a work aid than just a scanner," he said.

The USPS will deploy about 75,000 of the new devices beginning in August.

The change is part of an IT infrastructure upgrade at the post office fueled by the explosion of e-commerce. The USPS is exploring replacing and upgrading the scanners at its larger processing centers, while bringing more advanced tracking technology to even the smallest post office location.

"We really are making a billion-dollar bet on the future of the shipping business," Cochran said.

As the USPS expands its ability to meet the technological demands of commercial shippers, it ramps up the amount of data it collects. The agency is up to 30 petabytes in storage, Cochrane said, and the advanced tracking offers more data collection points as a package moves through the sorting system.

While the largest customers might glean some insights from using the data collected by USPS, privacy statutes get in the way of using their data as a marketing tool.

"From the data we have, we know what mail goes into your houses," Cochrane said. Commercial mailings like catalogs have intelligent mail barcodes that have information about the sender and the recipient. "We don't share any of that. We don't use it ourselves. Our statutes don't allow for it."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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