Jun 20 2013

The Post Office Turns to Agile Development and Gets Positive Results

With survival on the line, the pressure is on for USPS to innovate.

The United States post office (USPS) is facing a number of challenges in the era of digital communications.

Mail volume has been down for years, a victim of the convenience of email and the Internet. With less revenue coming in, the post office has been forced — perhaps more so than other agencies — to innovate in order to survive.

IT has been a critical factor in reducing costs without compromising services. The post office’s infrastructure is enormous and costly. It also offers the biggest opportunity for reduction.

At a recent IDG Enterprise Event, USPS representatives provided some perspective on the scope of the agency’s IT infrastructure (PDF download):

  • 1300 IT Employees
  • 150K Computers within 40K+ Facilities
  • 894 Business Applications Across 4 Solution Centers
  • One of the Largest Computing Infrastructures in the World
  • Connects 38K Post Offices and 65K Retail Terminals
  • 40K Web Pages on USPS.com - 384M Visits Per Year

It’s no wonder that the post office is taking its development agile. With their new IT improvement plan, IT delivers smaller chunks of functionality more frequently as opposed to holing up for a year or more to complete a project.

FCW reporter Frank Konkel recently detailed the results of USPS’s latest agile project, the upgrade of the Mail Transport Equipment Online Ordering System (MTEOR). The system “allows mailers to order and track mail transport equipment (MTE) online, such as the sacks, trays, pallets and wheel containers that contain mail in transit between facilities.”

Konkel’s research revealed that the project and the approach are paying dividends already:

The number of phone calls to [Mail Transportation Equipment Service Centers] regarding order queries has decreased by 90 percent, and the USPS business team reports "no negative feedback from the mailing community" since MTEOR rolled out. That is significant considering [Mail Transportation Equipment Service Centers] mailers have placed more than 22,000 orders for MTE valued at $231 million since September 2012, and USPS plants have placed more than 3,500 orders of MTE valued at $33 million since April.

Because of MTEOR, USPS is collecting inventory data points from large mailers it never collected before, and it is further developing a new inventory reporting component for USPS plants to take advantage of, too.

"What made agile so valuable to us was that it had a hard deadline, whereas if we used a waterfall methodology, we'd probably only just now [June 2013] be planning on doing something," said Cathy Moon, who formerly managed MTE at USPS. She now works as a manager for USPS' Operations Integration and Support.

Read the rest of Konkel’s article here, and let us know your thoughts on Agile versus Waterfall development in the Comments section.

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