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Firm Forges High-Tech Links to Postal Service

March 03, 1992|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the U.S. Postal Service needed a faster and cheaper way to deal with an ever-increasing wave of change-of-address notices, it turned to San Diego-based Postal Buddy Corp.

Postal Buddy, a small, privately held company, promptly allied itself with Dallas-based Electronic Data Services, or EDS, a $7-billion information-services industry giant.

Together, the companies developed a high-technology kiosk that is designed to make it easier for consumers--and less costly for the Postal Service--to process change-of-address forms. EDS and Postal Buddy also equipped the kiosks to play a role in the rapidly growing information-services industry.

Postal authorities said the change-of-address process is in need of automation.

During 1991 alone, Americans completed 41.5 million change-of-address cards, creating a wave of 2.3 billion letters, packages and post cards that were forwarded to new addresses. On average, it cost the Postal Service 48 cents each time a mail carrier intercepted a piece of mail and redirected it to a new address.

Postal Buddy in January won a license to become an "official" Postal Service change-of-address agent.

Its kiosks will, at no charge to consumers or the Postal Service, accept address changes. The kiosks also will use EDS' extensive telecommunications system to provide instant electronic notification to hundreds of magazine publishers who have forged contracts with Postal Buddy.

The first of 10,000 kiosks bearing the Postal Service logo will pop up this summer in San Diego County, Orange County and Washington, D.C. Postal Buddy kiosks eventually will be installed in post office lobbies, shopping centers and college campuses around the country, said Postal Service spokesman Marty Roberts.

Under the Postal System's existing, labor-intense system, postal employees must "keystroke" data gleaned from millions of change-of-address cards filled out each year by customers.

Postal Buddy is one example of the Postal Service's attempt to cut manpower costs through the use of new technology, Roberts said. Later this year, the Postal Service will install a separate machine in post office lobbies that customers can use to mail packages, Roberts said.

"The public is interested in convenience," Roberts said. "Just look at our stamp consignment program with Safeway (groceries) . . . where we're really selling a lot of stamps."

But Postal Buddy's kiosks will do far more than handle postal matters.

Using technology and software developed largely by EDS, the kiosks that accept cash or credit cards will sell stamps and print customized return address labels, stationery and business cards.

The kiosks also are positioned to play a role in the growing information-services industry. A number of services are being considered. The kiosks will offer information about housing prices in different neighborhoods and cities, said Martin Goodman, Postal Buddy's vice president and co-founder.

EDS, which generates about 13% of its $7 billion in annual revenue from government services, views Postal Buddy as proof that the federal government is serious about providing faster, more-efficient service.

"Service to the citizens will become a major area that the federal government is going to look at in the next five to 10 years," said Bill Dvoranchik, president of EDS' government services division. "The commercial sector has long focused on service, and the government is just now starting to focus on making service better," Dvoranchik said.

Postal Buddy was founded by Goodman and his father, Sid Goodman, transplanted Clevelanders who first approached the Postal Service in 1989 seeking permission to install return-address label machines in post office lobbies. That proposal eventually blossomed into the kiosks, which incorporate for-profit services developed by EDS and Postal Buddy.

In 1990, Postal Buddy and EDS installed 30 prototype change-of-address kiosks at post offices, military installations, colleges and grocery stores in Northern Virginia. "The public accepted it," Goodman said.

The Postal Service will still stick labels on forwarded mail, and people can still go to the clerk's window, Roberts said. "But, with the electronic system, your change of address will be handled faster, we'll have less mail to forward, and you'll get your magazines quicker."

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