MCI lands $100 million postal job Nationwide 'intranet' to link 34,000 sites, increase efficiency

Deal may grow to $3 billion

Information centers for citizens envisioned in lobby kiosks

March 27, 1997|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

MCI Communications Corp. yesterday said that it had landed what could become its biggest contract, a deal to provide the U.S. Postal Service with a nationwide "intranet" linking 34,000 post offices.

The installation could set the stage for the use of post offices as clearinghouses where citizens can get information from the IRS, immigration authorities and other government agencies.

The contract has a guaranteed value of at least $100 million over five years but could reach $3 billion and 11 years if "to quote Sally Field, they 'really, really like us,' " said Tony Bardo, director of government markets for Washington-based MCI.

The managed network services contract will link post offices for purposes of financial reporting, exchanging electronic mail and employee communications, Postal Service spokesman Bil Paul said.

Bardo said MCI believes the postal system will be the biggest intranet, or network of far-flung computers all controlled by a single organization and distributing information essential to the organization's business, that MCI has ever installed.

Beginning within about 90 days, postal customers will begin to see changes like clerks using more modern terminals that can weigh packages, display the cost of several shipping options at once and automate common reference books like ZIP code directories and guides to postal rules, Paul said.

The new terminals will replace what Paul conceded is "pretty ancient technology" with familiar bright-green displays. More of a problem for the Postal Service is that the terminals, which also calculate the price of shipping packages, are not connected to the rest of the service's information systems, forcing clerks to download sales data daily onto a floppy disk and then load the information on the disk onto another system.

"For the Postal Service, this is going to be a money-saving, labor-saving operation," Paul said.

Neither side released detailed information about the plans to use post offices to let customers communicate with other federal agencies. But both said the system would be built around kiosk-based terminals in the lobbies of post offices.

"It really leverages the fact that the post office has a location in every town," said Bardo, who said the service was already conducting a pilot test of the program.

Bardo said MCI had been working to land the contract for about two years and learned of the award Monday. It will work with a number of subcontractors to build the network.

The main network support center will be in North Carolina, where both MCI and the Postal Service already have their primary network support facilities.

But a backup support center is to be based in Rockville, said Bardo, who estimated that about a quarter of the 175 to 200 jobs he expects the contract to create will be based in the Washington area.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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