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August 5, 2002

Mailstops look to improve campus mail delivery

By Michael Terrazas

Emory employees going through their work mail this summer may notice something different on certain pieces: a string of 10 numbers and letters, stamped in one corner, subtle and unobtrusive, following the words “Mail Stop.”

In order to help deliver mail to University employees both more efficiently and more accurately, University Mail Services, Human Resources and the Information Technology Division have worked together to create the new mailstop system, which uses the 10-digit code to route mail to a precise location for each individual on—and off—campus.

The system, which went live July 20, is quite simple in concept: Assign an unambiguous code to each employee that signifies the physical location to which his or her mail will be sent. The first four digits in the code represent the building (using Facilities Management’s existing building identification system); the next three digits represent the building floor, and the final three signify the actual “bin” into which mail is to be deposited.

The only trick is keeping information current; this is, in fact, largely what plagued mail routing in the past, and it was a problem Fred Lewis recognized immediately when he arrived here in 2001.

“I discovered Emory did not have a single database you could go to and locate staff and faculty mailing addresses,” said Lewis, customer service manager for Pitney Bowes, the company with which Emory contracts to run University Mail. “It’s not anybody’s fault; it’s just the way the University has grown up. [The system] was based on what people knew, what they could remember about where people moved and when—and personal knowledge is a terrible way to sort the mail.”

It was an issue not only for University Mail but also for Human Resources; as the primary provider of all-campus mailing labels, HR constantly received complaints about inaccurate labels that resulted in mail reaching some destinations very late, if at all.

Lewis began working with HR and ITD to develop a better system. The first step was to create a mailstop field in HR’s PeopleSoft records. Then there was the task of meticulously going through each University department to develop the mailstop coding system itself and assign a mailstop to every individual; Lewis said there currently are a total of 244 mailstops, most specific to a department but some to individuals (President Bill Chace, for example, has his own mailstop code).

After the system was designed, University Mail’s sorting machines were programmed to sort mail according to mailstops, and the system went live. And, despite some isolated problems, things have gone pretty smoothly so far, Lewis said. Only 12 department-level issues arose that first weekend, involving roughly 300 employees (out of about 20,000 Universitywide).

“When you consider the volume of people, we had about 300 people who did not have mailstops, and that’s a pretty good percentage out of 20,000,” Lewis said. “This may not be the answer, but it is an answer for information distribution at Emory. We will see improvement in delivery time and location.”

“It’s actually gone better than we hoped,” said John Goodson, manager of HR technical services.

Though a number of people collaborated with Lewis on the mailstop project, Goodson and Data Services Manager Carol Miller have been the point people for HR, and ITD’s Barbara Anderson coordinated from her division. People from Facilities Management, Pitney Bowes, PeopleSoft and other divisions also lent their expertise.

Integral to the system’s success, everyone agreed, is how well the University culture adopts to mailstops. Eventually, Lewis said, he would like to see people using mailstop codes for interoffice mail instead of building addresses, and even having employees’ mailstops printed on their business cards. Future modifications could allow individuals to have more than one mailstop; School of Medicine doctors with offices both in WHSCAB and at Grady Hospital, for example, could benefit from such a development.

For now, however, it would be enough for departmental HR representatives to make sure HR’s PeopleSoft records are updated for all employees in their departments—and that they are kept up to date if an employee or a whole department moves.

“The key is having everyone understand the quality and the nature of the information that’s in the system,” Goodson said. “Until we did this, we had no way to communicate to the departments how much bad data there was in the system.”