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New Mail Center System Prompts Dissatisfaction

By Jennifer Lane
Associate News Editor

The Mail Services Re-engineering team will go back to the drawing board this week to address faculty and staff concerns about the new mail delivery system.

The re-engineering team had set up distributed mail centers where faculty and staff could pick up their mail rather than receiving their mail directly. Many have complained that the changes have resulted in mail delays and wasted departmental time traveling to local mail centers.

The redesign team will focus on the immediate issue of mail delays, and attempt to "implement positive changes to mail services," said David F. Lambert, chair of the redesign team. "One goal is to turn mail around within 48 hours and to clean it all out on Friday,"he said.

The redesign team met Tuesday, and faculty and staff should have seen an improvement in mail delivery over the past few days, he said.

Faculty dissatisfied with changes

In the MIT Faculty Newsletter, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science James L. Kirtley Jr. '67 expressed a common concern of faculty and staff about the distributed mail centers.

"They replace those efficient people who hustled mail to all of the offices. Now what happens is everyone must go to the mail room to get his or her mail," he said.

Kirtley said that the new process of mail delivery, while it may save money on the books, actually requires more people hours to send staff to retrieve mail. He also claimed that having a public mail room may involve a potential security hazard.

But Lambert said that only one-tenth of the Institute previously received personal mail delivery and often "entire buildings would receive bags of unsorted mail to be sorted by departmental people." While making more work for some, the distributed mail centers actually alleviated the workload on departments, Lambert said.

Re-engineering still in early stages

Mail services re-engineering is far from complete, and its most productive and positive aspects have not yet been implemented or are in pilot stages, Lambert said.

The redesign team is striving toward completing implementation of its changes "roughly five years from now. When all outgoing mail will be centrally processed, the Institute will make effective use of electronic communication, and the amount of junk mail will be cut in half," Lambert said.

Practically, this means that current mail-processing costs of $6 million will be reduced by $1 million. "There will be a shift of labor from the departmental level to a more centralized level," Lambert said.

Currently, mail services staff consists of about 40 people from across the Institute, Lambert said. That staff may be reduced by 10 people as mail services becomes centralized, he said.

The re-engineering of mail services is about one-tenth of the way completed, Lambert said. Roughly 14 of the planned 35 distributed mail centers have been set up.

The distributed mail centers utilize centralized labor to process outgoing mail, sort incoming mail, and perform other mail-related services for the entire Institute.

A pilot program for processing outgoing mail is underway, with five of the Institute's 150 departments and divisions participating.

The mail scales have been removed from the five participating departments, and centralized labor processes all of the outgoing mail. This saves departmental labor, and allows the Institute to take advantage of bulk postal discounts, Lambert said.

For MIT to qualify for a discount, a certain volume of outgoing mail addressed to the same ZIP code must be gathered together, and the mail must be presorted and barcoded. "This cannot be accomplished at the departmental level," Lambert said.

Centrally processing outgoing mail saves roughly five cents per piece of mail by consolidating all of the Institute's mail through a commercial mail service with other large-scale local mail users, like Boston University.

The Institute has roughly 25,000 pieces of outgoing mail each day, "so a savings of five cents per piece really adds up," Lambert said.

The more positive aspects of mail services re-engineering have not yet been implemented, including the large-scale campaign to reduce junk mail at the Institute, Lambert said.

Roughly 50 percent, or 9 million pieces, of Institute mail can be considered junk mail, Lambert said. The goal of the redesign team is to cut this number in half.

"Mail services doesn't believe in mail police. We cannot determine what the recipient does or does not want," Lambert said. One way to cut down on junk mail is to give faculty members Day-Glo stickers to mark the mail that they do not want and have them place that mail in a separate mailbox.

Centralized mail labor would then sort through the unwanted mail and contact companies with a list of names to have removed. "The companies are happy with this arrangement, too. They save on costs as well," Lambert said.