Robert L. Otto: Mail Calls

By Joshua Weinberger Print this article Print

With the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for 23 years, Otto guides technology affecting 740,000 employees.

Robert L. Otto
U.S. Postal Service
Chief Technology Officer
Washington, D.C.

MANAGER'S PROFILE: With the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for 23 years, Otto guides technology affecting 740,000 employees.

HOW IT STARTED: The USPS began testing videoconferencing equipment on a limited basis between its headquarters and a Raleigh, N.C., facility in late 1989.

EARLY OBSTACLE: "We wanted a tool that would be accepted by postal personnel, but our first two units—AT&T systems—were not very user-friendly. Picture quality was shaky, and audio was often low or muddled."

WHAT THEN? By late 1991, 10 PictureTel desktop-PC 150s were being tested for budget meetings and personnel-performance reviews. But by 1992, 25 room-based dual-monitor PictureTel Concord systems were installed nationwide. Later, 40 Polycom ViewStation FX units were added.

AND NOW? Desktop was tabled. Eventually the system was rationalized to 56 units across the country—a combination of Concords and ViewStations.

WHO'S IN? Various groups—sales and marketing, purchasing and supply-chain management, facilities, transportation and operations, information technology, the Inspector General's office.

THE REAL BENEFITS: Usage may not be "critical path," but videoconferencing remains a vital tool for regular monthly meetings—and travel-cost savings are just the start. "We have the ability to meet quickly if a crisis were to occur in order to discuss critical actions."

OTHER APPLICATIONS: "We offer training in diversity, sexual harassment and safety. We conduct hearings, employee arbitrations and depositions, and share the equipment with other government agencies." On their own time, some employees are taking college classes offered via videoconferencing.

WHAT'S NEXT? Despite a continued need for room systems for larger meetings, "user interfaces are more adaptable with the desktop systems now, and we are looking to provide and utilize video on the desktop." That brings things full circle.

This article was originally published on 2003-05-01
Assistant Editor
After being on staff at The New Yorker for five years, Josh later traveled the world, hitting all seven continents in a single year. At Yale University, he majored in American Studies, English, and Theatre Studies.

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