Despite the proliferation and widespread use of electronic mail these days, the paper variety is hardly in danger of extinction. In fact, each day thousands upon thousands of letters and packages--the equivalent of those pouring into a small town--are handled, sorted and delivered by the various university divisions.
In 1999, for example, JHMI received some 8.6 million pieces and sent out roughly 2 million; at the Homewood campus, an estimated 10 million pieces of incoming and outgoing mail were handled.
As such a vital cog in the university machine, mail services were deemed overdue for a much-needed checkup. Since September, a 13-member work group has been developing a plan to streamline and improve the performance of university mail services. Specifically, the group has been given the task of assessing customer satisfaction with university mail services, identifying user concerns and examining intra- and inter-campus mail policies, procedures and technologies in an effort to provide recommendations aimed at creating a faster, more reliable and more cost-effective service.
The mail services work group is one of five task forces established by the Business Process Improvement Committee, which was formed by President William R. Brody last summer. The BPIC, chaired by Alfred Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health, is a wide-sweeping initiative charged with examining everything about the way Johns Hopkins does business--from buying copy paper and booking airplane flights to adminstering grants and training academic leadership.
The BPIC's other task forces are purchasing and travel services, standardized purchasing of selected goods and services, academic leadership training and financial business practices.
Audrey Smith, vice president for human resources and chair of the mail services task force, said the group already has identified a preliminary list of recommendations and is in the process of determining others. One of the group's major concerns, Smith said, is uncovering the root causes of delays in campus mail delivery.
The list of preliminary recommendations-- "very preliminary," Smith cautions--includes the adoption of a common courier to move mail between campuses and to handle special deliveries; assuring that all mail rooms have access to the electronic versions of the university and JHMI directories; moving staff to staggered or later shifts to speed up mail delivery time; a change in human resource policies so that internal mail lists can be released electronically under certain circumstances; and adopting a common mail policies and procedures guide that would be available on JHUniverse.
None of the recommendations are currently targeted for implementation.
"What we will do now is examine the implications of each," Smith said. "We do know one recommendation will be to provide an ongoing forum for those running the mail centers to get together to discuss common concerns and search for ways of continuous improvement."
The mail services work group itself is a multidisciplinary team comprised of representatives from mail services, facilities, human resources, administration and faculty. The group meets weekly to discuss ways to improve mail service and to learn more about operations on each campus.
Smith said the group also plans on bringing in outside consultants. The first will be Penny Guyer, the manager of mail services at MIT, who is serving as a consultant to the task force. On March 8, Guyer will discuss with the Hopkins group her role in the re-engineering of MIT's mail services, how to determine barriers and identify facilitators to change, the challenge of changing user behavior and lessons she learned in the process.
Smith said that, overall, the past several months have been an invaluable learning experience in regard to deciphering the intricate framework of Hopkins' mail circulation.
"I personally was not aware of the many mail services and mail rooms that exist here. It seems that at each meeting we discover another one," Smith said. "I think there is much to be gained by bringing together the individuals responsible for all the mail centers. I anticipate that our recommendations, once implemented, will have a very positive impact."
The mail services work group expects to submit a formal report with its recommendations to the BPIC by the end of April. The BPIC then has the authority to suggest immediate implementation of any, or all, of the work group's recommendations that are not considered a change in university policy. Those that are determined to be a change in university policy will be sent to the President's Office and the Council of Deans for approval.