How long does the mail take? IBM to find out

IBM Corp.'s Business Consulting Services division won a seven-year contract from the International Post Corp. to improve and manage UNEX, a new, Internet-based quality measurement system.

IPC of Brussels, Belgium, is a cooperative association of 23 national postal operators from major countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain and Greece. IPC helps upgrade international postal services.

IBM and IPC will follow more than a half-million letters, and most of them will carry a radio frequency identification transmitter to enable tracking. The RFID technology will tell IBM how long a letter is in the country of origin, in the recipient country and in transport between two countries, therefore helping the company identify logjams in the delivery process.

IBM will track the quality of mail delivery worldwide and report to IPC on whether 36 countries in Europe, North America and Asia are dispatching the mail on time. IBM's test panel of 3,000 people will participate in the letter tracking. The panelists will report daily when they have sent and received the test letters.

The reports will help postal operators react quickly if the service does not live up to international standards; for example, in Europe, normal mail delivery time is three days, according to IBM.

The UNEX system should be fully operational by 2005, according to IBM. The Armonk, N.Y., company did not disclose the value of the contract.

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