The Post Office

The Post Office is a group of three core businesses that form the UK’s national postal system. It operates as a public corporation and is owned, but not managed, by the Government.

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Its businesses are:

Royal Mail: the letters business, Post Office Counters Limited, the retail

Business and Parcel force, the parcels business. It also runs Subscription Services Limited, which provides a portfolio of services to UK businesses.

The group as a whole has recorded a profit for the last 19 years, and is one of the few national Postal administrations to operate without government subsidy. In 1994, following a review set up two years earlier, the Government published a discussion paper that set out proposals for the future of The Post Office. Following a prolonged and intense public debate the Government decided, in 1995, to drop plans for Royal Mail/Parcel force privatisation from its then current legislative programme but in the following year announced it was relaxing some of the financial restraints to allow The Post Office businesses to compete for new business.

A brief history of the Post Office

The origins of the Post Office can be traced back to 1482 when couriers carrying “pacquets” (royal messages) were granted the power to requisition horses and guides. By 1660 control of “The Post” had passed from the monarch to Parliament with the creation of the post of Postmaster General. From the introduction of the uniform penny post in 1840 the Post Office grew and took on new responsibilities until by the 1950’s about 1/3 of all civil service staff were employed by the Post Office.

In October 1969 the Post Office ceased to be a government department and became a corporation. The responsibility for the day to day management passed from the Postmaster General to the board of the newly constituted corporation, although the new Minister for Posts and Telecommunications still retained control of the Post Office’s budget. Further reform followed in 1981 when post and telecommunication were separated and The Post Office Corporation was divided into The Post Office (responsible for postal services and National Giro Bank) and British Telecom (responsible for telephones and telecommunications). Again the argument behind this change was that it would make the Post Office more suited and responsive to the needs of the commercial modern world.

The Post Office delivery services survived the mass privatisations of the 1980’s. However, British Telecom was privatised in 1984 followed by the National Girobank in 1989. Although, The Royal Mail is the letters division of the Post Office, It is obliged to provide a universal service at a uniform price. This is achieved through cross subsidisation of more costly services by less costly and a monopoly on deliveries of letters costing less than ?1.00. The Royal Mail has a network of approximately 100,000 post boxes and employs approximately 80,000 postmen.

Post Office Counters Ltd is a network of approximately 20,000 sub post-offices. They are mostly privately owned and run by agents (sub-postmasters), many are also shops. They sell stamps and provide other services such as pensions, etc. Parcel force is an independent division of the Post Office that operates without a monopoly and in direct competition with a number of private sector companies. Parcel force employs approximately 13, 00 staff, has 165 depots and a fleet of approximately 9000 vehicles.

The reason to tell this entire story to explain the changes went through in this organisation by the time requirement.

Description of nature of information systems:

A Local Area Network (LAN) had been introduced in the Newcastle upon Tyne postal district 18 months earlier and was intended to link together different locations in the Newcastle area and to provide a gateway to other Post Office LAN’s nationwide.

Initially use of this system was restricted to senior (board level) managers but with the impending restructuring and expected privatisation use of the LAN was extended to other levels in the organisation. At the initial time of the interviews there were 37 terminals in the Newcastle area and 6 at ‘remote sites’. The Newcastle LAN could also be used to link to another 20 Post Office LAN’s in different parts of the country.

The system integrated elements of personnel, administration, recruitment and data on human resource utilisation with data on costing and the volume of business transactions.

What is a network?

A ‘network’ is a generic term for any computer based communications system that links together a number of computers and other devices. A network may be called a LAN (Local Area Network) or a WAN (Wide Area Network). LAN’s are networks that connect several devices, usually through a single cabling system, within a clearly defined area such as a single building or a group of adjacent buildings. WAN’s on the other hand are networks used to distribute data around sites that may be scattered across or single country or the entire world.

WAN’s may be composed of interlinked LAN’s and may use a number of different communications links (e.g. satellite and telephone lines) to join their component parts. Networks may take many forms although, conceptually, they only consist of two parts.

Description and analysis of functional use of information systems:

The networking software defines the “logical” structure of the network: it controls and co-ordinates certain activities in a group of otherwise independent processors (network stations).

At the heart of each network is the fileserver. The fileserver treats the network stations as if they were storage peripherals (e.g. disk drives) while the network stations treat the fileserver as if it were a hard disk – reading from it and writing to it as required. To each machine it appears as though the data had simply come from a disk drive. Communications software and the “physical” link both the network stations and the fileserver run communications software to send data to each other through the physical link. The physical link, i.e. cabling system, defines the physical structure of the network while the communications software carries the data along the physical link; together these two things act as a medium for the communication between fileserver and network station.

However networks can facilitate communication between people as well as machines. Electronic mail, diaries and teleconferencing facilities can be used as a medium for communication, control and co-ordination between people. For example, e-mail allows asynchronous communication between individuals or groups and also enables the efficient distribution of text based memos or messages to a group, or groups, of recipients.

Assessment of current use of information systems

Security and ease of management:

Networks, by their nature, impose restrictions on certain actions by certain users at particular times (e.g. two users cannot write to the same file at the same time). This greatly simplifies file management and can provide several layers of additional security, e.g. passwords and or access only via dedicated terminals. Networking software can also provide alarms and audit trails to assist dealing with security problems if they do occur.

Resilience Networks are virtually unaffected by local damage. If a network station breaks down it can be simply removed without any disruption to the other users. If the data has been backed up then no data need have been lost; the user can simply move to another network station. The fileserver on the other hand is the hub of the network; if this ceases to function the whole network stops. However, once again, if all the data has been backed up and good recovery procedures exist networks can even survive a fault at the fileserver.

Efficient use of resources:

Networks make a more efficient use of resources as they allow the apparently simultaneous use of one application by several users. The most obvious example of this is the shared use of programs such as word processors and spreadsheets. These will only need to be installed once on a file server and can then be used on any number of machines. Networks also allow the cost of expensive but infrequently used items, such as specialist printers or tape drives, can be shared between a large numbers of users. Similarly old, unusual or otherwise obsolescent equipment can also be made use of in this way.