Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My old background in clientization and address standardization: in retirement, two "mishaps" in the same day!


Well, when companies and governments lay off or “buy out” older experienced workers. It looks like they lose a little bit of edge on their work ethic, particularly “attention to detail”, especially in systems. When I was “working”, people would ask cynically, “how many of us are any good at our jobs?”

On a just-completed trip to Texas, I left my “postal store” land mailbox address as a contact point for mail with a particular group. I got a call today that the computer system in which they entered my address would not accept more than the first three digits of my box number. And, behold, I noticed that some of the mail I have received recently has only three digits, which means that employees there have to look up the physical box manually.

What happens is that many organizations put their mailing addresses through a “clientization” or “address standardization” software editor, to make it compliant with what the US Postal Service calls “Code 1” and uses for its National Change of Address software, which is maintained by a few contracting companies, including Group 1 Software (Pitney Bowes) and Hart Hanks.  Large companies that do mailing usually purchase interfaces from these contractors.  But mailbox store services also need to make sure that Code 1 has stored correct formats for their actual addresses and box numbers, which is a normal responsibility of a USPS Audit.  I know all this because I worked on NCOA for ING-ReliaStar back in 1998, putting in a complex Group 1 interface.  

In fact, my detailed resume reads “Reduced volume of return mail (by about 20%), by implementing new NCOA (National Change of Address) interface and by clientization of major Vantage system. I analyzed USPS (Postal Service) audit requirements and coded (in COBOL II) forward and reverse interfaces to a client management system (CMS), as well as creating a batch database (IMS) update job. I also helped operations support the Fast Forward and Group-1 (Windows NT) portions of the system. I later helped to convert and test many of the IO modules in this client management system to DB2, using SQL and cursors.”
 
In the meantime, I luckily get some mail with shortened box numbers, a lot of it recently. Somewhere, somebody made a change to a production system without enough QA testing. The programming problem may have to do with data typing, length parameters, or format options, or even the way some SQL subqueries are coded (there are minor differences between DB2 and other ANSI, but they can matter).
No wonder Brainbench tests for technical proficienty and certifies in all this!

That’s not all. I also found out on my recent trip to Texas that my driver’s license has two digits in my street address permuted.  I had never noticed it.  I checked Arlington’s real estate tax system and found that the address as printed isn’t recognized.  Why didn’t Richmond’s DMV catch it?  In fact, I didn’t get my 2013 tags mailed for a while this summer because of the same problem, but I never thought to look at the license.  I suppose that the TSA, and car rental company or hotel could refuse to accept it. That hasn’t happened yet, but it needs to get fixed before I travel again.

I’ve also noticed that I sometimes get an item or two of other people’s mail.  Casing of mail is not perfect. With more USPS employee cutbacks, these problems will only continue.

Also, when I worked as a substitute teacher, I wasn’t paid properly at first for hours in afterschool extended day assignments.  I found out that was related to how the system’s SQL calls worked. 

Think twice before cutting back on “mature” IT workers.  You’re losing the maturity it takes to “get it right”. 

(See also my "identity security" blog Sept. 25, 2006 for a proposal.)

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