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Supplier Diversity

The United States Postal Service works with Code Plus

�The key thing is that we focus,� says WBE Jinan AbouShakra. �We learn the operation, understand the agenda and do not need to be told what to do�


At the U.S. Postal Service (USPS, Washington, DC), the supplier diversity function is closely associated with supply-chain management, says Doug Glair, manager for supply chain strategies.

Janice B. Williams-Hopkins is program manager for supplier diversity. �Janice�s team reports up through me, and I report directly to the VP for supply management,� Glair says. �My group coordinates all our supplier outreach programs.�

Meet the USPS
The USPS, an independent federal agency, reaches every address in the nation: some 146 million homes and businesses. It has 37,000 retail locations and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to pay its operating expenses. The postal service has annual revenues around $75 billion and delivers nearly half the world�s mail.

The USPS views supplier diversity as an important business imperative. Its stated goal is to be a world-class leader in supplier diversity. And perhaps it already is: the USPS has been repeatedly recognized as a top government agency for multicultural businesses, and was even nominated for corporation of the year by the NMSDC.

Focusing on added value
The formal supplier diversity program began when the Post Office Department became the USPS in 1970, but it wasn�t until the mid 1990s that the organization began to get deeply into supply management, focusing on added value to the supply chain. �We continued to build, looked at what was going on in industry and in the public sector, took the best of both and came up with our own unique program,� Williams-Hopkins says. �We worked out our own �supplying principles and practices.�� These regs, found at 39 CFR Part 601, help the postal service bring value and efficiency to its supply chain functions, she explains.

The service accepts self-certifications, �but in the rare case that there is a challenge, we check with the Small Business Administration, NMSDC and WBENC,� Williams-Hopkins says.

In 1994 USPS became a corporate member of NMSDC. Williams-Hopkins sits on the NMSDC corporate board and participates on many local councils. The postal service is currently evaluating more active participation with WBENC.

Spend percentage
Williams-Hopkins notes that the minority-owned business percentage of USPS procurement dollars has averaged 3.7 percent over the past five years. The goal for this year is 3.6 percent.

For WBEs, the average has been 6.6 percent for the past five years, and the goal for this year is 7.7 percent.

Good subcontract management, Williams-Hopkins explains, enables the USPS to measure the impact of overall spend with the minority and women-owned business community.

Feedback for all
USPS supply chain pros work with all their suppliers �to improve their quality systems and to build capacity with us,� Glair says. �The suppliers do the work but we review and comment and give them feedback for the quality of their work. We talk about how they can improve and what we, as the customer, can do to help improve the process.� This, he says, �is good supply chain procedure, trying to improve any chain relationship.�

The USPS has a postal supplier council made up of about a hundred of its key suppliers, large and small, plus other postal stakeholders, Glair says. �Basically, we want to work together to improve our processes. A lot of what we do is knowledge-sharing on what is ongoing in various industries: how are they changing their business models to become more efficient. We work with our supplier community to improve overall relationships and business.�

The USPS does informal mentoring of all its suppliers. �We try to focus on proven supplier diversity and development tools from NMSDC, WBENC and their affiliate organizations,� Williams says.

Part of the evaluation
For large suppliers, �We do look at supplier diversity as part of the evaluation process,� Williams-Hopkins notes. And when it comes to subcontracting, �They are required to submit plans that outline small, women- and minority-owned business participation in their procurement.�

�We are looking for a good diverse set of suppliers,� Glair explains. �Where it benefits them and the USPS, we encourage our tier one suppliers to bring in women and minority subcontractors. We capture all that data on a quarterly basis, whether it�s direct or indirect expense.�

Sharing information
Williams-Hopkins notes that the postal service has periodic capability briefings. �We share information on upcoming work. We work with local affiliates of NMSDC and WBENC, and usually invite members when we do a general briefing on doing business with the USPS. They get to meet purchasing principals here and see opportunities that are coming up.

�Our last fiscal year we participated in quite a few briefings with members of the Virginia and Maryland/DC councils.�

The USPS will soon launch an updated online portal. In the meantime, �We include points of contact on our website, plus a telephone number and email address where suppliers can send information to us. We have a policy of responding within twenty-four business hours to inquiries,� Williams-Hopkins says.

�Information on how to work with USPS is available for download from the USPS website,� Glair adds. �I look at it like interviewing for a job. You don�t go into it cold: you go in with research about the company and with good questions. The more research about us suppliers do, the better they can pitch their capabilities.�

And back at USPS HQ, all supply management personnel are required to take supplier diversity training. �Every other year we provide an in-house training or awareness course for our people, and on the off-year they can select something available commercially,� Glair concludes.

Code Plus helps the USPS
Code Plus, Inc (Fairfax, VA), a WBE with about forty employees, �is going across several portfolios in its contracts with us,� Williams-Hopkins reveals. Jinan AbouShakra, the company�s president and CEO, �works for us in the mail equipment and mail processing areas, and she�s also involved in our supplies and services portfolio.�

In fact, AbouShakra started out as a consultant with the USPS. It was in the 1990s, Williams-Hopkins recalls. �I hadn�t worked with her personally, but she had built relationships within the USPS and made people aware of her capabilities.�

Glair adds that �Once she started her own company, she had to bid on work just like any other supplier. She is oriented toward price and quality and she is respected by us.�

One-person beginning
Code Plus is a small, woman-owned business recognized by the state of Virginia.

�When I started in 1995 I had a one-person company, and that was me,� says AbouShakra. �Before that I was a consultant with a software engineering and EE background.�

Entrepreneurship is in her blood, she explains. �I am Lebanese and my dad was a businessman since he was sixteen years old, so that inspired me.�

When AbouShakra arrived in the U.S. in 1986 she had just finished high school in Lebanon. She also speaks French. �English is my third language,� she says with a smile.

Working up
She majored in software engineering at the University of Maryland, and worked in areas from defense to commercial, all related to logistics and process automation.

�In 1995 I was working really hard as a consultant. I didn�t mind the long hours, but I thought, �If I work that hard I want to work for myself!�

�By that time I had developed a good network. Places I worked wanted to keep me, and that built my confidence level. �One client wanted to hire me and give me a direct contract.�

About that time the USPS wanted her to take on work for a critical transportation and operation system. �I said, �If you want me to do this, I want to do it on my own.� They called after a couple of weeks and gave the work to me.�

Code Plus for specialist software
�People think most software companies are more or less alike, but we�re not!� AbouShakra reflects. �Code Plus is certainly a software engineering company, but we specialize in developing solutions for the postal sector as well as for logistics.

�We take a manual process and automate it; we�ve worked with the USPS very closely on that. We build solutions that may involve both hardware and software, and we�ve won some big projects,� she says.

�In the beginning USPS was our only customer, but in the last six years we�ve diversified. Now we work with the Army and Navy too. We�ve grown and expanded with special focus on process automation, tracking and tracing and business intelligence.� In the postal sector, Code Plus has developed a Web-based postal operational performance management system. �It�s next-generation business intelligence for postal services,� AbouShakra declares.

The key is focus
�The key thing about our postal story is that we focus,� AbouShakra concludes. �We learn the operation. We are vendors but we act like employees. We understand their agenda, we are able to work out the details, we do not need to always be told what to do.�

Lately the shift has been to systems that produce efficiency and cost savings by leveraging existing investments, she notes. �We come to our clients with postal business intelligence, looking for patterns and ways to consolidate or expand, looking at the whole flow of mail from collection to delivery for better visibility leading to better management in today�s challenging environment.�

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