*Y2K, CASS Certification Concerns Vendors

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Software vendors are worried that some postal certification deadlines may interfere with their customers' Year 2000 remediation plans even though the postal service said it's on target to solving its own problems.

Vendors such as Group 1 Software, Lanham, MD, and Pitney Bowes Software Systems, Lisle, IL, told postal executives at the recent Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee meeting that their customers don't want to implement CASS-certified postal software while they are solving their Y2K issues.

As it stands right now, they probably will have to. The USPS requires companies to use newly CASS-certified software by Aug. 1 each year, so most begin implementing it in May or June. However, this year, it will coincide with many of their Y2K initiatives.

Fearing the dates will create additional problems for their mailers, vendors are asking the USPS to eliminate CASS testing this year, change the effectiveness date or take away some of the complicated regulations that were enacted this year.

"It is probably advisable to skip the CASS cycle all together," said Victor Forman, vice president of postal affairs at Group 1. "I pass no judgment on what it is the postal service wants done. I just think it probably is a little ill-advised given that we have all of these Y2K issues out there today."

"Vendors are trying to meet the needs of their customers while trying to work with the rules and the regulations of the postal service," said Paul Greene, executive director of industry relations at Pitney Bowes. "[But] we don't want to potentially disrupt our individual customers' Y2K plans by giving them CASS-certified software to test at the same time."

Forman said other companies aren't willing to jeopardize the Y2K process by installing anything new and are threatening not to install new software after June or July.

"I would just like to see the postal service skip the CASS cycle this year, keep on our August cycle and then pick it up again next year," said Pete Minear, manager of postal affairs at Fingerhut Companies Inc., Minnetonka, MN. "Whatever the postal service can do to not require a bunch of new changes this year would be greatly appreciated so we can stabilize our systems."

Postal officials said they are listening.

"We are looking into these vendor and customer requests," said Rich Weirich, vice president of information systems at the USPS, "but I do not have the answer yet."

Mailers shouldn't be concerned about Y2K causing USPS operations to slip up. Of the 156 severe and critical information systems -- such as payroll, accounts receivable, and mail condition reporting systems -- that must be remediated for Y2K, 120 have been completed, Weirich said, including ones that directly affect direct marketers: National Change of Address service, Address Change Service and the FastFoward system.

Twenty-eight more will be taken care of by March 31, and the remaining eight by July 1.

"Mailers should know that we are making good progress on our Y2K remediation plans and we've got a good management program in place," Weirich said.

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