Progress Report


Maps, Anyone?

The U.S. Geological Survey in Denver sells maps: beautiful maps of the North American continent in razor-edged, shaded relief; educational maps of the original Native American Nations; satellite photos of your city, that are so clear that you can pick out your house. They are all dirt cheap. Would you like to buy one? Good luck. [5]

That was how the Denver office wrote about its own operations. Officials described a process that not only did not serve USGS's customers, but actually seemed designed to frustrate them.

For one thing, USGS did nothing to publicize the wonders it holds. For another, the catalogue from which customers had to order was confusing, if not counter-productive. So, too, were the outdated computers and management systems. And if customers were dogged enough to pinpoint what they wanted, USGS was not likely to have it. All together, the rules and procedures amounted to an almost classic lesson of how not to serve your customers.

In Denver, though, USGS's workers knew that they had a building full of treasures--but hidden in such a breathtaking state of disarray that they were not sure that government could ever retrieve them. As Al Watkins put it, "We have 85 million maps on the shelf and from that, we distribute 10 to 12 million dollars in products annually. There are some 55,000 different map and book titles that make up the total storage in the warehouse, so it's an enormous job, and at one point in time, I was convinced that was a job the government just could never do well."

Nevertheless, when the time arrived to make a difference, Watkins put aside his frustration. So did his colleagues. "When the opportunity came to designate the distribution activity in Denver as a reinvention laboratory," he recalls, "we jumped at it."

The office created a seven-person reinvention team, representing all parts of the distribution activity, that sought ideas and help from its customers and the private sector's leaders in product distribution. Officials at Hershey and John Deere proved especially helpful.With a comprehensive plan that it expects to implement over the next year-and-a-half, the office expects to improve its customer service dramatically; the time needed to satisfy map and publications orders will fall from its previous two-to-four weeks to a day.

Under other team recommendations, the office will automate its stack and inventory management system, cut mail handling in half, and revamp the office's accounting. Customers will be able to order maps through a toll-free phone number. No longer will they find Denver's treasures out of reach.


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