Amitabh Singh, course director at the Asian-Pacific Postal College (APPC), takes a closer look at some of the key challenges faced by Asian posts in modernizing their business, and suggests a number of e-services that can help them prosper
One of the great benefits of working in an international training center like the Asian-Pacific Postal College in Bangkok is that you get to meet and interact with a very wide spectrum of officials and professionals from the postal industry.
It reinforces the bonding between the huge postal family, which together faces common issues and problems. Personally, I’ve always been interested in knowing how the rest of Asia is using ICT to modernize their business. That’s because I was closely involved with the roll out of two key technology projects for India Post. Hence discussions about e-services form part of nearly every conversation I have at the APPC.
E-services, are mentioned by most postal officials as a key area of innovation and modernization. However, when I ask people whether the e-services introduced in their countries were successful or popular, the response is always a little cautious, and never overwhelmingly positive or negative.
The objective of this article is to help decision makers in Asian posts to re-examine their respective postal business strategies for the coming years, especially in terms of the role that e-services and technology has to play in the implementation of projects within their strategies.
Postal sector goals… and challenges
I have analyzed the vision and mission statements of approximately 20 designated postal operators in the Asia-Pacific region and amalgamated their individual goals into the following sub-sets:
Enhanced revenue growth and business sustainability High quality of service and universal access; Becoming a key player in e-commerce fulfillment; Modernization of existing products and services, and induction of new technologies; Innovation through new products and services including being the citizen government interface; Promoting sustainable development and reducing carbon footprint; Improving delivery standards of intercity and rural areas of the country.
However, there are a lot of challenges facing different posts which can hinder the achievement of the goals which the posts have set for themselves. In the Asia-Pacific region, there are certain challenges which are staring posts in the face. The list is long but interesting nevertheless. Let’s start with the human resource dimension:
Human and institution capacity cluster of challenges; High operational costs of human resources; Low level of customer orientation; Growing pension liabilities; Aging workforce; Lack of business mindset and resistance to change; Manpower has low IT skills.
The above list is common knowledge to anyone in the industry, however, when we look at the next cluster of challenges the picture becomes more complex:
Policy and regulatory cluster of challenges; Absence of interoperability in international services as compared with couriers and global integrators; Universal service obligation; Regulatory restrictions to introduce new services (postal banking, postal insurance, international commerce, foreign exchange, mobile banking); Lack of coordination amongst policy makers and regulators concerning postal services (postal, banking, commerce, finance, transport, IT and telecom).
A set of challenges more close to my heart is that of the IT infrastructure in place in most Asian posts:
Postal IT network cluster challenges; Outdated equipment and databases; Lack of integration of IT infrastructure in posts; Lack of data analytics, systems and procedures; Lack of IT security policy- proliferation of fraud; Absence of inter-operability between domestic and international (UPU) software; Poor broadband connectivity in remote areas; Broadband infrastructure connecting postal system; Lack of modern devices at point of sale/last mile.
There are also a number of financial and investment related challenges, certain constraints in the brand image and marketing approach of the posts, and issues in the management of infrastructure, as well as decision making and supply chain management within the posts. Lastly, we have the wider environmental challenges and competition that the posts face.
Posts need to look at each challenge and see to what extent it actually impedes the achievement of the stated goal. For example, to what extent, if any, does a low-level of customer orientation or IT skills impact enhanced revenue growth or high quality service?
Once this kind of mapping is done, one can identify the most critical challenges. The next step is to see how technological intervention can help in mitigating the impact of the challenge or removing the challenge so that the goals can be achieved. E-services and technology can help address the challenges – the million-dollar question is, which technology and service should we depend on, what’s the mantra?
E-services success stories
Posts all over the world have made significant progress in inducting technology and introducing e-services to improve their performance and strengthen their position. The success or failure of these initiatives has depended on a mix of factors ranging from planning, budgeting, marketing, piloting, implementation, technology selection and good fortune. In most cases success has occurred only when all the aspects were properly attended to within a reasonable timeframe.
Over the past two decades, posts in Asia-Pacific have successfully rolled out track-and-trace services for mail products; websites with information of services and tariffs; online customer service and grievance redressal; hybrid mail; online bill payment; electronic money orders; and online philately and postal products shops.
A large number of these services have also been made available through mobile applications. Most of the services were designed around core existing services of the posts and have been very successful.
However, a number of well meaning innovations in e-services have failed to catch the public eye or have not suited to the Asian region. This includes digital postage; the electronic mail box (Macau China is an exception); online shopping portals; Digital Certification Authority; e-cards; e-health; and e-administration.
With this in mind, my analysis has shown that the following e-services have potential for adoption by customers:
Parcel lockers which are smart enough to communicate with customers and the post office network, either self owned or shared; Integrated logistics solution – either self owned or shared with other service providers; Online shipping and mailing tools for at home preparation of printed stickers and posting or collection by the post office staff; Pre-paid card service that is multipurpose for all transactions and is a certificate of identity; Online customs declaration for business and retail mailers; Integration of postal web services with e-commerce merchant websites; Online management of mail item delivery options for customers; Online money remittance services for cash payment to the payee; Mobile based packet and document pick-up services; Performance reports and analytics for business customers especially e-commerce vendors; Big data – (a) Invest in a suitable data infrastructure technology; (b) database management itself requires the data which needs to be captured which hitherto was ignored; (c) fraud detection and smuggling, and illegal activity detection solutions must form part of the data infrastructure; Internet of Everything (IoE) in the 5G era. The post office will have to prepare for this scenario.
In terms of priorities, posts should be looking to modernize infrastructure and look to put in place a next generation IT system which will have centralized or cloud-based processing capabilities. It is difficult to determine what constitutes a next generation IT infrastructure but the technology should have scope for building up and out as and when required. E-services technology should be selected on the basis of whether it can bring about a desirable outcome. There are some basic questions we have to answer in the selection of a service or a technology. These are:
Can the service or technology bring about significant improvements in the accessibility and reach of the post’s services? The solution should enable the services to be universally accessible by 99% of the country’s population. Enhanced Partnerships: does the technology improve inter-operability among national and international stakeholders and partners? Can the post offer new and innovative services including e-government services through the postal network utilizing this technology? Of course in this case the solution will have to fully integrate with the e-government solution? Is the solution going to bring better access to real-time information for decision making including monitoring and evaluation? Is the technology solution providing improved transparency, accountability and security? Is the solution or service resulting in reduced cost of operations and streamlined processes to reduce operation time? Does the IT system improve the working environment, enhance human capability and raise staff satisfaction levels? Can the ICT solution give us enhanced access to different markets?
The selection of appropriate technologies needs to consider the changing digital landscape, which is witnessing some major transformations that will shape how organizations function in the coming years.
Asian Posts are increasingly accounting for a greater share in the global postal business. The next generation technologies will help introduce e-services in a cost effective manner and may help improve the competitive advantage for posts who are quick to adopt them. As such, this subject should be given serious thought by posts in the region as the results will surely be noteworthy.
Amitabh Singh currently works as course director at the Asian-Pacific Postal College, Bangkok, Thailand. He has 20 years’ experience working for India Post in areas such as technology induction, training and international mail. He also holds a master’s degree in Public Policy and Sustainable Development and a Diploma in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management.
October 6, 2016