Postal Consulting Services President, Kathy Siviter, reviews PostalVision 2020/5.0 in a nine part series, beginning with this Point of View post.


John Hagel, Chairman of “The Edge” and author of “The Power of Pull,” at the PostalVision 2020/5.0 Conference talked about the transformation journey in the postal arena as we shift toward the “power of pull.” He told conference attendees that historically our institutions and organizations have been organized around the “push” model of resource mobilization where we develop forecasts of demand and then push the necessary people/resources into the right place at the right time to meet the demand. That is changing today, however, he said. “The only way to take advantage of opportunities is to move to a world of pull,” Hagel said, “relying on scalable pull platforms to draw out people and resources when/where you need them.” Hagel led a panel discussion on how consumer empowerment is changing in the postal ecosystem, with panelists Marshall Van Alstyne, MIT, and Larry Weber, Racepoint Global.


Hagel said that today, digital technology infrastructures are being deployed on a global scale, which is highly disruptive in terms of the exponential change of price performance. “We have had disruptive technologies in the past,” he said, “but what is different about this one is that it continues to demonstrate exponential price performance improvement over longer periods of time than previous technologies.” “And it’s not just that it is continuing at an exponential pace,” he said, “but that it is spilling over into adjacent technologies, all demonstrating the same kind of exponential price performance improvements.” Hagel said the result is a mounting performance pressure which takes many different forms and is systematically preventing barriers to entry and movement on a global scale, which intensifies competition.


The second impact, Hagel said, is that the pace of change is accelerating, with product life cycles in many industries being reduced dramatically with shorter and shorter periods before something replaces it.  Third, as a result of global inter-connectivity, Hagel said, tiny events far away quickly cascade into extreme events that disrupt best laid plans and predictions and leave businesses stumbling.


These three things – intensifying competition, accelerating pace of change, and uncertainty created by extreme events – are in part shaped by the growing power of the consumer, Hagel told the PV2020 group. Along with panelists Marshall Van Alstyne, MIT, and Larry Weber, Racepoint Global, he discussed the platforms being used by institutions and organizations and how those relate to the postal ecosystem and growing consumer empowerment.


Van Alstyne said the focus needs to be at the interactions in the postal ecosystem between lots of different parties, with a platform being able to handle all interactions simultaneously. Data-driven feedback loops between customers and others in the ecosystem are needed, he said, noting that significant players like Google, Amazon and Facebook all analyze data to see what people are doing and use the information to improve the experiences of others on their platform as well as the experience of the person whose information is gathered. “The all have data-driven feedback loops,” he said, “and we need to do that in postal.” When a parcel or advertisement comes to the customer via the mail, do they appreciate it, will it help them? Van Alstyne said the “network affect” where benefits from one user accrue to another user are needed in postal platforms and our ecosystem.


Weber quipped that “every company will become a software company whether they like it or not,” asking whether the USPS is equipped to become a software company, or whether it can buy a software company. He noted that some businesses like GM are relying less on Oracle and HP, instead customizing their own software, and others like John Deere are hiring tens of thousands of software engineers to help them. Hagel agreed that software has become more central to how we create and deliver value to the marketplace, partly due to notion of knowing your customers better through data collection. In traditional marketing, it’s about intercepting customers wherever they are, he said, but rather than trying to intercept them, new marketing techniques focus on how to get customers to seek you out wherever you are, which is a different kind of model. Being more helpful to customers based on their needs is one way to approach it, he said, and ultimately it requires not just doing it yourself but being thoughtful about who else to bring into the ecosystem in terms of expertise, and being software-driven as to how you make those resources available.


In terms of how to move toward these ecosystem changes, Hagel suggested “small moves smartly made,” are in order. Instead of trying to change the entire ecosystem, he said, 2-3 participants should identify some performance challenges between the partner and USPS and work to convene a small group to do some problem-solving around those issues, with clear metrics defined to gauge success. If those small efforts start to gain momentum, then others will want to join in, he told the PV2020 crowd. Van Alstyne said to consider the arcs that connect the various entities in the postal ecosystem, then look at ways to optimize positive interactions between each and minimize negative ones, and help each improve their own services, using data-driven feedback loops for each relationship.


Individual speakers’ presentation slides may be viewed here and Google Hangout full conference video here.


By Kathy Siviter



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