Spring Has Arrived, and So Has a New Tone in the Postal Industry

John Hagel, of Deloitte’s The Edge, (pictured above) talked about how successful firms are learning to focus on interactive engagement with their customers, and made a major point of noting how small strategic changes can have a significant impact on a company’s success. Larry Weber noted that successful leaders must make social interaction a major strategy within a company, with its partners, and with its customers. Marshall Van Alstyne, MIT, noted how important it will be to understand customers and to build responsive feedback loops into the mailing industry value chain.

 

Brody Buhler of Accenture summarized the last session of the successful fifth annual PostalVision 2020 Conference by noting that there was a new, more positive tone in the postal industry. Conversations are less focused on coming up with solutions to problems of the past and more intent on implementing strategic responses that will position the posts and their partners for the future. So what leads him to make such a statement? Here are some highlights from PostalVision 2020/5.0.

Strengthened Postal Platforms

Postal organizations have come through a most difficult period with more focus and clarity about what they need to do to succeed. They have become more efficient, and are providing higher levels of service. Many have demonstrated an improved ability to innovate. Some have aggressively partnered with others to create more efficient systems, develop new products and services, and to become more responsive to customers.

John Hagel, of Deloitte’s The Edge, talked about how successful firms are learning to focus on interactive engagement with their customers, and made a major point of noting how small strategic changes can have a significant impact on a company’s success. Larry Weber noted that successful leaders must make social interaction a major strategy within a company, with its partners, and with its customers. Marshall Van Alstyne, MIT, noted how important it will be to understand customers and to build responsive feedback loops into the mailing industry value chain.

Experts from the Universal Postal Union, the European-based Postal Innovation Platform, and SwissPost talked about how some foreign posts have become more market-oriented and successful.

Big Data and the Transformation of Mail

Effective use of data has long been a competitive differentiator in the mailing industry. Typically, however, this was an address-driven initiative which combined demographic data to develop more efficient and more effectively targeted mailings. The industry is now several years into the development of tools to use incredibly detailed new postal operational data. The early results have been extremely useful for the Postal Service and a limited number of firms which were early adopters. Jim Cochrane, USPS CIO and EVP, gave an impressive update on the progress and next steps for the Postal Service’s growing capability.

Adam Houck of IBM and Etay Oren of Communithings provided a more generic but much broader perspective on the rapidly developing “Internet of Things.” Most of the specific technologies have been around for a while and have been continuously improving, but the real value is the emerging convergence of a number of these applications to create significant changes in opportunities for the industry.

This led to another session focused on E-Commerce Delivery, and how empowered consumers will be able to provide shippers and their delivery agents with the opportunity to innovate in time of delivery, place of delivery (such as parcel lockers), and a number of new services. Much of the focus of this session was on package delivery, but audience questions reminded the group that the core business of the posts is still “mail” and cannot be ignored. Ramesh Ratan, CEO of Bell and Howell, previewed a “white paper” machine which has significant potential in the mail business, and a new packaging machine that brings new flexibility and efficiency to that process.

Gary Reblin, USPS VP of New Products and Innovations, outlined progress in developing and testing new services. Most remarkably, the USPS appears to be learning how to test services in small scale initiatives, learn quickly, and rapidly adapt. This new organizational capability, as it evolves, could be more valuable than any specific new product or service.

The Wide World of Cross-Border E-Commerce

The next major topic was the growing need for new approaches to the international market. The discussion began with a review of some of the major issues facing the development of innovative addressing and payment systems to meet global needs. Part of the issue is the wide disparity of addressing systems, even between developed countries. A bigger issue for the future is to provide systems for much of the world that does not now have robust and universal addressing programs. Another important set of problems was terminal dues and customs, both the outgrowth of long-standing traditions and diplomatic processes that will not be easily changed. But the panel outlined some movement for changes already underway. This is critical for many foreign posts, but it has not been a major concern for the USPS (which handles 40% of the world’s mail volume in its domestic market and is relatively unaffected by these issues).

An Appetite for More Action

There were a number of potential “next steps” indicated (Note: this is by no means an exhaustive list):

  1. Identify a limited number of critical “small step” issues, put focused groups on the problems, with relevant measures that will drive significant improvement in the industry that do not involve legislation (Hagel, “Power of Pull”).

 

  1. Describe the interactive “social” media strategies of the postal platform (internal and external) and its partners, and document how those add value to customers and end users (Weber, “Digital Marketer”).

 

  1. Create a new improved, interactive “feedback loop” for customers, the postal platform, and the industry ecosystem (Van Alstyne).

 

  1. Track and publicize successful initiatives of foreign posts that might be relevant to the U.S. market, especially if they would not necessarily require specific legislation.

 

  1. Figure out better ways to publicize postal and industry innovation to the general public, to the business press, to public policy makers and influencers, and to entrepreneurs.

 

  1. Develop a focus on making real progress on solving cross-border issues such as addressing, terminal dues and customs, international returns, security and related issues that will help grow global E-Commerce.

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

Ursa Major Associates thanks those who participated in the Conference, and would welcome additional suggestions for next steps. We look forward to hearing from you.

By Kent Smith

Kent Smith is Research Director, Ursa Major Associates / Postal Vision 2020. His 38 year career in the Postal Service included Rate Classification Research, Market Research, and Strategic Planning. Ursa Major Associates / Postal Vision 2020 is dedicated to taking a broader, longer-term perspective on the future of the mailing industry ecosystem. The thoughts expressed in this “Point of View” are his own.

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