Modern post and directions for development

Speech by Bishar A. Hussein, director general, Universal Postal Union
Pochtovaya Troika, Saint Petersburg, Russia - 25 June 2013

If there is one sector that has had to adapt to modern times, it is the postal sector.

When Rowland Hill invented the stamp, this modern invention made it easier for people to communicate with each other.

When airplanes were created, mail started being transported by air, improving the speed of communication.

Throughout the years, Posts have kept up with technological change and today the internet and new information and communication technologies are creating yet a new environment for communication.

This is transforming customers’ expectations and shaping the business strategies of Posts worldwide.

Posts once again are adapting to a modern reality. And they are facing this reality head on.

But what does it mean to be a modern Post today? – the theme you have asked me to explore.

I would say there are several features that characterize a modern Post. These include:

  • a clear understanding of customer needs
  • setting high standards of quality of service
  • a capacity to innovate
  • interconnectivity

As the communication market evolves, Posts must stay on top of what their customers expect from them.

Customers want to identify with the organization that serves them.

As customers become increasingly “tech savvy” and conduct more online transactions and purchases, they look to a postal service that has kept pace with the trends.

Posts hold a tremendous asset, their vast network of more than 600,000 post offices worldwide.

This network allows Posts to be present even in the most remote communities. This proximity to the customer is an opportunity to bring services they need closest to them.

These products and services must be attractive and efficient. At the same time, services must be tailored to the needs of various segments of the market.

As electronic substitution eats away at physical mail volumes, understanding customers’ needs is a chance to diversify and identify those services people and business need that cannot be delivered by others.

By leveraging their assets – that everyone can go to a post office, that post offices are close to people and that postal services are well priced and accessible – Posts can reach further. They are trusted to develop financial and electronic money transfer services that cannot be provided by other financial institutions.

Once those products and services are offered, quality of service is key. Customers want efficient, reliable and affordable service.

Without it, the Post cannot develop the market and capture its share of it.

Quality of service is one of the strongest competitive assets to have, and it must be a mantra for every postal operator.

In this day and age, new information and communication technologies are essential instruments of development.

Highly developed Posts with huge mail volumes look to state-of-the-art technology to improve mail processing and delivery. In recent years, the Russian Post has made great strides in this area, upgrading its mail processing operations in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. This is preparing it well for the present and the future.

But what about more modest Posts, that don’t necessarily have the volumes or the means to adopt state-of-the-art equipment?

It’s not always about having the best equipment. It’s also knowing how to use technology to better manage mail volumes and financial transactions, or to better track customers’ mail.

Technology must be used to enhance existing services and processes, just as much as for creating new and innovative ones.

Finally, in a globalized environment, interconnectivity and interoperability are key.

The ability to interact with other Posts or partners or exchange data all along the global supply chain, such as with customs authorities and airlines, must be part of modernization efforts.

Here, they must use international standards that lead to improved efficiency and customer service.

Doing this ensures member countries and their designated operators uphold their commitment to the international agreements that bind us all in a globalized world.

Posts that stay locked up prevent others from advancing. Every country must modernize itself to reinforce the global postal network.

Improving quality of service, modernizing the network, using the right technologies to move forward – these cannot be done on their own.

They must be part of a vision and a clear business strategy for the postal sector.

We need government commitment to the postal sector.

We need efficient regulation to ensure postal services can compete effectively in the market and deliver the universal service obligation.

Ensuring that governments understand the full potential of the postal sector and do not turn their back on it is one of the greatest challenges we face.

We know the value of the postal sector – its viable position in the communication market, its role as a driver of economic growth and trade facilitation, we recognize its assets as a vehicle for social and financial inclusiveness and the delivery of important social services, such as pensions and other benefits.

This was one of our key messages during the ministerial conference in Doha last year, during our Universal Congress; I believe many ministers present were impressed with their rediscovery of the postal sector and all that it can offer for their populations and economies.

Governments must be constantly reminded of this.

This is where the Universal Postal Union plays its role, starting with the world postal strategy we adopt.

The Doha Postal Strategy, as the current document is called, has all the elements to create a robust, progressive postal sector.

As a reminder, the four main goals focus on:

  • improving the overall quality of service by making postal networks more interoperable;
  • making the UPU a centre of excellence for technical knowledge and expertise;
  • promoting innovative products and services to further develop the three dimensions of the global postal network – physical, financial and electronic; and
  • fostering the sustainable development of the postal sector.

The UPU will work with all the regions, especially the restricted unions, to implement this strategy through well-defined regional development plans.

These plans will help deliver the technical assistance developing countries need to set up or strengthen their postal networks and enable all Posts to take advantage of new opportunities.

Groups of our official bodies – the Postal Operations Council and the Council of Administration – are already hard at work in many areas.

In terms of quality of service, the customer is at the center of our reflections. We are looking at how to better integrate, at the international level, products and services and processes that meet new customer expectations.

With the rise of e-commerce and the role Posts are called to play in this area, we are working on developing a returns merchandise service at the international level. This will enable more cross-border e-commerce and position Posts as the natural delivery agents for goods and merchandise ordered online abroad.

The UPU continues to develop valuable technological applications such as the International Postal System (IPS), the International Financial System (IFS) and the Global Monitoring System (GMS) to help all postal operators – from industrialized and developing countries – improve their quality of service.

Developing international standards is also an important part of the UPU’s work. This is critical for setting Posts on the path to modernization. For example, the UPU Standards Board is reviewing a new standard on electronic postal registered mail. This standard will enable Posts worldwide to set up a new digital service that replicates the traditional values of registered mail.

The development of these standards are all the more important as the UPU urges member countries and their operators to take advantage of the new .post platform, a secure space on the Internet for the development of cross-border postal applications that will truly modernize postal services worldwide.

With this in mind, I am pleased that, together with PostEurop and the Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications, the UPU will be signing a joint declaration on the development of e-commerce during this event.

E-commerce represents a tremendous growth area for designated operators, and we must capitalize on it.

Finally, the UPU will make every effort to strengthen its role as a forum for regulators. Regulatory authorities play an increasingly important role in overseeing the postal market, ensuring high levels of service in a competitive environment and fostering a level-playing field among providers of postal services for the benefit of all customers.

This is key if the Posts of today – the modern Posts – are to provide the universal postal service that is central to the UPU’s mission.

Starting this fall, the UPU will hold an annual conference on regulation at our headquarters in Berne, Switzerland. This annual forum will establish a regular dialogue with regulators, who need to understand the challenges facing the postal sector to ensure the right framework enables Posts to flourish and provide valuable essential communication services to the population.

Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges facing our sector and its efforts to modernize are tremendous.

That said, we have all the elements to succeed. The UPU’s member countries and designated operators have a global strategy they must implement at the national level, understanding that their efforts to modernize will benefit the global postal community.

And once the basic elements are in place, I hope to see Posts focus on building their “modern look”.

Many Posts have understood the power of branding. This brand must, however, reflect customers’ expectations and the Post’s ability to deliver what they convey. This is what will convince customers to enter into the post offices or recall the Post when they need a specific service.

Let me conclude on this and let’s all commit to acting on the Doha Postal Strategy to effect real and lasting change and set postal services on a course of full modernization.

Thank you for your attention.