By Gavin Dunlop, CEO, Actnet

JOHANNESBURG – October 21, 2014 – There’s no question that post offices, the world over, are struggling. And quite simply, the reason for this is the internet. As more people move on-line, standard mail volumes drop. Every electronic bill, online payment or e-mail puts another nail in the standard letter’s coffin. And this trend will accelerate, not decline. Most recently, the government-owned Canada Post decided to stop all home mail deliveries. Rather every person will now have to travel to a community mailbox (also known as a ‘super-box’) to pick up their mail instead of receiving it to their door.

Postal woes

The internet has enabled new business models that have disrupted and even destroyed incumbent models. From travel agencies to video rental stores, the ability to go online has transformed industries, resulting in higher productivity, greater consumer choice, and lower prices. These industries have one thing in common: they provide information-based services. It should come as no surprise then that the South African Postal Service (SAPS) is facing massive challenges. For, like many other industries whose business models made sense in an analogue, paper-based era, SAPS’s business model makes much less sense in today’s digital era and, as such, is in need of fundamental reform.

Couple this with an almost three month post office strike by the South African Postal Service (SAPS) – one of five since 2011 – and the situation is looking very dire indeed. Given the lack of outcry from SAPS’s customers, it must mean that they are finding alternatives to snail mail and going online.

In a recent blog post, South African businessman, philanthropist and social commentator, Howard Feldman, wrote: “Imagine my surprise when I heard the South African post office was on strike. And to make it worse, they have downed tools for the last three months! I am appalled. How could I have missed this? The South African Post Office has been on strike for nearly three months, and I am not sure anyone has noticed. Can you imagine this sort of thing happening in the U.K. Prime Ministers would be asked to resign, people would have shaken their unshakeable heads…But not to overstate the obvious, that is because they actually have a postal service.” He continues, “It is simply because they have made themselves irrelevant. Like blacksmiths and telex operators, I wonder if there is a future in postal mail and I wonder if the strike is even worth resolving…It seems to me that the SA Post Office has manoeuvred itself into redundancy.”

Snail mail frequently gets lost, torn, bent and delivered late – this does not happen with electronic communications. On the other side of the coin, the time wasted to get statements and invoices delivered often impacts a company’s ability to collect its revenue. Given this landscape, electronic distribution delivery companies must be smiling.

What is electronic distribution delivery?

Electronic document delivery refers to the management and punctual distribution of a company’s service statements, customer invoices and associated collection letters, payslips, contracts and policies, while providing an easy electronic payment solution for customers. Its automation of such tasks, along with ability to reduce costs and increase document security, means that electronic document distribution poses a significant threat to the postal service.

Businesses all over the world are converting to electronic document delivery as their primary means of sending documents. Getting vital financial documents out to customers quickly, and payments in just as quickly, is critical to business survival. When a company is awaiting an invoice payment, they are losing money in the form of interest. Therefore, the faster that money can be obtained, the more efficient that company will be. Often the time and cost to process the data for print or to send these documents is too high. The development of simple business invoicing and document management solutions means that the task of using electronic document delivery is easier than ever before.

How does electronic distribution delivery work?

The system of electronic document delivery works by automating the sending of customer statements and invoices, by interacting with a customer information database. This database lets the electronic document delivery system know when to send a document, and allows it to use mail merging technology to create that document. With intelligent archiving and document linking, quick access to customer records for real time response to customer queries is easily achieved.

By using an expert in electronic document delivery to take care of all the processing and distribution of electronic statements, invoices and other necessary documents, a company can now focus on their key competencies. They can also take care of all the underlying complexities of e-billing and the distribution of documents; such as adherence to South African legislation, encryption of sensitive information, ensuring your e-mails are not blocked by mail servers and that your communication is not treated as spam.

Conclusion

Letters have become e-mails, postcards have become SMSes. Birthday cards are now Facebook wall posts. Event invitations are e-vites. Magazines deliver themselves directly to your tablet. And bills, statements and invoices are increasingly sent electronically. Soon the infrastructure to support the delivery of the mail will get too expensive.

However, given the important role the post office plays in today’s society, it will exist well beyond its economic viability; but (and it’s a big but) at some point in our future, the trends all seem to point to the inevitable disappearance of mail. Given the ease and speed of electronic delivery and payments, plus the obvious environmental incentives of going paperless, the future for the world’s post offices does not look rosy.

About Actnet Print Concepts

Actnet is a privately owned company established in 1987. Its vision is to ensure that the vital business documents of both SMEs and enterprises are captured, archived, preserved and delivered to their customers. The company has developed a proprietary Electronic Distribution Delivery and Payment system (EDD) that is unmatched in the South African environment. The company also specialised in enterprise output management, centralised print management, document management, document output and data enhancement.

CONTACTS:

Actnet: Janine Buckley, +27 (0)11 2676444, JanineB@actnet.co.za>, www.actnet.co.za

icomm: Debbie Sielemann, +27 (0) 82 414 4633, debbie@pr.co.za, www.icomm-pr.co.za