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The doubters who said digital post would not take off are being proven right – at least so far. But Australia Post is still doing well.

With both package volume and revenue increasing, and expanding digital services that focus on the customer, Australia Post climbed five spots to fifth place in an annual ranking and study from Accenture.

Achieving High Performance in the Postal Industry: Accenture Research and Insights 2013 identifies two new trends for the industry: digital mail has not reinvigorated postal agencies as originally expected and private postal operators have become more aggressive, creating greater competition for postal agencies in both the mail and parcel business. Postal agencies in 24 countries and two commercial companies -- FedEx and UPS -- are included in the study.

The study shows that revenue for Australia Post increased nearly 2.8% over the previous year. Nearly 70% of its growing parcel business was generated by Internet shopping, generating about $1 billion in revenue. Australia Post’s response to the Internet shopping boom includes new delivery options that include the ability for customers to collect parcels from more than 100 locations across the country, access to parcel lockers 24 hours a day, and online support for Australian retailers and consumers.

“Despite a continued tumultuous business climate, some postal organisations are thriving,” says Brody Buhler, managing director for Accenture’s global postal industry practice. “They are launching new business lines, combining their products with new technology and radically changing their cost structures to be leaner and more agile.”

According to the research, Australia Post’s success can be traced to increased attention to customer service, diversification in products and services, with a focus on digitalisation and retail offerings.

”Australia Post has one of the best digital offering portfolios included in the research,” says Buhler. “This includes a mobile website and iPhone applications, digital mail, shipping solutions through Post Logistics, web-based package tracking, bill payment system and eParcel, an online freight management system designed to streamline distribution of products.”

But the report found that no postal operator has seen real value or positive financial impact from digital mail. “None of the digital solutions currently in the market have resulted in significant profit nor achieved broad adoption,” says Buhler. “The real growth is in parcels and logistics: Postal agencies, driven by continuing eCommerce growth, have grown their parcel delivery capabilities and diversified services to move into logistics to meet demand. This growth also is creating more opportunities for private carriers.

Both Australia Post and its commercial rival Digital Post Australia (DPA) launched digital ost services in 2012, but little has been heard of them since. Australia Post’s MailBox was formally launched by Senator Stephen Conroy in November:

“MailBox will be free to all Australians. It will enable consumers to receive and pay bills, track and manage their relationships with their providers and store all of their important documents in one place. It's easily accessed with one password, from any Internet enabled device, 24/7, from anywhere in the world.”

Telstra will provide the infrastructure for MailBox. This is an amusing twist, given that both Telstra and Australia Post had their origins in the Post Master General’s Department. The wheel has turned full circle.

Australia Post has announced that AMP, ANZ, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Link Market Services, National Australia Bank, Telstra, Westpac and Yarra Valley Water will be “launch providers”. In addition the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services are both “partnering with Australia Post” to explore opportunities for Mailbox.

DPA, a joint venture between Computershare and Fuji Xerox, launched Digital Postbox a few weeks earlier. Australia Post took it to court over its name and lost, and the two organisations engaged in a slang match over who had the better system and who actually launched first.

But as iTWire said at the time, the battle between DPA and Australia Post over digital mail is not likely to be of any great importance. Existing systems like BPay, increasingly sophisticated online banking, and now the imminent boom in mobile payments systems are making the technology largely obsolete before it is even introduced.

Accenture’s report would seem to support that assertion. What’s the old saying? “It’s like two bald men fighting over a comb.”

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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