Innovate or get left behind, postal sector warned

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

With technological advancements driving up the demand for improved service, the continent's postal services sector is going to have to come up with ground-breaking innovations to compete with the best if it wants to remain a relevant player in the digital age.

Various role players in the sector have convened in eThekwini for the three-day Southern Africa Postal Operators Association (SAPOA) Forum, which is being held under the theme 'Leadership, innovation and value-creation’.

The gathering promises to be a platform for the exploration of new frontiers that will reshape the postal industry, transform customer engagement and e-commerce for postal logistics.

South Africa's Communications Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana on Tuesday reminded delegates at the forum that if ever there was a time for complacency in the postal industry, it was now over as the 4th Industrial Revolution demanded so much more. Innovation, the Deputy Minister said, is the order of the new era and one of the few sure-fire ways to build the economies that power up Africa.

“[Innovation] is a never ending task, and it is not for the complacent,” Kekana said.

She said there has never been a better time for the sector to build itself up through unity and collaboration. Kekana said the continent must collectively focus on the future and seize the opportunities that have been identified through the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and fora such as SAPOA to help post offices deliver e-commerce, financial services and other new services that can benefit from the infrastructure of the postal network. 

Kekana said South Africa has a responsibility to ensure that postal operators in developing countries can participate meaningfully in international postal business and that the international postal system remains viable throughout the continent.

Kekana encouraged the sector to embrace changes in technology.

“We have seen the rise of e-commerce changing the way post is done and also introducing new competitors in ways that we could not have imagined. These changes call for postal services to be able to adapt to the new world.

“We have also seen that the monopolies held by postal offices have crumbled spectacularly and true to form, technology has been a great equaliser,” the Deputy Minister said.

She said post offices must use their infrastructure and reach, which is still unparalleled by private competitors, to their advantage.

“The question is, how do we use this infrastructure to modernise and compete with new entrants in the market? How do we ensure that an order from Lilongwe reaches a citizen in Lusikisiki within a reasonable time and at reasonable rates?”

In South Africa's case, Kekana acknowledged the challenges encountered by SAPO [South African Post Office] in the past and the legacy thereof, which is still present today. However, she said government is not resting on its laurels.

“Rest assured that the leadership of SAPO is working hard to take SAPO to new heights of efficiency and co-operation. I am aware that there is a critical debate in UPU concerning the issue of remuneration. Some countries have argued that they cannot afford to deliver some of the mail they receive from overseas at the prevailing terminal due rates.

“It is important that postal operators are able to cover their costs. However, it is equally important that whatever outcome is agreed upon does not create a situation that will make UPU postal operators uncompetitive in potentially profitable market segments. Our postal operators must ensure that they are competitive,” Kekana said.

Taking control of change 

Festus Hangula, from the SAPOA management board, said change within the postal services space is much needed, and it is inevitable.

“If we don’t change, we will disappear as an institution, as we will become irrelevant. As we look around and see that our customers are changing the way they are behaving, we should do the same and follow suite…. In fact, we should lead so that we go where we believe the future is brighter for all of us,” Hangula said. –