Friday, February 15, 2013

Could the Post Office Pivot?


Imagining what might happen if Entrepreneurs were in charge of those friendly folks in blue outfits.

You know the joke: How did the Post Office fire 20,000 people? With an email, of course. 

The real joke is that the Post Office itself was fired by the Internet.

So what if the Post Office had embraced it - becoming the servant of the Internet instead of its victim?

Naturally, they argue their $15bn annual losses and the disappearance Saturday deliveries have little to do with the Internet. It is Congress' fault for hobbling them with a $5 billion annual pension prepay.

Yet, if they had embraced the Internet, their customers might actually have cared enough to go after Congress on their behalf. 

That’s what Social Media does for you, Mr. Postmaster - a public that cares could organize itself so that Congress would have remove the mandate or get voted of office. But why should we care that much?

So let’s imagine for a minute that the Post Office wasn’t a quasi-government institution with Federal powers, huge real estate holdings that also works as a public service, protected job reservoir and piggy bank for Congress.

Let’s imagine it was taken over by a bunch of Entrepreneurs who weren’t hobbled by politics or patronage and would fully embrace the Internet Age rather than dabble around the edges.

I'll start with funny since that often produces the best ideas. (And please - I welcome your suggestions!)

They could do what the MTA did and put a Starbucks in every Post Office so that customers could enjoy a Mail Latte. (Bad pun - but improving performance through universal mail tracking would be a good start.) 

More importantly, they would have made a lot of deals. They would have done what RPost does – certified emails. That would soon spread to certified documents and an entire business in maintaining and serving them. Think of the Post Office as Fort Knox of our valuable docs. (Since no one has reported actually seeing gold in Fort Knox lately, there may be room.)

Strategically, the Post Office threw their lot in with the kind of mail we really don’t want - Junk Mail - and turned their back on the stuff we do want – delivered stuff from the Internet.

They could also have been an enabler of online bill paying even doing the the bill handing from the postal center. They could have even started their own junk-free email service. A paid channel for email that guarantees authenticity so you don't have to worry if you a being phished. 

Or they could have turned your cheapskate eCards into printed and delivered physical cards for a fee of say, $5. Or your Facebook pictures into next day delivery Photobooks.

Perhaps they could have turned each Post Office into a local logistics center where relatively low cost area business deliveries could take place. Anything from your local online purchases – and returns – to prescriptions, dietary supplies, Newspapers, milk, artisinal bread, your laundry and other essential or finer goods of life. Dropped off first thing in the morning and delivered to you home by during the day. Or just held at the PO.

Maybe.

If I were a politician - and this is the bigger issue - I would see the Post Office for what it really is - a proxy for Government-backed agencies in the Internet age. In other words, they are an index of how government can or cannot cope in this new age. If they don’t find a new model for running it – it is not the Post Office that is going the way of the Dodo, it’s the current 2 Party system that runs government that may be on the extinction list.

Both the Post Office and the political system are relics of the Industrial Age where they served either big labor or big business.

So cutting back is really not a strategy – it will only spur more people to think of more alternatives to the Post Office. Their real future lies in reinventing themselves.

So, what do you think they should do?


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Carbon dating: as a rough index of the rate of change and what happens when pundits predict here a little story.

Back in the early days of the Internet, when Yahoo was just taking off, a Start-Up made case for the end of the Post Office as part of their pitch. It was one of the first arguments we saw for Internet disruption. At the time, Amazon hadn't made a dent in the Bookstore Business. Emails were still a trickle.

The Entrepreneur said the Post Office had billions tied up in trucks, warehouses, sorting machines, deliverypeople and office clerks and all could be eliminate by email.

His company made an email server.

He was dead right but his timing was off by about 18 years. The Post Ofice didn’t stop – in some ways they grew because their early technology lead enabled vast amounts of junk mail. In other words, they figured out how to make a better buggy whip and sold more of them. They introduced tons of technology – sorting machines with with artificiall intelligence but mostly better ways of mastering of junk mail, better bar, codes Zip Plus, a national database of address.

But they were never willing to challenge their own function and invest where the business will be. In other words, they went with improvements and refused to disrupt themselves. So the internet did it for them.  

So they went into a long decline. 

But they have Federal powers they get free parking anywhere, no tickets, no towing.  

Worst case - they could license that right to really rich people. That would be illegal, of course, unless those people took a job with the Post Office. Hmmm.
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