James Wilkins, operations director at UK-based Secured Mail, says the postal operators who prosper will be those that embrace technology. While postal companies grapple with how to deal with changes in the market – and the continuing uncertainty surrounding Royal Mail – technological changes are playing an increasingly large role in how customers choose their provider.
Secured Mail is an established player the field. We were founded in 2006, although our turnover should reach £50m this year. By accessing Royal Mail Wholesale, we specialise in handling bulk mail and small parcels. A key part of our success has been our software solution, DocketHub. We have worked hard to offer a bespoke software solution to give clients a user-friendly and non-invasive approach to get mail either sorted or unsorted into Secured Mail’s network. We offer a simple solution for the customer.
DocketHub also allows customers to track their mail at every point of the process – it is a 360-degree view and no one else can offer that. The advantage for us is the visibility that it provides to our clients. We believe in partnerships and DocketHub means we are 100 per cent transparent and secure. It is a case of technology keeping us a step ahead.
Similarly, we are now offering clients the chance to track unsorted mail that goes into Royal Mail. With this service, we take an image of a piece of mail, tag it and then keep a record of it. It is then kept on our image database, meaning Secured Mail can track its very move. The great advantage here is that our software allows us to keep a record of exactly when a piece of mail was delivered. This is trackable through a web-based portal so every customer will be able to see processing times and the handover to Royal Mail. So, for example, a large organisation can keep a PDF containing information and the proof of the mail going through the machine and handover to Royal Mail. Already at Secured Mail we have attracted new clients, such as financial organisations, for whom it is massively beneficial to have these details at hand. It also offers extra reassurance.
Many observers believe that hybrid mail, where documents are emailed or transferred to a central centre, printed off and then sent in hard copy, has the potential to be a major development in the sector. However, at present it is far from being a mature market. But is it not difficult to see why postal companies see it as a major opportunity and many will be scrambling to get a foot in what could be an important emerging market.
Hybrid mail would be attractive to big companies and is something Secured Mail is actively looking into. There are obvious cost-saving benefits for major businesses. For example, take one of Secured Mail’s clients, a leading insurance firm. It has offices around the country, each of which produces letters for policyholders, which are then printed and sent out individually. With hybrid mail, all mail can be printed to one central production centre and sent from there.
It is easy to spot the benefits of this for a large company. With hybrid mail comes continuity in what is sent out which cannot be matched when letters and parcels are distributed from offices and sites across the country. There is also the saving that comes from economies of scale: when the amount of printer toner saved is taken into consideration, along with other everyday office items, the cost to a business of sending out mail en masse comes down considerably. The printing function could even be done by an intermediary company, an outsourcing that could potentially offer huge savings.
However, as mentioned, hybrid mail is not yet a mature market. People, whether as individuals or in businesses, still like to print something off and pop it in the post themselves. There is also, whenever the internet is involved, a worry over safety. However, the technology used would be similar to that offered by internet banking. Security remains of paramount importance and there is no reason for that to be compromised.
While parts of the postal market continue to shrink, the way people shop and use technology continues to provide opportunities for companies with the correct strategy. Fewer items of transactional mail are being sent, but direct mail and marketing is increasing as internet shopping takes shoppers away from the high street. That is dictating what type of mail is transported around Britain every day.
Mail from internet orders is a huge growth area, even despite the decline in other parts of the market. The providers that prosper in the long-term will be those that have the flexibility and strategy to adapt to the changes and offer customers a solution tailored to their needs.