A digital letter to Australia Post revisited
Dear Australia Post,
Well old friend, it’s been a while since I’ve done more than pop by and stick the occasional letter in your box. But I saw your new advertisements plastered all over the place this morning and thought I might drop you a line. You’ve decided to move into the electrical, whoops I mean digital, age; and about time too. After all I’ve heard that your revenues are declining markedly as people use email in preference to letters and postcards. I know the feeling, in a year of travelling last year we sent precisely three postcards – what was the point when our blog and email said it all?
Anyway, your newly advertised offering: let’s take a look at it. It appears to be the “Australia Post Digital Mailbox“. Well, mate, there’s your first mistake. “Mailbox” is something I have at home and I already have a few of them; “Post Office box” is the thing you have at the Post Office kept securely behind lock and key – if you wanted to differentiate your product you might have gone down that route. But anyway… You say it does three things: Receive, Pay, Store.
I get my own digital mailbox to securely receive important mail! And it’s available 24-hours a day even when the post office is closed! Well, 15 years ago that might have been news. But I’m afraid I have to tell you, it’s already been done. I get important mail every day from a variety of sources and through a variety of accounts. I’m satisfied with the security and adding in another account would have to have a pretty compelling reason behind it. Is there more to this? Go on, please tell me there is more to it. I need something like you scanning my letters and certifying the accuracy of the scans so I can can stop using the real-world mailbox. I need a unique proposition; so let’s try to find it.
There’s easy payment of my bills. Aha, is that your angle? Is the receiving mail bit really about receiving my bills so I can pay them through you and give you a cut? Well there’s an angle there, certainly. I begin to see your cunning plan. But I pay my bills online now – through my bank, you know that other old institution, the one that holds my money. To be honest with you while the banks might gouge me for every dollar they can along the way, I sort of view it as easier and safer to deal with the institution that has my cash.
You say I get private and secure storage for my important documents (or do you mean bills here?). I have to tell you there are already quite a few services that offer facilities like this: Dropbox to name one; Google for another. To be fair they are not tied into my bill paying service though. Your angle here is around security, and I can see that. The buzz words you drop are “multi-factor authentication” (well done, there’s no question that sounds suitably polysyllabic-ally serious). I had to look it up and now understand it to mean something that uses two or more of the following factors (thank you Wikipedia):
• Something the user knows (eg password, PIN);
• Something the user has (eg ATM card, smart card); and
• Something the user is (eg biometric characteristic, such as a fingerprint)
My bank does that with the neat little dongle that generates a number as I log in and SMS messages to my phone when I transfer money – so I know the sort of thing you’re on about. Are you really doing that for a free mailbox? Wow! Maybe I am a little… impressed. Or perhaps the word I’m looking for is not “impressed”, perhaps it is “dubious”.
So, mate, this is your foray into the digital age? Seems to me this is going to come down to a couple of factors. The first is utility. Will it be easier to get things in one place and pay my bills from one place? Personally my view is that its unlikely to help; even if I used the service you’d have to send an email to my other, real account to let me know there was something in my Australia Post account. You’re simply not going to be my first point of call in the digital world – and if you are not first, I’m struggling to see why you’d be second or third.
That brings us to the big one, the elephant in the room: trust. This could work if you had a name and a reputation that I could trust more than the other services I use. I mean, I trust Google with my mail now; I trust Dropbox with documents; I trust my bank with my bills (and my money). I never feel completely safe though. So would I trust Australia Post more than these commercial institutions? There’s definitely an angle to start from there: After all I’ve trusted Australia Post with my letters for years. You could be on to something.
But does that level of trust translate into the digital world? I’m sorry, I’m just not sure it does. Banks, Google they’re not perfect but they trade on their reputations – they have a commercial imperative. There’s no question I trade-off some security for utility, but that’s the modern world. I just struggle to look at Australia Post and find trust for something that is not a logistical exercise so much as a complex technical undertaking. What would make me think that Australia Post was going to come up with a better, safer technical solution than a big bank, or Google or even a smaller organisation which is trading on its security?
What’s that you say? Your Annual Report says that people trust you? That’s nice, but it’s not enough. It wasn’t long ago that Encyclopaedia Britannica was extolling the fact that people trusted it over Wikipedia; that IBM was saying you’d never get sacked for buying one of their computers; that Microsoft was saying that people would never store things in the cloud. Trust is not absolute, it is situational; and the changing face of the digital world is a situation. The fact I trust you with my postcard, does not necessarily mean I trust you with my digital information. And, honestly, the proliferation of couriers would suggest that many businesses don’t even trust you with their letters and packages any more.
I’m so sorry, I just feel you’ve missed the boat.
So if you don’t mind some friendly advice, AP old fellow, you need to find a new angle in your move into the digital world. Playing catch-up and offering services that would have been novel five or ten years ago is not going to do it. You need to find an angle that is new and trades on the things you do well, the things we do trust you for.
Then again maybe you do have something hidden in your new offering that will do that, but I can’t see it; and here’s another tip from the digital world – communication is the key.
Stay in touch; you know my address.
This was originally published in March 2012. When the Australia Post Digital Mailbox was announced. I’m republishing because of the following article on the mailbox’s privacy.