I'm a postal conference veteran. (Not the kind of thing I ever thought I'd proclaim, but then life doesn't always take predictable paths!)
So when I was invited to speak at PostalVision2020 7.0, held in Pentagon City last month, I was looking forward to discovering what kind of conference it might be.
The vision of the conference is different to many other postal events, in that it has a focus on the future. The corporate presentations that bog down some conferences are largely absent. And there's not a massive trade show attached to the conference. It really is a forward-looking event.
Here are some of my highlights from the conference.
Panel members who disagreed with each other
A high-powered panel probed the USPS monopoly in depth, building on previous discussions at PostalVision2020's Delivery By Design event earlier in 2017.
Robert G. Taub, Chairman of the US Postal Regulatory Commission, was a spectator as Dr Ramesh Ratan, CEO of Bell & Howell, and David Williams, former USPS Inspector General, slugged it out over the monopoly and privatisation.
A future episode of the Postal Hub Podcast will feature interviews with both combatants.
How often are panel discussions a let down? Panel members sitting idle, while the moderator tries to elicit questions from the audience. This session crackled with energy - stay tuned for the podcast!
One session was dedicated to e-commerce returns - a major talking point in the postal and parcel sector. Session moderator Dr Ian Stanford from USPS OIG (a past guest on the Postal Hub Podcast) outlined the big picture for returns and reverse logistics.
Reverse logistics is not a new field, but e-commerce has changed the nature of returns. No more do customers return purchases only at the point of purchase. The reasons for goods being returned are changing too.
Episode 59 the Postal Hub Podcast features an extended interview with Tony Sciarrotta, Executive Director at the Reverse Logistics Association. He gives us the big picture on returns, and how postal and parcel operators fit into the reverse logistics chain.
The establishment meets the start-ups
Postal operators can sometimes perceive start-ups as competitors or threats. Yet there are many start-ups who enhance or form part of the delivery ecosystem. PostalVision2020 7.0 threw innovators and the USPS together on the same stage. Nobody got hurt.
Scaring the pants off delegates
Remember about a decade ago, as e-substitution was starting to bite, but before the global financial crisis hit, there was an air of "relax, everything's going to be fine" when it came to the letters business? Well, perhaps that was only the brave face postal executives put on when making presentations at postal conferences back in the day. They may have been panicking behind the scenes.
Anyway, now we've moved beyond the doom-and-gloom prognosis for the letters business, it's time to embrace a new fear:
Yes, Amazon leaves a trail of destruction in every sector it enters. So far, postal and parcel operators have benefited as Amazon generates ever-growing volumes of B2C parcels. But what happens when Amazon gets serious about delivering the last mile?
When a company that doesn't seem to care about profits enters your sector, then prepare for carnage. Yes, Amazon is serious about the last mile, according to analyst Cooper Smith from L2Inc. Yes, the delivery sector should be concerned.
Other countries can enact postal reform but the USA can't
Talk about postal reform in the USA seems to be never-ending. So it's nice to hear from posts that have already reformed or are about to embark on reform programmes.
Pakistan Post, which operates as a government department, has recently received approval from the Prime Minister to reform. It is now undergoing a rebranding.
Liban Post has transformed into the public face of government. It also transacts business for the private sector, while continuing to deliver the mail along with growing numbers of parcels.
(My interview with Liban Post Chairman/MD Khalil Daoud can be heard in episode 58 of the Postal Hub Podcast.)
So why can Pakistan and Lebanon reform their postal services, while postal reform in the USA seems to be perpetually stalled? It's a good question, and if anyone has the answer, please drop me a line!
PostalVision2020 8.0 in 2018
John Callan and the team at Ursa Major Associates, the organisers of PostalVision2020, have announced that PostalVision2020 8.0 will be held 4 - 5 April, 2018.
Mark it in your diary now. It's a conference worth attending.
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