UPU Innovation Forum calls for collaboration and risk-taking

The first Postal Innovation Forum was held during the UPU’s Postal Operations Council sessions, bringing representatives from the postal industry together to talk about innovation as a cross-cutting issue that is driving the growth of the sector.

Dr Robert Giezendanner-Thoben, Director of Industry Affairs, Vice Presidency for Innovation, at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) opened the Forum with a keynote address describing the success factors of innovation based on his experience at the school’s Innovation Park.

“The only way to move forward in innovation is with collaboration,” said Giezendanner-Thoben, who noted that the Innovation Park brought together a diverse group including academics, start-ups, NGOs and policy-makers. “At the interface of different domains, new ideas appear,” he added.

For Giezendanner-Thoben, another key condition of innovation was a willingness to fail and try again.

A fireside chat on managing innovation in the UPU with Council of Administration Chair Isaac Gnamba-Yao (Côte d’Ivoire) and Postal Operations Council Chair Jean-Paul Forceville (France), which was facilitated by UPU Deputy Director General Marjan Osvald, reinforced the importance of culture change in the postal sector to enhance the relevance and impact of postal services in meeting development goals.

“I think we ourselves should change our ‘software’,” said Gnamba-Yao, adding, “We need to change the way we work with governments to show them we can be that development pillar that reaches the heart of their mission.”

Responsive regulation needed

The Forum’s first panel explored regulatory conditions necessary for encouraging innovation, underlining the importance of agile and collaborative approaches to develop regulatory frameworks that would be flexible enough to meet fast-changing user needs.

Cullen International Principal Analyst Cathrine Grimseid provided a global overview of the state of postal regulation, noting that relationships between postal operators and regulators were not uniform in every country.

Ezan Azira Mohd Jaafar, Head of Courier Department for the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Postal Courier and e-Commerce Division, shared the country’s regulation lab concept, which brings together government agencies in co-regulatory approach  with all operators to share data, nurture technological capabilities of the sector and ensure postal services are developed in line with customers’ needs.

Jairo Luis Marulanda Lazcarro, Deputy Director of Postal Affairs for the Colombian Ministry of Information Technology and Communications, echoed the importance of exchanging information between all players and to enable agile and modern regulation that meets rapidly evolving market needs.

“Regulators should be the link between the operator and the customer. We are in touch with users to know what the expectations are and ensure those can be met,” he said.

Brian K. Mwansa, Head of Postal for the Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa, added that “informed guidelines are more effective guidelines,” noting that regulators should review their frameworks frequently and in conjunction with current sector data.

Customerization is key

Turning back to innovation within postal operators, the Forum’s second panel carried the focus on customer needs, narrowing in on the importance of customerization as part of the innovation process.

Paola Piscioneri, Director of Public Policy for the USPS Office of the Inspector General’s Research and Insights Solution Center, emphasized the need for non-technological innovations to precede and set the conditions for the use of new digital solutions. She highlighted how the pandemic proved that rapid changes to postal business models were possible and successful within USPS.

“COVID has been an accelerator in innovation. Technologies that would take years to employ have been implemented in record time,” she said.

Correios President Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto supported the need for agile business models to keep up with the market.

“In the past we used to tell customers what their needs and expectations should be, now they tell us exactly how, when and where those needs need to be answered,” he said. He added that the post had implemented a mobile platform, 24/7 parcel lockers, late delivery, delivery next store, and last-mile delivery algorithms to meet these fast-changing needs.

Innovation requires partnerships

Alexander Haneng, Senior Vice-President of Innovation Partnerships for Posten Norge, pointed out that customization extended past quality of services to sustainability of services as well. The circular economy also relied on logistical support, he said, noting that this was an untapped opportunity for the Postal sector.  Driven by partnerships the postal sector can bring a strong impact on sustainable development and the circular economy, with reusable packaging, delivery efficiency, and returns and recycling of goods.

Hongmei Dong, Managing Director for International Business, China Post, mentioned that COVID had driven innovation.

“With people and businesses being locked down, logistics fulfillment solutions have been developed with the customers to ensure end-to-end solutions are available,” she said. “We have provided not only postal Customs clearance but also cross-border e-commerce clearance. We are very happy to develop these services together with our postal partners.”

New innovation dialogue

The forum concluded that the UPU and its stakeholders have a great opportunity to encourage a new dialogue between policymakers, regulators, Posts and the market to enhance innovation possibilities sustainability, and customer satisfaction. Data driven innovation will prepare well informed decisions.

The UPU Deputy Director General closed the Forum with a message to member countries: “We have heard that the management should support innovation and you have our promise that we will support innovation within the Union.”

The next edition of the UPU Innovation Forum will be held in 2023.

Watch the full UPU Postal Innovation Forum recording here.