Interview: Building inclusive digital society in Viet Nam

As a key part of the socioeconomic system and a public service provider, the Post not only accelerates digitalization, but also ensures that digital transformation includes all population groups and serves them in the best and most equitable way. Viet Nam’s national postal operator, Vietnam Post, provides essential support to each of the three key pillars of the National Digital Transformation Programme: digital government, digital economy and digital society. UPU spoke with Pham Anh Tuan, Vice Minister of Information and Communications of Viet Nam, about what defines the key role of the Post in the national digitization plan and what should be done to fully unfold this potential.

What is Viet Nam working to achieve with the National Digital Transformation Programme?

In pursuit of digital transformation, the Government of Viet Nam has recently issued a number of important policies and decisions, which form the basis for the implemention of the national digital transformation. These include the National Digital Transformation Programme by 2025 with a vision towards the year 2030, the E-Government Development Strategy for 2021-2025 with a vision towards the year 2030, and the National Strategy for Developing a Digital Economy and a Digital Society by 2025 with a vision towards the year 2030. Those national strategies aim to realize development goals based on eight pillars: digital awareness, digital institutions, digital infrastructure, digital human resources, cybersecurity, digital government, digital economy, and digital society.

Digital transformation based on three key pillars – digital government, digital economy, and digital society – has overarching effects on every institution, agency, city, and province. It has a far-reaching impact on every socioeconomic sector, contributing to increased productivity, innovative production models, and improved national competitiveness.

In Viet Nam, digital transformation is considered a revolution involving all people. However, it can only work when each person actively engages with it and enjoys the benefits that it brings about. The digital transformation thus carries the vital mission of universalizing and individualizing various services, such as education and healthcare, for every public member to serve them better. In addition, digital transformation creates opportunities for people in remote, border and insular areas to access services online in a fair, equal, and humane manner that leaves no one behind.
What is the Post’s role in Viet Nam’s digital transformation strategy?

Postal service plays a vital role in ensuring smooth material and data flows, supporting electronic commerce with delivery services, meeting socioeconomic demands, and providing timely response to natural calamities, catastrophes, and pandemics. In our National Digital Transformation Programme, the Post is defined as an essential national infrastructure, supporting the creation of the digital economy, primarily e-commerce, and contributing to the development of the digital government and digital society.

In terms of the digital government, Vietnam Post is a leading partner entrusted by the Government with the task of developing a number of digital platforms and providing digital services to the public, including through the “Developing a Digital Address Platform for Vietnamese Households” project.

In terms of the digital economy, the Post facilitates e-commerce and provides an infrastructure for the digital economy. Vietnam Post has a significant advantage with a nationwide network of nearly 28,000 service points and a 100 per cent postal coverage of every commune in the country. This enterprise can bring products from local household businesses and cooperatives to every corner of the country and beyond for consumption, thus promoting the development of the digital economy in agricultural and rural areas. 

In 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, postal businesses were involved in the Agricultural and Rural Digital Economic Promotion Programme as part of the Viet Nam National Digital Transformation Programme. Almost 6 million agricultural production households have been trained to gain digital skills to operate on e-commerce platforms and about 100,000 agricultural products have been listed on e-commerce platforms established by Vietnamese postal enterprises. Those results bridge the e-commerce gap between urban and rural communities.

In terms of the digital society, the Post has become a service industry involved in improving the quality of life, ensuring social welfare and consolidating social trust. In addition, the Post contributes to the prevention of and response to natural disasters, diseases, and emergencies as directed by the Government.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in cities and provinces where social distancing measures were applied, postal businesses have actively engaged in providing essential commodities to people by establishing 4,346 distribution points for essential items and distributing 102,974 tons of goods with a total worth of 994 billion VND.
How does Vietnam Post help facilitate the digital inclusion of underrepresented groups, including the un(der)banked and small and medium enterprises (SMEs)?

Vietnam Post is a leader in digital transformation. As a national postal operator controlling the public postal network, Vietnam Post actively implements programmes that popularize digital skills and deploys new digital utilities in remote areas where access to the benefits of digital transformation is limited. Furthermore, Vietnam Post is a licensed payment intermediary, for it provides mobile applications that allow online money transfer and payments for essential services via smartphones and acts as a digital channel for other financial and banking services. Additionally, Vietnam Post works with many banks and other financial institutions to facilitate on-behalf collection and payment of loan services to customers safely and conveniently.

To support SMEs on their digital transformation journey, Vietnam Post distributes digital business administration solutions for SMEs, and provides them with delivery monitoring tools in the form of Open API that can be used interoperably and easily with their existing IT systems. Finally, through a digital address platform that is linked to the national digital map, the Post further boosts the growth of e-commerce and the digital economy.
In parallel, what are some ways the Ministry is working to help facilitate the digital transformation of the Post itself?

As the governmental agency in charge of implementing Viet Nam’s National Digital Transformation Programme, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) has undertaken many steps to promote the digital transformation of the Information and Communications sector, including the Post. Some key efforts included:
  • In 2021, the Ministry implemented a programme to assist SMEs with digital transformation, which benefited 16,000 businesses. In 2022, this programme was further expanded to target an additional 30,000 companies, including postal businesses. In addition to other forms of support, the programme participants are provided with a 50 per cent cost deduction when renting or buying digital platforms and solutions from a certified list published by the Ministry.
  • At the beginning of 2022, the MIC developed a “Strategy on Postal Development by 2025 and vision towards 2030” and submitted it to the Prime Minister for adoption. The Strategy envisions the Post becoming an essential infrastructure for the country’s digital economy and e-commerce, digital government and digital society, thus helping realize the goal of a digital Viet Nam by 2030. The Strategy also identifies digital transformation as a primary tool to further the development of the Post, with a particular emphasis on:
  1. Building regional hubs and mega-hubs compatible with the plans for national logistics systems.
  2. Developing a Viet Nam digital address platform linked to the national digital map to support the growth of e-commerce and the digital economy.
  3. Expanding the postal service ecosystem based on the application of digital technology.
What are the main challenges of postal digital transformation and how can the UPU help member countries address them?

According to the UPU’s report “The Digital Economy and Digital Postal Activities - A Global Panorama”, global or regional digital studies or reports do not seem to specifically address the Post. Although digital transformation is happening vigorously across most parts of the economy, it is less true for the postal sector. Therefore, it is essential to foster postal digitalization programmes and deploy innovative technologies to improve postal business management, operations, and production efficiency.

In Viet Nam, while carrying out digital transformation in the postal sector, we have encountered some challenges, namely:
  • Due to the characteristics of the postal sector, many processes remain in the form of manual labour and thus require a large workforce with long processing times, which prevents digital transformation from being conducted quickly and comprehensively.
  • Postal businesses are mainly small and medium enterprises with limited resources and capital available to invest in technology, which makes them unable to develop technological solutions and digital platforms to support business production.
  • Postal workers face difficulties in using and applying new technologies in business management and operations due to the lack of digital skills.
To help the Union’s members overcome these challenges, from our point of view, the UPU could consider some of the following actions:
  1. conducting research and evaluation of the benefits and challenges of digital transformation for its member countries for them to refer to and base their policies upon;
  2. developing several primary digital platforms to share among designated postal operators to help them save resources;
  3. studying the possibility of a digital transformation support fund for developing and least developed nations (similar to the UPU’s Quality of Service Fund – QSF).
Finally, the UPU should continue implementing its technical assistance projects, which are essential to support member countries in the research and development of digital platforms that meet their needs.