As NIPOST Grapples with Digitisation

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The inability of the Nigerian Postal Service to key into technology advancement over the years, has posed a serious challenge for it, but its new managers are striving to digitally transform postal services in line with global trends, writes Emma Okonji

 The Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST)  became an autonomous entity in 1985, following the split of Post and Telecommunication (P&T) Department into two corporate entities.

The division marked the beginning of a new dawn in the history of postal service in Nigeria, which came with a lot of transformations and reforms. Existing infrastructure were upgraded and numerous outlets were created to bring postal services closer to the people. In line with international standard and best practices, lot of innovations were brought to bear on products/services, packaging and delivery, and post offices were established in all the 774 local government areas across the country.

At that time, Nigerians patronised the post office as a reliable means of sending and receiving mails. In cities, towns and rural areas, people depended on the post for one service and product or the other.

They  included private/business letter boxes, postage stamps, registered mail, parcel, postal orders, local and international money orders, airmail, international reply coupons, post cards and even banking services among others.

In order to remain competitive and to serve its customers better, the NIPOST courier arm, known as the Expedited Mail Service (EMS)/Speed post was introduced during that period.

Then NIPOST became the biggest employer of labour and many school graduates desired to work with NIPOST. But today, the reverse is the case as NIPOST gradually deteriorated and became a shadow of itself, just because it failed to take advantage of emerging technologies to grow its business and remain competitive.

Disturbed by the deteriorating state of NIPOST, its new managers are challenged to transform the government parastatal, in line with modern technology evolution.

During the 49th World Post Week celebration held last week across globe, which NIPOST participated in Lagos, issues of technology innovation and how the agency could key into it, were discussed extensively.

Keynote speakers commended the new managers  for their initiative to reposition NIPOST in line with global technology trends.

 The New NIPOST

When the new Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer (PMG/CEO) of NIPOST, Bisi Adegbuyi,  assumed office last year, he knew he had a lot of challenges in his hands to turn around NIPOST and to restore back Nigerians’ confidence in the organization. One of the greatest challenges that he had, was how to upgrade the dilapidated infrastructure of NIPOST, using modern technologies, in such a way that it  would become the money spinning government agency that it used to be in the past. Another challenge was how to bring back the Nigerian youths to start patronising NIPOST services, since they form a larger percentage of the Nigerian population.

In order to overcome the herculean task before him, the first thing Adegbuyi did was to change the old structure of NIPOST in order to create a new NIPOST that is ready for competition and driven by modern technologies.

In doing so, Adegbuyi collapsed the old 38 territorial structures of NIPOST and restructured its operations into seven zones with 106 districts that are being headed by District Managers. The restructuring placed the entire Lagos and Ota in Ogun State, under one zone, called the Lagos Zone, with 12 districts.

The essence of the restructuring  is to promote efficiency in the operations of NIPOST.

 Repositioning backed by innovation

While delivering a paper titled: ‘Repositioning NIPOST for Innovation, Inclusion

and Integration: he Challenge Ahead’, during the World Post Week celebration in

Lagos, one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Maryam Omolara Quadri, who is a senior

lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, challenged the

new management of NIPOST on the need for innovation.

According to her, “Postal customers today are different from the customers of years back. The needs of today’s customers are changing rapidly with the changes in the social, economic and political world. The emergence of new technologies and trend in digital transformation has thrown up a big challenge for postal service worldwide. The process of innovation therefore involves implementation of new ideas to achieve desired social and economic outcomes.”

  She insisted that the new orientation of NIPOST being fostered by innovation, must require collaboration with relevant stakeholders.

She added that emerging issues in the introduction of innovative services and practices that are geared towards helping NIPOST to reposition itself, would require continuous cooperation with government and important stakeholders in the postal service.

Quadri therefore called on governments at all levels to be committed to creating an enabling environment for the post to deliver on its responsibilities.

She said NIPOST has continued to play a significant role in the economic, political and social lives of the people and development of the country, and must therefore innovate in every aspect of its operations.

Leveraging on digital transformation

Quadri, who is of the view that NIPOST must leverage on modern technologies to digitally transform its operations, raised the issue of how prepared are NIPOST staff to leverage on the digital transformation of posts with the aim of enhancing service delivery to target customers. Other questions she raised, were:Is the traditional postal service bureaucracy ready to make the change that will help it to progress in this new age? Is the postal sector ready to embrace innovations in ideas and practices?

She, however, quoted the PMG of the federation, as saying: “The restructuring is in line with the principle of delegation and devolution of powers to enable NIPOST run in a more efficient manner to engender operational efficiency, better service delivery, diversification and inclusive growth process by all the members of staff of the organisation.”

“However, as much as re-organisation is desirable, old tools and old methods of operation would have to be modified to suit new demands or dispensed with if found to be unsuitable for the purpose of transformation and dealing with the new challenges of a rapidly changing world,” Quadri said.

In addressing the importance of innovation, Quadri stressed the need for NIPOST to innovate, and explained that the inevitability of innovation was informed by the need for organisations to survive and grow.

The inability of an organisation to adapt to change spells doom for such organisation. Innovations matter because change is constant, and any organisation that wants to survive must be able to adapt to changes and overcome the challenges brought about by them.

Innovation, she further said, is about the implementation of a new or significantly improved product or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisation method in business practices, workplace organisations or external relations.

She added that the process of innovation therefore involves implementation of new ideas to achieve desired social and economic outcomes.

“It is equally important that before adopting an innovation, an organisation should strive to know whether the innovation in question is appropriate by relating it to three important factors, which she listed to include; whether the ideas supports the strategic direction of the organisation; whether the innovation is in line with the organisation current structure; and whether the innovation is within the organisation’s capacity,” she said.

Innovative technologies for NIPOST

Another keynote speaker at the World Post Week organised , Dr. Asuquo Abianga, who is the General Manager, EMS/Parcel Nigeria, emphasised on innovative technologies that could enable postal operations perform more efficiently for better service delivery to customers. He listed some of the technology solutions to include tracking system, barcodes, cameras, sensors, radio frequency, among others. According to him, NIPOST could use the tracking system to modernise its processes and substantially invest in information technology (IT) infrastructure as a means of raising its operational efficiency.

 “Apart from tracking system, barcodes speed up parcel sorting, since they can automatically scan. He said NIPOST must introduce the data rich 2D codes, which contain additional information such as routing instructions that enable tracking. The barcode also enables new value added mail services, as  the 2D code can carry additional information such as personalised special offers or discount that can be redeemed at a local shop,” Abianga said.

Sensor, he added, also speeds up sorting as well as cameras scanners along with fingerprint technology, based on item images and software recognition.

He spoke on Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID), which enables a faster remote processing and it is used for some express and specific logistics products. The listed technology solution, he said, would help NIPOST to better reposition for greater efficiency.

The future of NIPOST with e-commerce

Although NIPOST has already aligned itself with e-commerce, which is an online platform for trading of goods and services, Abianga said much still have to be done in the area of e-commerce, if  the agency  must remain competitive.

He explained that many Nigerians, especially the youths, have connected to the internet through their smartphone devices and that NIPOST is doing everything possible to create products and services that will attract the youths to the post office.

“The NIPOST  should therefore enhance the increasing competition in the e-commerce market as it provides positive incentives for all market players, retailers as well as Parcel carriers and lend and additional impetus to the development of new online shopping and delivery solutions,” Abianga said.

Acting General Manager, E-commerce Logistics at NIPOST, Mr. Ahmed Owolabi, said although letter posting and deliveries are on the decline, online parcel deliveries are on the increase. He, however,   called on the management of NIPOST to invest in appropriate technologies that will further drive e-commerce business in NIPOST, which he said, had already partnered some e-commerce companies like Jumia, Konga and Yudala for parcel deliveries. According to him, the volume of parcel deliveries from NIPOST is on the increase on a yearly basis.

New products and services

In her welcome address, the NIPOST Lagos Zonal Manager, Mrs. Adebola Ayeni, listed some of the newly introduced internet-based products and services that would further reposition NIPOST to include: IPS Track and Trace, E-stamp, E-commerce, E-insurance, Postal and Money Order Online Purchase, Post Office Card approved by MasterCard, NIPOST Agency Banking, Bank of Agric Agency Banking, and Address Verification System, among others.

She called on the general public to take advantage of the newly introduced products and services and experience faster and safer delivery of items.

Commenting on the theme of this year’s World Post Week, ‘Serving A New Society: Delivery Beyond Your Door Step,’ Ayeni said NIPOST would continue to innovate to change the face of postal service in Nigeria, re-launch NIPOST back to public consciousness and bring back the Nigerian youths into the post offices.

Deputy Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Wasiu Sanni, who was represented by one of the assembly members, Gbenle Adeshola, advised NIPOST to become more innovative in order to address the competition and threats posed by new technology and the social media. He said NIPOST must adjust to emerging technology realities, and remain competitive in business. He however commended the restructuring initiative in NIPOST, which he said, would help it to grow its e-commerce business.