Post's modern reality: trading on trust

There’s no denying that Australia Post is one of the most disrupted businesses in Australia today.

What’s less appreciated is how the company has tackled a sharp learning curve to embed digital culture deep into its DNA, while retaining an enduring depth of public trust to empower its future.

Bolstered by its unique national retail, logistics and home delivery network, Australia Post has swiftly repositioned itself as a potent agent that can deliver smart services to the public and private sectors in Australia today.

When it comes to wrestling change, few executive hot seats rival Andrew Walduck’s.

As the person recruited into Australia Post in 2012 to overhaul its technology operations, his creativity and resilience under pressure has resulted in his elevation to head a new business unit that’s not just dedicated to helping organisations tackle digital challenges — on their own terms — but bringing their customers along for the ride while preserving trust and comfort.

There is a new Australia Post and the rubber is hitting the road on its offerings.

Over the last few years, Australia Post’s chief executive, Ahmed Fahour, candidly pressed home the strong imperative for the organisation to diversify for its very survival while the traditional letters business faced inevitable structural decline.

It is not the first time technology has confronted Post. From the overland telegraph, to telephony, to fax and email, the emergence of near ubiquitous high speed digital connectivity is just the latest but probably most profound disruptive change that has challenged Post in its 200 year history.

And even though Australia Post’s parcels and logistics business, StarTrack, has boomed thanks to the surging online commerce market in the meantime, it’s just one part of a far bigger, enterprise-wide transformation.

Methodically and relentlessly, Post has been reinventing itself from the inside out to become a highly trusted local provider of choice for electronic transactions.

Services now span across proof-of-identity checks, bill payments and financial transactions for consumers, to accessing online services that can securely handle sensitive personal information that range from land title transfers to passport applications and police checks.

Now the company is poising itself to make strong inroads into the government and corporate digital services market through a compelling set of competitive propositions that include transaction and payments processing, identity management and enrolment, information and data management all in a secure and trusted locally hosted environment.

Post’s positioning will be welcome news for federal, state and local government clients, many of whom are facing a groundswell of public pressure and wariness over factors like where customer data is held and the sovereignty of the custodian.

Agencies are also asking tougher questions of suppliers in an environment where the number of serious cyber security incidents are increasing and show no prospect of abating.

And at a time when services are becoming increasingly commoditised, what is clear is Australia Post’s transformation makes it more than just the sum of its parts.

Keeping it real

On the road to its latest transformation, Australia Post has a been undertaking thorough market research to make sure the transformation of its internal culture continues to deliver what its customers say they actually need, regardless of whether they’re consumers, government or corporate organisations.

For providers of public sector services online, Post’s findings strongly suggest that while customers expect digital channels, they’re also still demanding alternatives that give them the flexibility to make ‘physical’ and retail transactions as and when required.

“Whilst 94% of people want to be able to interact digitally, 70% of those want choice. And choice to be able to do that physically,” Walduck says.

“So it only leaves 30% who want to be able to interact in a pure digital way based upon the research that we have done.”

It’s a refreshing take to many ‘pure’ digital propositions that flatly eschew human interaction, only to later feel the ire of customers who feel abandoned and exploited when issues inevitably arise.

Such figures are also a clear wake-up call to government agencies and businesses needing to ensure a smooth migration of customers and stakeholders to new digital platforms without generating resistance and hostility that often follows more compulsive efforts.

Post is seizing the digital age, but its leaders are consciously keeping its very human touch as a core part of its offer and a point of difference.

Change from within

As executive general manager of Australia Post’s Trusted eCommerce Solutions division, Andrew Walduck certainly doesn’t underestimate the digital services change imperative.

He cautions it needs to be accompanied by a holistic change in organisational culture, a change that allows an agency or business’ staff the opportunity to understand, grow and rise to the challenge as part of their digitisation journey.

Walduck notes Australia Post is also in a unique position to share actionable knowledge with customers because, through necessity, his organisation has quite literally taken the journey itself and gathered plenty of lessons along the way.

Put simply, Post’s digital road hasn’t always been a smooth or easy one — which means it has the real-world smarts to help its customers avoid or minimise pain points.

“As we look at our corporate and government customers, one of the key priorities for them is to be able to chart a future for their organisation,” Walduck says.

Plotting that path, he says, requires both taking advantage of “what the digital age presents” but also evolving the parts of an organisation “that are disrupted by it.”

Digital inclusion

Citing a “top down” commitment that stretches from Australia Post’s CEO, its board and executive committee right down to those pounding the pavement, Walduck emphasises the need to “bring on the conversation around what it is needed for us to be able to interact with our customers in a way that matches their needs.”

But for that discussion to be effective and pervasive, he stresses there’s a need for genuine openness that can cut across hierarchy.

“We have hack days, ideation events [and] other events internally where anyone from inside the organisation — whether it be a postie, someone from a post office, someone who is a delivery driver or [in] parcels — will be there with people from head office including me,” Walduck says.

“No one knows anybody’s title and we all join the conversation on what it means is to change our company and what our aspirations should be.”

Insisting that those in the rank-and-file of an organisation have plenty of valuable experience and ideas to contribute, Walduck says capturing otherwise dormant knowledge actively motivates and empowers staff to “go back and talk to their teams.”

“This is what starts to build the groundswell of support for change.”

This ultimately human understanding is an asset that can be transferred to customers of government services – people who could otherwise avoid digital channels or be left alienated without a personal touch to help them navigate through them.

“We have this beautiful ability to leverage both the physical contact we have with our customers as well as leading digital interactions [so] we can truly help an organisation to chart its course of building on what its digital aspirations are,” Walduck says.

“Because we know and understand how difficult it is — and the challenges that they will have — after they have gone and attempted version one, we are there to be able to truly drive the next rate of change they want to be able to do.”

The national opportunity

While Australia Post’s new vision has clear benefits for the community, the public sector that serves it and the company alike, Walduck says there’s a wider economic contribution that also needs to be acknowledged.

As the degree of friction and inefficiency inherent in siloed, pre-digital services and transaction channels falls away, so too do costs and overheads, thus creating savings and opportunities for new investment.

Australia Post, like many government and commercial organisations, is actively exploring the notion of a voluntary, open and interoperable digital identity framework for Australia that could be used across both government and private sector transactions to better secure transactions and privacy while eliminating bottlenecks and disparity.

Although standards and credentials are sometimes construed as competing — think interstate rail gauges — Walduck insists there is a common good that can be realised.

“For governments that are thinking about it, the great opportunity is to create something that is broader and enables a remit that can actually support both public and private sector needs that exist in any one state or exist federally,” he says.

“It has the opportunity to deliver on the substantive scale of value that exists [and create] much bigger economic benefits.”

As a national institution with both a bright digital future and a strong grounding in the very human physical world, you can expect to be hearing plenty more from Australia Post as it repositions for further growth.

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