The appointment of Barrister Bisi Adegbuyi as Postmaster-General of the Federation and CEO of NIPOST in August 2016 opened a new vista for the organisation.
Over the years, the postal industry has played a unique social role in providing for the carriage of private letters and parcels across the globe, thereby encouraging social integration and helping families and friends to remain in contact. But in the modern digital era in which there are multiple competing means of social interaction, the question that many people still ask is whether the post has any important role to play in the digital world. The postal sector is a great enabler of inclusive society and an important component of socio-economic development. With many countries stepping up efforts to achieve the mandate of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the postal sector remains not only a critical component of the global economy but also reliable vehicle through which inclusive societies could be built.
Transformation of postal services globally began about 30 years ago, in the early the 1980s. The scope of the changes envisioned then required financial resources far more than what the postal administrations could afford. Therefore, outside financial support, including the World Bank and other multilateral development investors, were seen as possible sources of funding for postal development projects. It is in this regard that the World Bank’s Private Sector Department (PSD) started promoting worldwide postal reform concepts, especially in developing countries.
Europe was the first continent to see postal administrations transform themselves from bureaucratic state-owned organisations to market-driven postal companies. Within Europe, the Netherlands and Germany were the first countries to create a political framework to allow their postal administrations to become competitive companies. Following the European example, postal administrations in other parts of the globe started to initiate major transformation programmes. In Africa, with the exception of postal administrations within the North African region, specifically, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, which have made significant progress in modernising their postal services, government policies that ensured that the postal industry concentrates in fulfilling the universal service obligation (USO) as national carriers made it difficult for postal administrations in East and West African regions to make much progress in terms of reform
In Nigeria, however, the desire of the Federal Government in the middle of the 1980s to disengage itself from direct control and management of the nation’s economy in order to play a more facilitator role led to its decision to hand over the running of some public utilities to private investors. Against this backdrop, government’s policies during this period were geared towards inviting local and foreign investors to participate in the ownership and management of the government agencies. In the realisation that an efficient communication system was the engine of economic growth, it was acknowledged that building a strong communication infrastructure was a means of laying a solid foundation for private investors’ participation.
It was in recognition of this reality that government started the reform of the communications sector and subsequently split the Post and Telecommunications Department into two separate entities, namely the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) and the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) in January 1985.
Despite the split, the Federal Government concentrated its attention on the telecommunications sector by funding its capital projects, while the postal sector was left to operate as a quasi-department of the Federal Ministry of Communications, with outdated postal equipment and collapsed national infrastructure such as roads and transport system. However, credit should be given to some of the past leaders of NIPOST for taking various initiatives to make the postal industry more vibrant and relevant in the face of fierce competition from the private courier services. These efforts succeeded in drawing government’s attention and consequently led to the granting of autonomy to the organisation with the promulgation of Decree 41 of 1992, known as the Nigerian Postal Service Act. The law granted NIPOST the latitude to use its internally-generated revenue to fund its operations and improve postal infrastructure in the country. Other measures included the introduction of the Nigerian Postcode system to mechanise and simplify mail processing and delivery system through postal facilities (post office boxes and private mail bags), introduction of the National Mail Route Network in partnership with private transporters to guarantee effective distribution of mail within the country and collaboration with communities and corporate bodies to increase the post office density within the country.
It is instructive that despite the efforts to ensure that users of postal services got value for their money, lack of proper or standard addressing system in Nigeria remained a major impediment to the delivery of quality services. In the single postal territory created by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the most efficient postal administrations depend on the service quality level of the weakest in the chain. This is why the UPU continues to support administrations in developing countries to take measures to improve their address infrastructure in order to take advantage of the opportunities information and communication technologies. Even though Nigeria has taken giant strides towards developing a standard national addressing system since 2009, the shift towards digital solutions entailed that the authorities in NIPOST needed to be more proactive and incorporate digital solutions in its operations and be reckoned as a market- focused organisation capable of responding to its customers’ needs.
Most times, organisations develop strategies, policies and processes and encourage their employees to ensure strict adherence to the rules but they often forget that the outside environment does not stand still. An organisation that fails to adapt its own way of doing business over time may find itself in a situation of strategic drift, where its products and services, including process and policies, are no longer fit for purpose. In this kind of situation, customers will move to organisations that meet their demands and provide solutions to their problems. A management expert, Kristian Sund of the Middlesex University in the United Kingdom, in his book, “THE FUTURE IS IN THE POST: PERSPECTIVES ON TRANSFORMATION IN THE POSTAL INDUSTRY,” wrote that “the precursor for change and transformation for postal operators is to face the facts of the changing industry and be willing to turn the page on the past.” According to Dr. Sund, “Successful change demands a change in the mindset of executives and employees. Change requires a deconstruction and challenging of accepted assumptions and beliefs about the industry.”
One of the enduring legacies that the present NIPOST management will leave behind is the innovation it has introduced into NIPOST operations, which, apart from creating opportunities for the staff to express their creative and managerial skills, has also broadened the scope of products and services offered to customers. It is indeed interesting to note that the appointment of Barrister Bisi Adegbuyi as the Postmaster-General of the Federation and Chief Executive Officer of NIPOST in August 2016 opened a new vista for the organisation. The Postmaster- General has not only challenged the accepted assumptions and beliefs about the post in Nigeria but has also simplified situations which hitherto seemed complex. By assembling a team of like-minded people, the new management has taken some steps ensure that NIPOST evolves into a more business-like organisation rather than a government subsidized agency. Through the instrumentality of postal sector reform, the management is poised to arrest the downward spiral of the organisation and turn around the revenue generating capacity of the industry as part of its efforts to make the Industry a self sufficient and self reliant organization by 2020. An integral part of the transformation is that the management realises that in an industry facing enormous challenges, innovation, which relates to new and creative solutions focused on meeting customers’ needs, is fundamental to success.
In a country where lack of patriotic commitment to manage our resources and develop project for the good of the people has become a culture, NIPOST management is making a difference. At a time when public officials use the phrase ‘lack of funds’ as an excuse for their lack of performance, here is a management that is innovating and incorporating various technological solutions into its operations to prove that money is not always the barrier to success when a corporate vision is imbibed and shared by all involved. By simplifying situations, which seemed complex in the past, inspiring the staff to look beyond limitations, foreseeing events that may affect the environment as well as the competition for customers and new businesses, there is no doubt that the targets which the new management sets for itself in terms of revenue generation and self sustenance are achievable.
The importance of effective addressing system is very vital to NIPOST success. The establishment of a well-articulated addressing system for Nigeria is predicated on the importance and role it plays national development beyond the primary role of mail delivery. This includes such issues as poverty alleviation, provision of essential services, national security, improvement of quality of life and identification citizens. NIPOST’s introduction of the Digital Addressing System (DAS) and Address Verification System (AVS) is extremely important to the postal delivery network because apart from improving quality of service, increasing consistency and reduce costs, it will also boost NIPOST revenue. The application of digital solutions for postal operations is highly desirable. However, it requires a synergy with partners who can guarantee constant power supply, security of equipment and increase in broadband penetration. This was the major reason why the computerisation of postal operations in the country in the past was very slow.
Identifying the value of addresses for the postal industry in their shift towards digital addressing system is important to NIPOST. Ensuring that everyone has an address increases the number of locations which the Post could deliver. Addresses are also beneficial in the digital world as they help to identify not only locations but also individuals and their preferences. DAS, which simply means to verify the personal and business addresses available to NIPOST to be stored in a digital database. It is important to NIPOST because it facilitates seamless delivery of mail items including parcels and vital documents to customers by the postmen to the rightful owners.
Unlike in the past where postmen searched endlessly for customers’ addresses in order to deliver their items to them with such items sometimes ending up in the hands of the wrong persons who pose as genuine owners, digital addressing has eliminated the problem as it verifies and confirms the customer’s physical address as written by the sender of the item. It authenticates both a company’s and individual’s addresses. NIPOST digital addressing system takes care of the peculiarities of Nigeria’s addressing system and evolved a system which best suits the country and with the system, there is no place in Nigeria that is beyond NIPOST delivery capacity.
The AVS which is boosted by the DAS is used to verify the physical addresses and identities of person who claim ownership of goods or services provided to them by corporate organisations or banks. It is a service that helps to combat fraudulent activities for non face to face transactions by verifying the information about customers as provided by service providers. Due to NIPOST’s focus on digital technology application, a software application which works exclusively with hand held phones was developed for the purpose of verifying the addresses and identities of post office box owners, corporate organizations and private owners who are interested in know your customer (KYC) maxim.
The operation of NIPOST AVS is very simplified since it requires is for service providers to log in to NIPOST website (UVerify.nipost.gov.ng) fill the form requesting for address authentication of their customers and pay the service charge and submit the details to be verified. Once the application gets to NIPOST AVS phone network, the information is immediately sent to the postman (field agent) closest to where the address is located. The postman conducts the physical verification, authenticates the address or availability of business claimed and sends the information he obtained to the AVS database to confirm the success or otherwise of the transaction. The address verification service is helping to bridge the gap between banks and other service providers and their customers as it validates the claims of customers’ residences and businesses, it also helps corporate organisations and financial institutions to build a more reliable database with the feedback generated through NIPOSTAVS.
What makes the NIPOST address verification system unique is that it is based on a simplified logic and a structure, which is understandable by both the end users and the field agents. It provides better security and more inclusion. This, perhaps, explains why the AVS won the World Summit on Information Society’s ‘international recognition award’ in February this year in Geneva, Switzerland.
By incorporating digital solutions into postal operations, NIPOST has demonstrated that it is ready to take advantage of the enormous opportunities which the Internet is generating, especially in the e-commerce market. With both the digital and address verification systems, there is no doubt that NIPOST will become a strong partner to its customers including government agencies when it extends its services and solutions along the entire value chain, thereby enhancing new business areas outside its core business.
Mr Ejiofor is a former staff of NIPOST