October 27, 2021

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Australia Post trials smartphone solution to help in-store staff better serve customers

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Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

Australia Post has developed a pilot ruggedised smartphone-based solution that it hopes can eventually replace up to eight different devices used by staff to service customers across its network of 4,000 post offices.

“We have large numbers of devices in our stores that are largely shared between all staff in that store and that creates some challenges around sanitising those devices between usage and at the end of the day,” Australia Post technology business partner Ben Llewellyn said during the virtual VMware 2021 conference.

“So, what we’re looking at doing is to create a situation where every staff member has their own device from the start of issue to the end of the issue and isn’t sharing those devices.”

Developed using VMware Workspace One Launcher, the solution has been built to enable staff to digitally capture handwritten sender and receiver labels on parcels and avoid the manual process of entering each name and address into the point-of-sale (POS) system; send emails from the front-of-store instead of going into the back office; scan barcodes; and digitise safety and compliance paperwork.

Australia Post has been running an extended pilot of the Android mobile solution at its Chadstone store in Melbourne, which Llewellyn described as having been so successful that the outlet was in “week 22 of our four-week trial”.

“It became more and more obvious to me the opportunity that was created just by this concept, in terms of folding all of these devices in amongst themselves. The simplification alone is probably going to end up from 26,000 devices spread across our stores to about 13,000,” Llewellyn added.

“With that, there’s less cables, less cords, less batteries, less dust, less devices obviously, less support contracts, less vendors. It just shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. The opportunity is enormous for us.”

Llewellyn said underpinning the possibility of rolling out this capability across its post office network is Australia Post’s telecommunications transformation project.

“That actually finally got our network backbone into our retail stores set up for something that could cope with this. It got the in-store Wi-Fi for us, which we didn’t have before. Its put SD-WAN and faster internet, which we hadn’t had before either,” he said.

But making the pilot smartphone solution widely available across its retail stores will only be one part of Australia Post’s broader digital transformation plans, he added. The organisation is also in the process of a four-year POS transformation journey.

“We currently have a 32-year-old point-of-sale system that’s a bit of a Frankenstein. It’s got things bolted on it over the journey to improve the customer experience. We’ve grown organically and our services have changed organically, we’ve adapted with it by bolting more and more things onto our venerable POS system,” Llewellyn said.

As next steps, Llewellyn said Australia Post would look at how the pilot mobile device and its new POS terminal could “work together harmoniously and complement each other”

“The mobile device gives us the ability to take technology with us front-of-house and back-of-house, which both are vitally important in our stores,” he said.

“Back-of-house is where all of the parcel magic happens and in front-of-house is where we’d really ideally like to be serving our customers … and you know chaperoning people through the parcel sending journey.”

He noted some of the specific capability enhancements that the postal service would look at adding to the mobile solution include optical character recognition, image capture, document scanning, fax replacement, and taking identity photos.

“There’s a heap of capability we’re hoping to drag onto this device and really simplify what it means for our staff to get access to all the tools and apps they need to serve the customers and create awesome customer experiences,” Llewellyn said.

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