The world’s first national postal service, with 350 years of operations behind it, has been dogged by accusations of poor service, lost mail, wildcat strikes and inefficiency. It also faces more long-term problems, including an estimated £4 billion pension deficit and the fact that the organisation has lost its monopoly with the UK postal market and is now open to competition.

Despite the challenges, the organisation – boosted by increased turnover in its European parcels business – recorded a rise in group profits for its half year last September to £159 million, while its last full year figures showed £537m profit on £9bn turnover. The turnaround is seen as the fruit of the renewal plan augmented in 2002, when the firm was losing over a £1m every day.

A key part of that revival has been the group’s website operations. Some 5m UK users are registered on these electronic channels, with
e-business related use climbing 25 per cent in 2005 alone, says the company.

Banking on the website

MIS UK spoke with the firm’s head of e-business, Dennis Greene, who outlines how central a role that has been: “We have a very large number of transactions now going through the website, both information and financial, with a peak of about 90 a second at our busiest time of Christmas. We are steadily introducing new features such as online stamp buying and an electronic franking service – the smart stamp – for SMEs. Basically the website is the engine at the back of a lot of what we do and is an important channel for us.”

The firm is a user of the ATG e-commerce suite, with that technology being used to unify three previous websites for its mail, parcels and post office operations, into one common platform using XML as the main interface method, along with search technology from Autonomy and content management functionality from Documentum. Now a range of services, from parcel tracking to online billing, are available to customers in one place.

“My responsibility is to ensure we have a web platform that is robust, scalable and runs problem-free,” says Greene.

Showing what's possible

Greene has had a varied career himself. He joined Royal Mail in 2001 after a foray into the dot-com world, having previously been a newspaper journalist with Express Newspapers heading up its new media operations. He views his job at Royal Mail as being “to try to find the best bang for buck, but also demonstrate what’s possible.”

He reports to Royal Mail’s enterprise IT director, Wendy Powney, who spearheaded another IT-related business improvement drive for the group. In 2003 Royal Mail outsourced its datacentres, networks and more than 600 business applications in a 10-year, £1.5bn deal. Royal Mail’s annual IT budget now is around £70m a year.

Greene concludes, “As we come further out of the recovery phase we expect the e-channel to become more important.”