Sabtu, 13 Juli 2013

Knock Knock ; Who's there ? Nobody !


By any reckoning, this should be an extremely successful business. You have a fantastic distribution set up - reaching every nook and corner of your geography that nobody else can - in what is essentially a distribution business. You have an envious relationship with the consumers. In many places your representative was a trusted friend and confidante. People looked forward to his arrival. You had a state sanctioned monopoly. You have a significant price advantage. You enjoy innumerable fiscal benefits that no competitor enjoys. You have a great brand , so great that collection of your merchandise was a major hobby with an English word specifically only for this. Songs have been written about you that have reached the top of the charts - here (this is the first version - the Beatles and the Carpenters came later) , in case you are musically inclined. 

With such advantages. you should be roaring away to glory, shouldn't you ? And yet you are a colossal failure and a sitting duck in almost every country. I am referring to the business of postal services. Everywhere in the world, the Post Office is a massive white elephant and a complete dinosaur, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphors. When was the last time you licked a stamp and sent something by post  ?

Popular perception is that the business has been made obsolete because of technology. The advent of E Mail and then subsequently, the mobile phone has made postal services. fit only for a museum. Nobody writes a letter any more. So goes the wisdom. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The postal services have failed because they have a been a government monopoly, have never considered themselves as a business and have been the best example of the worst management in history. That's why they have failed. If you need any further proof of it, simply consider the number of courier companies, who essentially offer the same services and who are thriving.

There is actually a colossal increase in the volume of physical mail. The amount of commercial mail is massive - just consider the amount of stuff, you may consider as junk mail, but which still arrives at your doorstep. Just as the advent of computers actually increased the amount of paper consumed, the advent of email has done nothing to reduce the volume of snail mail. Yes, you may have never written an inland letter for a decade or more, but consider how many times you have couriered something. 

Postal services in every country, and especially so in India, have been subjected to such bad management that it must be considered almost a crime. There is a bloated workforce. There is very poor management talent working in the organisation.  There has been no modernisation and investment whatsoever - just peep into the local post office, in case you can find it, and you will be looking at the 18th century. Governments have contributed by keeping prices of some products ridiculously low - for example to send a post card anywhere in India costs 50 paise (provided you can find a 50p coin which is almost not legal tender nowadays).  If ever there was an example required of the grossest inefficiency of the public sector and a shameful case of a proud organisation brought to its knees, this has to be it.

Why is this so. There have been other government monopolies which have been threatened by technology, but which have still done reasonably well. Why is the Post Office an universal failure ? I can postulate, but I shall leave it to Distinguished Academics (at least two members of this species are readers of this blog) to perhaps present their research findings.

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