Pushing the envelope

Q-Post, Qatar's postal service, always aims for first class delivery, and its IT systems are part and parcel of that approach. Daniel Stanton finds out more.inccommunications services in the region," concludes Vaile.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  August 31, 2006

Since Qatar's postal service was denationalised in 2001 it operates as a commercial entity independent of government. This has meant updating its business practices, along with its technology.

One of the major implementations has been its recent adoption of the Oracle E-Business suite to help give an overall picture of the company's finances and improve interdepartmental efficiency. Q-Post has deployed modules to cover accounts payable, accounts received, general ledger, financial analysis, purchasing, cash management and payroll.

"In order to provide a swift, efficient postal service, Q-Post's primary goal is to ensure we keep our costs down - and our customers happy - while providing excellent quality of service," says Ali Al- Kubaisi, director of financial and commercials affairs, Q-Post. "To achieve these aims, we looked at the way our internal departments were operating, as well as how we produce accurate data and reports as we moved towards an accrual system."

In an accrual system, revenue is recognised at the time a service is delivered, rather than when payment is received.

The Oracle system is also used to assess the costs and profitability of new projects, and to monitor audit trails to make them easier to view and control. It was chosen for its functionality as well as scalability.

"Oracle e-Business suite immeasurably improved the consolidation of information such as our postal statistics, as well as QPost's ability to monitor financial data and streamline our business processes," says Ehsan Idrissa, chief of ERP, Q-Post. "I believe it already makes it easier for us to make fast and informed business decisions. It is critical for Q-Post to be able to produce up-to-date financial reports at any time, as our management team needs access to information in order to make the right decisions."

Q-Post has made a continued effort to use technology to improve its processes and in the process has transformed itself into a much leaner business as a result.

George Scott-Campbell is the director of IT services, Q-Post, and has served two different terms at the post office. "When I started they were a paper-driven organisation under the government," he says.

"When I came back in 2002 they were partially computerised - no websites, no email - so what we've done in the last four years is improve internal communication with email, intranet, CRM systems, customer service, etc and tried to add information, the web and various value-added services. The point has been to try and modernise the business," he says.

Part of that modernisation has involved reusing existing data in innovative ways to create added value for customers. Since January, Q-Post has been using a softwaredriven OCR system from Siemens, which sorts the letters but also has other benefits. "We feed the OCR data to the website so that people know when letters have been sorted to their P.O. boxes," Scott-Campbell says. "That's non bar-coded letters which nobody is tracking anywhere, so we're claiming it as a world first, web-connected sorting machine.

Obviously we're sorting letters for P.O. boxes anyway so we can steal the data and do something valueadded with it."

The post office makes the information available online, so that customers can find out whether or not they have mail waiting to be collected. "If you're sitting at home with traffic jams, you can decide whether to go to the P.O. box or not," says Scott-Campbell.

The service, which receives about 7,000 hits per day, also extends to registered post. "You'll get a list of parcels, registered letters or EMS (express mail service). This is a free value-added service we're giving from the data that we're collecting in our various in-house systems," he says. "What we're doing is making a portal for your box.”

Q-Post also offers Q-Post Premium service to track delivery of credit cards and records the civil ID of the person who receives it. The information is relayed to the issuing bank via a secure VPN and if the wrong person has received the card the bank is made aware within 30 minutes and takes action to block it.

Q-Post has an IT team of 50 people, six of whom work in software development. "We write our own software because no one produces it for you," says Scott- Campbell. "All our mail dispatching is done by computer and the data's stored.We have it feeding the web. Everything goes through the ERP," he adds.

“We're double-using the fibre optics and the network rather than put a CCTV system in.”

Q-Post has also invested in increasing the speed and efficiency with which the mail is processed, using automation. However, this is an area where user education is just as important as the technology itself.

"We have graphics networks that recognise stamps, looking in a certain place and doing it at 40kmph," Scott- Campbell explains.

"I can't open for very long because I slow down the throughput of the machine. The standard place is the top right-hand corner so I'd look in a 40mm long by 40mm deep block with the software to try to recognise the stamp. If it's not there I reject it.

If it's rejected it goes to manual, which means someone has to handstamp it. That could happen 24 to 36 hours later. The end result is your letter's delayed," Scott- Campbell explains.

Part of the reason for delays to the process is cultural differences. "If you come from Nepal, for instance, you put the stamps on the back of the envelope, that's the custom. If you come from Egypt, you stick it in the middle. Indian people stick it on the bottom left-hand corner.Wherever you come from in the world it makes a difference where you stick the stamp," he says.

Q-Post is currently trying to encourage its customers to comply, but still has to carry out 21 hours per day of manual hand-stamping at the moment. This is something it is keen to reduce, hopefully leading to manpower savings.

One area where a novel approach has paid dividends is in branch security. "We use our data network for our cameras," says Scott- Campbell. "We're double-using the fibre optics and the network rather than put a CCTV system in.We've developed software. If we put CCTV in it was 1.2 million [Qatari] riyals. If I did it in-house myself it was 300,000 riyals, so it's about using technology to save money, not trying to be high-tech."

Despite its size, Q-Post has demonstrated that it can adapt to meet market needs and offer services that many larger rivals cannot. Scott- Campbell believes that the post office today compares well to others in the region.

"Dubai has more volume, so there's no comparison with the amount of mail, but with technology I think we're pretty much neck-andneck," he says.

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