More Than Mail

Frederic Bisson /

La Poste Departmental Directorate of Seine-Maritime.

The postal system in France can be traced back to the 15th century. After such a long period of time, one may assume that such system will inevitably reach its peak and begin to deteriorate, and that the reigning era of technology will only speed up that process.

The example of France's La Poste proves the arrival of the digital age is not a death sentence, but rather a stimulus that companies can and should use in their own interests.

The French case is also interesting as post in both countries is state-owned. Le Poste Groupe is a joint-stock-company (since 2010), while Russian Post is a unitary enterprise. From the viewpoint of the market, it is doubtful that a unitary enterprise can be flexible or progressive enough.

After the French government, La Poste Groupe is the second most influential employer in the country. The number of people employed by the holding group is more than 268,000. Every year, these workers manage to deliver around 25 billion items (letters, printed ads, and parcels) all over the world.

This is made possible by extensive infrastructure. La Poste has offices throughout France and also representation in 40 countries, on four major continents. Shipments within the country take one to two days. International packages take up to six days.

For perspective, in Russia, whose territory is more than 30 times larger, 350,000 employees man the postal system. Annually received, processed and delivered mail is to the order of 4 billion items. Russian Post has only one international branch, and it is located in Berlin.

In Russia, the postman is often the only link between inhabitants of remote and sparsely populated places and the outside world. This relates to the postman Alexei Tryapitsyn, whose namesake is the title of director Andrei Konchalovsky's Venice Film Festival triumph.

Russia's postman bears little resemblance to the contemporary French postman, delivering mail on a new electric scooter. However, the role and importance of the postman are identical for people in both countries.  

While this certainly has its own truth and distinctive aesthetic, the world doesn't stand still, and the time comes when it is simply impossible not to respond to the changing times.

Conquest of the Future

In the case of La Poste Groupe, the company's gains are connected to a wish for change. This past year, the holding group approved a strategic plan "La Poste 2020: Conquest of the Future."

It was preceded by less than stellar years for the holding group. Profits had gone into the negatives. The situation, they decided, could not be blamed on the financial crisis.

The economic recovery of La Poste Groupe began with approval of a new structure around five of its subdivisions: Services-Mail-Parcels (services — mail — send), La Banque Postale (Postal Bank), La Poste Network (network address), GeoPost (emergency department mail) and Digital Services.

The core focus became the development of existing business, and the conquest of dynamic new fields. This would be done primarily by the modernization of the services already provided.

Thus, La Poste does not simply deal with letters and parcels, it is also a bank specializing in insurance and even giving out mortgage loans, a mobile operator, and a developer of technological solutions.

Digital Revolution

The most ambitious digital subdivision is engaged with the general administration within La Poste, and three sister enterprises. These are Docapost (specializing in the digital transformation of organizations), MediaPost (digital media and processing of DATAS), and Start'inPost (engaged with startups).

Now, La Poste offers a variety of digital services payable via the now routine and widely accepted "electronic wallet," which can be used to pay for utilities, and far more complex arrangements or packages of services.

The short-term plan is an integration with public databases. This should simplify access to public services for residents in remote and hard to reach areas.

Among La Poste Groupe's most ambitious digital plans is a program for the "French IoT" ­— the French Internet of Things. It will support the existence and the future development of startups.

At the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 in Las Vegas, La Poste presented its digital hub, a universal platform that can be used to combine and manage linked devices on a single interface.

La Poste Groupe launched a mobile application, Digipost Pass, which is used to collect, sort and organize various important documents (identity cards, drivers' license, bank statements, invoices, and many others).  

The application aids in the completion of different tasks. For example, immediately attaching all the necessary accompanying documents when filling out a form for a bank loan, or quickly finding a warranty and using its address to find the nearest service center for repairing broken appliances. It can also perform exchanges of more sensitive and confidential documents.

Drones, Electric Vehicles and the Human Factor

La Poste is introducing innovations to the most traditional lines of business. Recently, tests took place in the south of the country for using drones to deliver parcels.

It is likely this new technology will enter into La Poste's inventory in the near future, like the hydrogen fuel-cell postal trucks. La Poste uses a large fleet of electric vehicles, thereby caring for the environment and economizing on resources at the same time.

Despite the introduction of all these new technologies, however, there is the occasional mix-up. Blame the rest, as it often happens, on the human factor.

A few years ago, a letter from the mayor of a village in Normandy, France, to another French village was directed via Moscow. The intended recipient of the letter lived in a French village, Russ. And in French it sounds like Russia, only differing in the ending.

The most traditional aspect of the postal system often receives the quickest response to advertising efforts. The issuing of new postage stamps remains the most effective means to attract the attention of the public, clients, and the press.

This year for example, the famous designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac made designs for a limited run of postage stamps for Valentine's Day. Over the years, famous fashion houses Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Lanvin have also created designs for Valentine's Day.

One stamp carried the depiction of Ferdinand Cheval, one of France's most famous postmen. He gained notoriety by building his Palais idéal — a castle he saw once in a dream — with stones he picked up during his daily mail delivery route.

The Future

Positive dynamics, according to analysts at La Poste Groupe, should continue to bring significant results into 2020.

La Poste has made large bets on the success of its Digital Services. The company expects, through the efforts of the 5,500 specialists working to implement and expand digital services, that in five years returns will amount to more than 1 billion euros.

The banality of statistics, however, obscures what is most important — people's trust in the company. The greater the publicity capital, the greater the  stability and endurance the company will have to meet the expectations of customers.

Delivery methods might change or things may transform into "digital solutions," but what must remain is a commitment to the timely and efficient provision of services.   

Russia - France 2015
Russia - France 2015
Welcome to Russia-France business supplement, devoted to strengthening bilateral relations between Russia and France.
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