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Africa Outlook

Zimpost

ZIMPOST

First past the post



As Zimbabwe postal company Zimpost continues to evolve we speak to Managing Director Douglas Zimbango about a $5 million upgrading project aimed at modernising its business methods.

Writer Ian Armitage
Project manager Eleanor Watson

Things change. It is a fact of life. And with the decline of the letter – with people opting for faster means of communication like cell phones and the internet – Zimbabwe's postal company Zimpost has had to evolve. The letter has never been less popular and the number being posted continues to fall. Zimpost has responded.

"We have experienced an 85 percent decline in mail volumes. The reduction in postal output and the advent of quicker online methods of communication have forced us to move into new revenue streams," Zimpost Managing Director Douglas Zimbango says. "The postal service has suffered from electronic substitution. Today mobile devices provide SMS and social media services so people have shifted away from letters. Fewer people are writing them, send bills or even pay bills via postal mail."

According to Zimbango the decline started in 2003. Back then Zimpost handled 100 million pieces of mail.

In 2004 it was half that.

Today it has dropped down to around 15 million pieces of mail.

Cutting costs and surviving have had to become a priority for Zimpost, along with changing the way it does business.

"It is not just a case of saying the letter is dead and us shutting up shop - our postal service plays a pivotal role in the country in terms of poverty alleviation and regional integration. Besides, there will also be a demand for postal services. For that reason we want to become better. It is imperative that we build and implement strategies centred on quality service delivering and a greater focus on the customer to survive. That is what we are doing."

Zimpost has streamlined and is upgrading its operations, designed to make the firm more competitive. "A $5 million upgrading project aimed at modernising the business is underway," says Zimbango. "We are going to modernise the whole setup by buying computer equipment and setting up communications centres in rural areas which will be linked to the main centres to enable rural folk to enjoy what city folk enjoy – real time internet access, photocopying, printing and photographic services."

The project is jointly funded by Zimpost and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) and will enable the company to introduce modern technologies such as front office automation, postal codes, hybrid mail service and an International Financial System (IFS).

"We are moving from manual systems to computer-based automated systems to leverage infrastructural investment to realise increased savings and use interface," says Zimbango. "Also a single electronic platform will lead to enhanced speed for transactions.

"We are automating customer service transactions – everything from selling mail services, retail services, bill payment and banking transaction.

" The hybrid mail services have been designed mainly for organisations that mail large quantities of invoices, statements, time sensitive notices and business mail and would enable customers to send electronic mail that would be printed at delivery point, he says.

This service would "relieve" Zimpost of expensive physical conveyance of mail over large distances, complemented by onsite enveloping and flyer insertion.

"The move is a further attempt to diversify services. With the new system, what happens is that if any one of our customers, for example, that is based in Mutare and wants to send their statements or mail to Plumtree, all they have to do is simply bring in the mail in an electronic form, like a disc or memory stick, and we plug it into our machines and send it. The printing will happen at the point of delivery. The Zimpost officers in that particular place will just take out the printed mail or statement and deliver it to the customer. It will cut the delivery time significantly.

"In terms of the counter automation project, 47 offices are now online. Zimpost hopes up to 100 offices will be online by August this year.

"Why have we gone down this route? It is a couple of things. Firstly the number of letters is continuing to decline. By moving from manual systems to computer-based automated systems we will leverage infrastructural investment to realise increased savings and use interface, combined with a single electronic platform leading to enhanced speed for transactions.

"We are automating customer service transactions – everything from selling mail services, retail services, bill payment and banking transaction.

"We want to improve our service. That is why we have embarked on this project.

"We are now more into agency business. We need the upgrade to our computers and increased automation for this too."

Zimpost is much more than just a postal service. In the past few years it has been diversifying and investing in areas markedly different from its core business of mail delivery as new communication technologies continue to emerge.

"Mail volumes have dropped significantly and the distribution has also changed, with most of the volumes now coming from businesses rather than individuals. As a result, we've sought to address our customers' diverse and changing communication needs by diversifying our product range."

A wide range of innovative and technologically driven products and services have been introduced. These include agency services, retail services, financial services, real estate, Postbus services, communication centres and advertising services. "We are much more diverse and the upgrade and improvements we are making play into that very much," says Zimbango.


The national address and postcode project is underway. "That will have many benefits and the project is earmarked to commence in the coming months. The initiative – like everything else we are doing - will assist in improved service delivery and also create new revenue streams."

Zimpost has diversified into post bus passenger transport too. The buses carry both passengers and mail. "We paid for five 65-seater buses, the aim being to reduce the cost of transporting mail," says Zimbango. "We haven't got the buses yet. They will be assembled locally with the kits coming from the Netherlands. What that'll achieve is a cost reduction. By the end of July the buses will be with us. We'll see how it goes. This is the way we want to go and the way other posts around the world are going."

The foundations for future profitability are being laid.

"We are definitely laying the foundation for success and I don't see anything that will stop us from being a successful company again. In terms of moving over from letters, we are still in transition trying to get our foot down in the new market which is our agency business. We have taken on a lot of new customers, things are coming online. So in terms of getting the client base built up we are moving forward. The modernisation and upgrades are holding us back in that they are not finished and we need the modernised system. Most of the new clients want to be online real-time with us. We have agency services in the offices that are already online but there are many more still to come online.

"How soon we succeed depends on how soon we roll out the automation. But overall we are seeing an uptick in our business. Since dollarization we haven't got into profit yet but we are reducing our deficit every year and we are hoping that soon after this major project is finished we will be able to get back to profit again."

To learn more about Zimpost and its remarkable turnaround visit www.zimpost.co.zw.