Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Hey, maybe this “World Wide Interwebs” thingymajig could be worth looking into. What if this fancy-sounding “Electronic Mail” stuff takes off?!


More than two decades after the internet started linking homes and businesses throughout the world, Australia Post finally acted on that thought yesterday. “Digital MailBoxes” are going to be made available to all Australians later this year. Basically, they’ll be a one-stop shops for sending secure emails, paying your bills and getting in touch with service providers like banks.

And in recognition of the fact that close to half of Australians have shopped online, they’re also bringing in “super-stores” with 24-hour zones where people can post and collect parcels. A great idea when more Australians are buying more online than ever and more Australians are getting irritated because they’re unable to pick up their UrbanOutfitters singlet or kayaking implement between 9 and 5. If only the rest of the government would join in.

Five years ago you’d probably scoff at the idea that the post office is one of our most forward thinking government agencies. Snail mail couldn’t even compete with Hotmail on a 56.6k dial up modem.

But buried under a pile of white and yellow envelopes somewhere, tongue chronically dry from licking too many stamps, a postmaster type has realised that the internet is the place where many opportunities to help customers lie.

It’s an incredible opportunity to make things simpler for people. If only much of the rest of the Federal Government wasn’t just as far behind the present as the post office was. Just look at the Medicare website. It’s difficult to navigate.

I can tell you that none of the successful private health insurers would let their websites be that inaccessible. It’s the same story for a number of government departments and agencies. The Australian Parliament House website - a public resource - only just got upgraded into the 21st century.

Funnily enough, it was bringing in simple stuff like this that got Julia GIllard the accolades that catapulted her into the prime ministership in the first place. She brought in the Myschool website. A website that opens up a world of information about where you’re sending your kids to school. All you’ve got to do is type in the school’s name in a big search box and you’re instantly able to make a better schooling choice.

It made stuff simple for everyday people. Just as Google did for finding information and just as the car did for getting to point A from point B.

Maybe what the Federal Government could do with is a little more entrepreneurial ingenuity, a little more of an idea that organisations like Medicare and the post office are out there to help people and that to do that things need to be kept helpful and simple, stupid.

Correction: Finding a Medicare outlet using their website isn’t that difficult. (DP)

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52 comments

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    • Nathan says:

      05:18am | 27/03/12

      Australia Post have wanted to move into the digital space for a while, a couple of people retire and now they can get the funding for their projects because the idiots on the board who don’t understand online are gone.

      The problem with government websites is that they are not written or designed for the end consumer and little thought goes into it, simply content dumped on a site and hope for the best.

    • Jay76 says:

      11:54am | 27/03/12

      As someone who has been in the web industry for about 12 years now, I cannot wait for the older generation of management to get out of the way. There are a few exceptions, but in general their knowledge comes from a different time.

    • M says:

      06:48am | 27/03/12

      Government websites are tragic. RMS and QLD dept of roads are two shining examples.

    • Movin On says:

      08:37am | 27/03/12

      Try getting in and out of the Telstra website without it looping back on you. You have to clear the cookies and cache at least 3 times before you can find your bill, let alone downloading a PDF copy to submit for expenses. With all that money, you’d think they’d be able to get ti right…..then they charge you for late fees because you can’t get access to it in the first place. Oh, and don’t even bother trying to get to it with Safari, that’s just a joke!

    • M says:

      09:01am | 27/03/12

      I have much hate in my heart for Telstra.

      Unfortunately, there is no viable alternative for remote site work.

    • Skip says:

      02:22pm | 27/03/12

      Jay76 I say yes a much better time at least we could live a lot better and not worry where our next dollar is coming from each week.  I don’t think that Internet buying buyers will be happy until absolutely everything is bought on line.  Lucky you have to walk to use the toilet and toilet paper or we would be in real trouble.  Unfortunately 40 year old businesses are going under because of this as you need a lot of money to do your own Website and stock for exchanges and buying at the right price to sell it.  Online shoppers are crueling it for everyone else as soon there will be no shopping centres and what a boring place it will be.  I don’t like it!!!  I am not talking about the Larger Dept. Stores, I am talking about really small Business.

    • Suzanne says:

      06:54am | 27/03/12

      Australia Post are screwing small medium / business with their unsustainable postage increases for business post.  Some items have gone up over 30% since 2009.  Even the staff at my local Post Office say its unwarranted.

      You have to question their motives.  More profit, more dividend to Federal Government to fill budget black hole?  Seems obvious.

    • Nathan says:

      07:27am | 27/03/12

      So they raise prices so it must be the government, or it could have something to do with profits decreasing over several years as the actual cost of sending a letter or package has increased as 1. Hardly anyone mails a letter so cost per letter goes up 2. Private delivery companies cashing in on the online sales making it a more affordable option.
      The problem was that they where slow to move on the digital space when there traditional industry is shrinking

    • S says:

      09:39am | 27/03/12

      To be fair Australia Post is a business in tough economic times,they are supported by our government but they are for all intents and purposes a privately run organisation. Their cost increases may seem unwarranted by their staff, but wait until they start reducing costs and making employees redundant, I wonder if those same employees will see those cost increases as unwarranted then!

    • NESLIHAN KUROSAWA says:

      07:09am | 27/03/12

      Hi Daniel,

      Sounds really great!  But how do you plan have all those super stores centrally located in all parts of Australia?  And also does this actually mean that little hard working post offices and their workers would be just obsolete as well?  I personally would miss the friendly service with a personal touch.  Also has anyone else discovered that we do have affordable courier services in Australia and other parts of the word?

      I also don’t feel very comfortable at the idea of doing everything on line.  Because we would be just sitting in front of our lab tops all day that we would not actually get a chance to exercise of driving our car to our local post office, only joking!  Shopping on line happens to be an enjoyable experience because it simply serves the purpose of the healing qualities of retail therapy and so much more excitement.

      However, can we actually say the same thing about paying bills such as our outstanding amount on monthly credit card balance sheet?  Reason simply being that we all just got carried away shopping on line constantly, just because it was convenient and we had nothing else better to do with our time, in the first place!

      I personally would not change the ultimate and personal shopping experience in our department stores like Myer and David Jones for all the tea in China.  Because you get to try on, watch and test every thing in sight without feeling obligated to buy anything at all. Being a compulsive shopper can be very detrimental to our finances and our bank balances due to be paid on line!  Kind regards to your editors.

    • Ray says:

      07:16am | 27/03/12

      NESLIHAN KUROSAWA said: ” I personally would miss the friendly service with a personal touch.”

      You have never been to my local post office have you?

      Nothing to miss there!!!

    • J says:

      07:52am | 27/03/12

      How on Earth do you read and article that uses grammatical precision, yet still make such poor spelling mistakes. You might want to go ‘on line(sic)’ and use your ‘lab top(sic)’ to learn from these mistakes.

      Also, welcome to the 21st century Australia Post, you’re hardly good for anything these days.

    • Leah says:

      11:26am | 27/03/12

      Oh please.

      I’ve decided next time I buy a pair of jeans, I’m buying them from America. Why? Because I can get a decent pair of jeans from the US for less than $40, including postage. I struggle to find jeans in stores here that actually fit me which *aren’t* skinny jeans, let alone for under $40. They seem to assume that anyone smaller than a size 10 must want skinny jeans. Or they screw up the sizing. I am normally a size 8 - 10 and I was in Jeans West the other day and one pair of size 8 jeans were too big for me while another pair were too small. What’s with that?! And even if I had found a pair that fit I probably would have been paying upwards of $70.

      That said I’d normally not buy clothes online because I prefer to try them on first. But I buy lots of other stuff online. I don’t buy online because of the “healing qualities of retail therapy” (which is just as accessible by shopping in a store rather than online). And certainly not just because I have nothing better to do with my time. I don’t think you even know what you’re talking about. Clearly you don’t shop online so you have no idea why people who shop online, do.

      These 24 hour postoffices sound like an excellent idea. You’re still going into a post office and dealing with actual people so I don’t know what your problem is with that. My local post office is only open 9 - 5 weekdays and for 3 hours Saturday morning. My husband and I both work fulltime. So if we have to pick something up from the post office, it has to be Saturday morning. And if we happen to have something on then well too bad. We have to get someone else to pick it up because if you don’t pick it up within 6 days they send it back. And they are not going to replace local post offices. It’s just that some functions of the post office - like parcel pick-up - will be moved to those particular offices that are open after hours.

    • Tubesteak says:

      07:35am | 27/03/12

      Just another example of the public service having no commercial acumen or accountability because they’re accountable only to themselves and not to their customers or profit. There’s no-one to ask the tough questions. No-one to drive them. No-one to enforce anything.

      “The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy”

    • Lie Lover? says:

      09:36am | 27/03/12

      @CraigT
      There are plenty of SMART people in the public service, but the accountability/governance requirements are enormous. You can have one or the other and never both ie endless accountability or innovation. Accountability means retribution for errors and you cannot learn if you don’t make mistakes.

    • Tuggeranong says:

      08:18am | 27/03/12

      If you want better, higher-value transaction websites… start lobbying Australian and State/Territory Governments to increase their IT spend.

      I’ve worked on a number of government sites in the past decade. Too often we’ve had to axe great ideas because they can’t be shoe-horned into the project budget.

    • CraigT says:

      08:36am | 27/03/12

      The last thing we need right now is an increase to the IT budget. Things don’t have to be so expensive. Look at the link above. Case in point.

    • Miles says:

      11:15am | 27/03/12

      CraigT is right.  I’ve seen too many projects (particularly involving third party vendors) where the spend is outrageous compared to what is delivered.  The problem is that there is so much focus on lowering staff numbers (for budgeting purposes) that they can’t afford in house developers.  Meanwhile they pay premium $$‘s for third party vendors who only deliver a fraction of what could be achieved in-house.  But this cost is not scrutinised as heavily.

    • andye says:

      11:40am | 27/03/12

      @Miles - “Meanwhile they pay premium $$‘s for third party vendors who only deliver a fraction of what could be achieved in-house.”

      You reckon? Most in-house web dev I have seen has been pretty poor. People complain about the cost of third party work, but you are also outsourcing the risk. Most web developers have worked on a number of loss making projects in their time - often due to difficult clients who want a lot, but they aren’t quite sure what.

    • Miles says:

      12:27pm | 27/03/12

      andye, you make a fair point however the risk is not always outsourced.  Poor contract agreements can often lead to the client (ie govt department) shelling out more $‘s for what essentially are issues created by the third party.  The problem is that the vendor’s priority is to make $‘s whilst the project team’s priority is to implement a quality product.  These are often at odds with each other.

    • andye says:

      12:17am | 28/03/12

      @miles - That might be more the case when you have a productised solution and glib sales tactics, but from where I stand in the agency world we do really want to produce a good product.

      Once the quote is accepted, however, some clients seem to forget that we still need to still make our targets. Changes, additions all don’t just add new work - they also add more to intangible factors like risk. Changes late in a project can wreak havoc when they would have been simple to implement from the start.

      I have seen that mistrusting look in a clients eyes where they don’t really understand why something is difficult or takes so long. This is often after we have spent ages agonising over scope in order to deliver as much as we can to the client with limited resources. Very often we will wear extra costs in order to keep them happy, eating away at our own contingency while crossing our fingers we won’t need it for any real problems.

      The bigger companies tend to chop and change agencies and take advantage of their need to get a foot in the door of a big client. This leads to loss-leading type exercises which set false expectations of how much it will cost in future. When the agency needs to actually make some money, the company balks at the quotes and moves on.

      If the proper investment in a project is made from the start, an ongoing partnership with the agency is forged, and the client really buys into their role in the project then the technology produced is much less likely to become an albatross around your neck. You know what I mean… bad applications/sites/whatever have a habit of costing increasing amounts of money to maintain, eventually snowballing into unmanageable messes that need to be replaced. These are the kinds of projects that I think drive many of the negative perceptions of IT.

      When people talk about lowering IT spending I think they are missing the point. Just spend the money you are spending effectively. Think less about the size of the feature list, and think more about quality. Even if code quality is some intangible thing it will make a big difference in the long run. Think of it as you would the KM per litre your car gets.

    • jack says:

      08:41am | 27/03/12

      Far from being behind the game, Aussie Post have been excellent.

      I had a conversation with a senior Aussie Post exec just after the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and he laid out their plans for a future that went beyond delivering letters, which he said would be nothing but a few bills and wedding invitiations.

      It all panned out pretty much as he said, and they have been one of the outstanding government businesses. If anything they have been a victim of theri own success as their shops are now too busy.

    • Rossco says:

      08:54am | 27/03/12

      Just have stores that close at 8 PM on weekdays and 5 PM on weekends, then I would be happy.

    • cretin says:

      09:22am | 27/03/12

      and would you be happy to work those extended hours if you were their employee?

    • The Bunyip says:

      10:05am | 27/03/12

      @cretin, if I were a uni student then I sure would have like a 4pm-8pm job in a post office.  I would have killed for a job like that instead of packing shelves at the supermarket.

    • Rossco says:

      11:31am | 27/03/12

      Tough for the employees, you want to work in a booming industry put in the sacrifice - if not - find another job. Plenty of wages and more hours to go around for them so no big issue. Time to keep up with the 21st century.

    • Bomb78 says:

      09:09am | 27/03/12

      Australia Post identified years ago that online shopping was a massive opportunity for its business - moving letters around was never going to be as profitable as moving parcels. The extension of trading hours just means that their parcel service retains its relevance.

    • subotic says:

      09:25am | 27/03/12

      Australia Post; Leading the way when it comes to…. ummmm….

      Damn it!

      I’ll get back to you on that.

    • Susan says:

      09:31am | 27/03/12

      Not exactly on topic but have you ever read the Australia Post charter? I did after being fed up with parcel delivery people putting cards in the mailbox and not actually attempting to properly deliver.  I wanted to establish whether Australia Post are actually obliged in their charter to deliver mail to you Go and find it and read it and see how relatively aimless the charter is.  I went through months of issues to try and ensure I received appropriate delivery.  Interestingly, I was also, in parallel, trying to get one particular Aussie Post worker thanked and congratulated for their efforts. 

      To my mind, it’s always a mark of an organisation when they refuse to give you evidence that they have passed on positive feedback…. so….whoopty doo re their new mail box who haa (which I doubt will get significant marketplace traction from general consumers) because they still have work to do re their basic services.

      Back to their charter.

    • AFR says:

      09:36am | 27/03/12

      So…. somewhere to receive bills? Like, and email address? Wow.

    • ace leo ace says:

      09:45am | 27/03/12

      My local post office manager is about as helpful and useful as an MS Dos Command Line.

      24 Hour post superstores BRING IT ON!!

    • Meph says:

      03:02pm | 27/03/12

      @ace leo ace

      I don’t know about you, but I find a Dos command line very useful. Sometimes I wish I could still get to a real one, instead of the fake ones you get in modern operating systems.

      Perhaps this isn’t quite the metaphor you wanted it to be?

    • James says:

      10:06am | 27/03/12

      So keen for the digital mailboxes, and definitely agree about a lot of the G’ment online stuff being very difficult to navigate…or be of any use at all due to the info being hidden in obscure hard-to-find places.

      Some friends and I were whinging on Saturday, if we can do the Census online…why not voting as well?

    • Mathew says:

      10:34am | 27/03/12

      I love the 24 hour postage parcel pick up from aus post beats having to take time off from work to pick up a $20 tee shirt! I also make sure I only use sites that deliver free like on http://www.onlinefashionfinder.com.au/ . I love living in 2012 !!!

    • Johnno says:

      10:41am | 27/03/12

      Everyone keeps missing the elephant in the room here.  A large part of the public sevice staff at all levels are little more than call centres.  Once the government gets the idea that they owe their first duty to supply services at the lowest possible cost in taxpayer dollars rather than remain captive to public sector unions they will follow the rest of the world to outsource these services to India etc. Only a matter of time and a little backbone before this happens.  May well be led by Qld as it is in the mood to eliminate costs after the huge bloating of recurrent expenditure by the late and unlamented Bligh government.

    • Lee says:

      11:04am | 27/03/12

      How the heck do you post a parcel online? My computer doesn’t have a slot for me to insert parcels…

    • Miles says:

      11:11am | 27/03/12

      “Government’ and “Progressive Thinking’ do not often go hand-in-hand.  The problem with the vast majority of government departments is that the the people at the top often have been entrenched in the public service so long they have become virtually useless.  There is no real management or leadership - hence when opportunities for innovative technology-based products / solutions present themselves, they are so mismanaged to the point where no benefit is realised.  Public service IT projects are too often focussed on deadlines and not enough on scope, funcationality and actual usability.  The result being that there are multitudes of overly-expensive and underperforming systems throughout the government - it really is sickening.  Of course this will never change until NEW people are brought in.  This will never happen though until the public service dinosaurs retire - because they can never be fired for underperformance no matter how bad they are.

    • Sarah says:

      11:29am | 27/03/12

      Interesting you mention Medicare. When I moved house recently I went to their website to update my address details. In order to change my address they were going to send a letter to my old address to confirm my new address, even though I had moved out a month prior. Where is the logic in that?
      I ended up just ringing them directly to explain the situation.

    • Nellybean says:

      12:27pm | 27/03/12

      how to find your local medicare office on their website:

      step 1) click on the “find us” button in the top right of the page
      step 2) enter your suburb or postcode, tick the ‘medicare’ box and hit search.

    • Daniel Piotrowski

      Daniel Piotrowski says:

      12:42pm | 27/03/12

      Fair call, that was obviously a dumb example. Larger point - that agency websites can often be laden in bureaucratese when they could use simple language - still stands.

    • Alicia says:

      02:16pm | 27/03/12

      LOL. I did the same thing, went and checked the Medicare website. That said, when I tried to find information on it a few months ago it was near impossible. It wasn’t very user-friendly. I notice the design has changed (not sure about navigation and content) but in general Government websites aren’t always very helpful.

      More businesses need to move online. I’m more inclined to go to a restaurant if I can go online and see their menu and prices. Like to know what I’m in for.

    • Captain obvious says:

      12:34pm | 27/03/12

      Regarding your comment about the Medicare website ” Wouldn’t you think it’d be right up the front, in big bold letters?”, not sure how you missed the bolded “find us” link displayed at the top of the homepage.

    • Kuma says:

      12:34pm | 27/03/12

      Obviously the author of the article was unable to see the bold ‘Find Us’ on the very top right of the Medicare homepage or he would not have used such a poor example as trying to find a Medicare office from their website. Took me all of 10 seconds.

    • Marty says:

      01:27pm | 27/03/12

      Here’s a crazy idea, why dont they just employ more people, open more branches so that when we need assistance we can go and speak to someone face to face and resolve any issues quickly and effectively.

    • Lee says:

      03:11pm | 27/03/12

      If you have a look, you’ll see that many Australia Post outlets are now LPOs, that is Licenced Post Offices. They are privately-owned franchises, which gives Australia Post the perfect excuse to dodge complaints about services…

    • marley says:

      06:19pm | 27/03/12

      Actually, my little Post Office is an LPO - and they’re terrific.  The LPO in the next town over is okay as well.  Their livelihood depends on the level of service they provide.  Drive down (or up) the road to the next towns, and you’re dealing with actual Post Offices - and they may be bigger, but the level of service is not anywhere near that provided by the LPOs.

    • the cynic says:

      03:53pm | 27/03/12

      FedEx and DHL worked out years ago that doing letters for a few cents wasn’t an option any wonder postal services world wide are going the way of the dinosaurs. You can’t put food on the table selling postage stamps to people stuck firmly in the 50’s.

    • marley says:

      06:30pm | 27/03/12

      Well, do you know - I recently had to do a transaction with an investment firm.  They wanted me to actually send them a signed document - no faxes, no e-mailed scanned documents, they wanted an actual signature. In ink. On paper.  So talk to the banks, the financial companies, the lawyers, the people that regulate them.

      Oh, and don’t forget the government: they’re pretty big on things like citizenship and passport applications having an original signature at some point in the process. 

      So if I occasionally actually have to mail things in envelopes, it’s not because I’m living in the 50s.  It’s because bureaucracies, public and private, are.  (But I do like to mail birthday and Christmas cards).

    • HappyG says:

      01:39pm | 28/03/12

      Cynic -  agree with your assessment in general but you see there’s this little thing that Australia Post has to comply with called the Community Service Obligation. What this means is that they have to provide ( by law ) a low cost delivery service for all Australians regardless of where they live.Toll, Ipec , Fast Way etc. do not. Think about the costs of maintaining that little item. Hugely expensive and labour intensive.On the rare occasions that they try to pull a delivery service due to costs or diminished demand the local community go ape shit and make representations to their local member about how they really, really, really need the service and how cruel of “The Govt ” to be disadvantaging them. Take away the CSO’s and go free market and then you’ll see real advances. Just don’t whinge about big bad AP not looking after you.

    • catwoman says:

      05:38pm | 27/03/12

      But who wants mail? electronic mails come faster than snail mails.

    • the riddler says:

      05:40pm | 27/03/12

      The Post Offices should have internet machines for customers to use.They could make a fortune on internet users.

 

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