Canada Post ready for Electronic Post Office send off

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor the electronic age will keep the mail from your door – or your computer.

After three-and-a-half years of research and development, Canada Post Corp. will launch its Electronic Post Office (EPO) this summer and become the first national postal organization in the world to deliver mail via the Internet.

“Canada post recognized…that over the next five years there is going to be a migration from paper-based communication, particularly in the letter mail portion of the business, to electronic types of communication, whether it’s for bill presentment or supply chain management,” said Bill Robertson, general manager of electronic commerce for Canada Post in Ottawa.

Because of this transition, Canada Post can no longer rely solely on the “snail mail” approach. Robertson admits that “yes, it was a critical business decision as to whether we should be in this business.” But after much research and review, at the end of the day, it was decided “this was a natural extension of our business.”

The EPO will allow Canadian businesses and consumers to receive and view all types of mail on the Internet, including bills, correspondence, advertising, statements, government information and electronic forms, according to Canada Post.

Large volume mailers, or businesses such as utility companies or banks, who sign up for the EPO service can send bills, inserts, advertising and more on-line. Consumers, who get an electronic post office box when registered with the service, can decide how and what they wish to receive from those various senders.

The crown corporation and their partner Cebra Inc., a subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal, have formed additional alliances with Scotiabank, for Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology, Boulder, Colo.-based NETdelivery Corp. for electronic delivery management, JetForm, and Toronto-based Xenos Group for the provision of sender input/output technology.

According to Robertson, it was important that the technology be as “simple, inexpensive and non-intrusive as possible” for large volume mailers who sign up with the EPO service. “We recognize that complicated technology installations, particularly in light of year 2000 issues, really wasn’t going to be acceptable to large business.”

For this reason, Robertson said the decision was made to use the print output streams of large businesses, whether it be billing runs or large batch applications, that are run frequently anyway.

Xenos Group’s software product, Documorph, handles multiple print inputs including IBM AFP, Xerox Metacode and line mode data and re-engineers documents so they can be displayed in HTML. A built-in option allows other incoming file types and output to other file formats.

Graham Barker, vice-president of international sales for the Xenos Group in Richmond Hill, Ont., said Documorph provides “the ability to take in the traditional print stream formats or data stream formats that are coming from these large volume mailers out of their legacy applications and then process that…(into) HTML versions of those documents, retaining the highest amount of fidelity to the original printed document as possible.”

Scotiabank, who launched their own Internet program a couple of years ago with PKI digital security, will help Canada Post secure things like bill payments and registered mail on the Internet, according to Albert Wahbe, executive vice-president of electronic banking at Scotiabank in Toronto.

Wahbe said Scotiabank’s role with Canada Post is two-fold, acting as both customer and supplier.

“We’re going to join them to deliver electronic bills and mail to our customers through the Post Office, and we’re a supplier for them where we will on their behalf issue the digital certificate and secure the password access to their bill payment and mail,” Wahbe said.

Canada Post’s Robertson said unlike ordinary e-mail “which is not in a secure environment,” the Electronic Post Office offers the ability, for example, to compose mail “much like you would see on an Internet browser today, except it will be in a secure environment.”

But do consumers need a bill payment service from Canada Post when many companies offer on-line payment already? According to Robertson, the answer is yes.

“We’ve found through our research…that consumers don’t want to have to go to five or 10 or 15 different Web sites to pick up your telephone bill at one place and your hydro bill at another.

“The consolidator model, which is the one we’re working on, is viewed as being the strongest model in the marketplace because it gives people the ability to conduct all of their business transactions in one place,” Robertson explained.

And, he continued, Canada Post’s offering is quite different from simple bill presentment.

“What we’re saying is we can electronically deliver letters, bills, statements, forms, whatever it may be,” he said. “Our system is designed to operate between all market segments, that is business-to-business, business-to-consumer, consumer-to-business and so on. All of the bill presentment solutions are simply large business-to-consumer, generally.”

As well, he added, the Canada Post Electronic Post Office is vendor-neutral.

“One of the strengths of our solution over others is that you don’t have to be a member of any club, you don’t have to bank at a certain bank. And, this is not tied to any Internet service provider. Mail is a birthright in our view, and so this is an open and universal service that doesn’t require you to have any particular affinity with an organization,” Robertson said.