Digital mailboxes are first past the postie
In the mail ... two digital post services, which bypass the traditional letterbox, are launching in Australia. Photo: Mark Maric
With estimates putting the average number of emails a corporate user receives at more than 100 a day, the last thing we might want is another source of electronic communications.
But the promoters of Australia's two new digital mailbox services are convinced that additional electronic mail may actually reduce information fatigue.
Digital mailboxes work by converting much of our paper-based correspondence with service providers – such as statements and bills – into an electronic format, and then aggregate them into a secure web page. By digitising paper documents, service providers can include features such as "pay now" buttons for recipients to immediately settle accounts.
Service providers can also tie electronic documents into customer management databases and add personalised messages and offers to each document. Contents of the mailbox can be accessed anywhere through a desktop PC or mobile device, and the mailbox acts as a digital filing cabinet where users can view their history with the provider. A secure digital "vault" enables users to upload scanned documents, such as a copy of their passport.
Two services are launching in Australia. Digital MailBox from Australia Post is already live with some providers, ahead of a full rollout next year. Rival Digital Post Australia, which is a joint venture between the share registry company Computershare and Fuji Xerox Document Management Solutions, is also on trial ahead of a public launch in February. It is based on technology from the US company Zumbox.
Even before launch the two have been locked in a legal stoush over the rights to the term "digital post".
Neither company is willing to reveal its first-year targets, but both are firm in their belief that users will flock to the services.
The chief executive of Digital Post Australia, Randy Dean, said his company's service will appeal to consumers and businesses that want a paperless interaction with their service providers.
“The only way they can go paperless today is to go to each service provider, create a user name and password, and then log in every month,” Dean says.
He says alternative electronic communications methods such as emailing attachments or active links runs counter to consumer education to avoid such communications in case they are phishing attempts. Hence these methods are favoured by few service providers.
Australia Post's general manager of external affairs, Jane McMillan, describes her company's service as a platform to aggregate relationships with all providers. She says the average Australian has 30 to 40 relationships, ranging from regular communications with utility companies to infrequent communication with superannuation providers.
She does not believe these services will become flooded with electronic junk mail.
“A digital mailbox is a closed, secure communications platform where only people that you invite to contact you there can contact you there,” McMillan says.
Both services are free for consumers, with the delivery cost paid by the service provider. As well as being cheaper for providers than sending snail mail, Dean says Digital Post Australia also enables them to know when their mail has been opened, and can be integrated into customer management systems to deliver personalised communications to the consumer.
Ultimately, he sees scope for additional services and content to be delivered into the digital mailbox, such as receipts, shipping information and even instructions books.
“In this world, when you make an order from Amazon, all of that documentation is going to come in here [to the digital mailbox], and you will only get the physical thing,” Dean says. “Instead of having that drawer in the kitchen with all the user manuals and receipts, it will all be here.”