Austrian company hpc DUAL has found an easy, legally secure, and reliable solution to delivering mail in a digitalized world. CEO Josef Schneider tells us more.
Mr. Schneider, why are letters still necessary in times of electronic communication?
Today, letters sent through the mail no longer play an important role in terms of revenue. However, when it comes to legally secure and reliable communication, postal mail continues to be hugely significant. Administrative bodies, banks, insurance companies, public institutions, and businesses continue to send invoices, dunning letters, invitations, contracts, or important information for the most part on paper. However, these letters – along with 99 percent of all letters sent by postal mail – are actually created using electronic systems.
So the letters begin their lives in electronic systems before being sent through the mail. In 2017, that sounds very anachronistic.
Yes, that’s right. That’s why a lot of senders have invested large amounts of money in developing portals where they can put their customers’ mail. But that’s often very inconvenient for the recipients – imagine having 50 mailboxes in your building that you have to check regularly. The scale of communication is simply too large. Now, you could say that we should just switch all communication to email. But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, emails often get lost or don’t arrive, and a lot of people don’t allow read receipts to be sent back to the sender.
Here’s a quick question just to understand the magnitude of this issue: How many letters are sent in Europe each year ?
About 100 billion. This figure, however, only includes letters that are addressed personally. With a population of around 500 million, that’s an average of 200 letters per person per year. The proportion of letters sent electronically is currently very small.
In your opinion, where do the former state-owned postal companies stand when it comes to sending letters electronically?
The requirements for sending letters through an electronic mail system are very high. It has to be as reliable and legally secure as the physical, postal mail system. A good example of this is the E-Post letter in Germany. Here, users submit their letters electronically and the post office then prints them, franks them, and sends them. There’s a hybrid solution, too, where a letter is sent by postal mail only if sending the electronic version doesn’t work. The problem with these technologies is often the effort required to register with the system. For many people, it can feel like a lot of work. For instance, recipients have to register with the new German ID card, set up an electronic mailbox, and use a card reader. The dispatching organizations are also skeptical about the technology. As a result, very few people use the service. In Austria there’s a similar system, but only a few people in every thousand use it.
Around 100 billion letters are sent in Europe each year.
You want to change that with “ How does this system work? BriefButler”.
With our software, we digitalize the direct path between the sender and the recipient. You could call BriefButler “Postal Service 4.0” – a system that doesn’t just start in the user’s out-box. We integrate our software into the dispatching organization’s system. Thanks to an electronic certificate, recipients can be sure about the identity of the sender. Using this method, letters can be sent electronically in a legally valid way, one that – in contrast to traditional email – can be verified. If for some reason this doesn’t work, then the system waits for a predefined period of time before sending the letter by postal mail. In addition, we provide an integrated signature service and an online payment option. So far, around 50 million items have been sent with our BriefButler service, around 25 percent of them digitally.
Up to now, you have worked primarily with local governments. Why is that?
As we were unknown at first as a service provider, we had to begin on a small scale. Local government is a particularly good place to start as the focal point of everyone’s life is in the community. Local governments also communicate a lot with their population – between five and ten times per year on topics such as school, cars, homes, and pets, or birth certificates, building processes, certificates of residency, applications for the commercial register, or local taxes. In addition, people aren’t as hesitant about giving their address to a service provider that works for the local government. That enables us to secure a high market share relatively quickly. And what’s more: just like with their cell phone number, users can keep their electronic address even if they move house. That’s a constant in a society that is becoming increasingly more mobile.
So far, around 50 million items have been sent with our BriefButler service, around 25 percent of them.
How did you convince the City of Vienna – a supposedly slow-moving city government – about the strength of your concept?
That’s something that can be achieved only in small steps, particularly at the beginning. First, you have to win the trust of the people in administration who are using the system; the process is, after all, different to the traditional way of sending letters. Senders can only control what they are sending via their screens, so at the beginning, they don’t know what the recipient actually receives, as they have no way of judging how reliable the system is. For this reason, we started off by integrating just a few applications in order to build up people’s trust in the system. Later on, the fact that Vienna had already introduced a centralized electronic file system really helped us, as that made it easier to implement BriefButler on a wider scale.
How do other potential major customers respond to your product?
Every company and institution is looking for ways to digitalize their processes and save costs. Our strategy is to work with regional partners that customers already know. In Germany, for example, we have granted a BriefButler license to Regio IT, a local government service provider from Aachen. Our target group therefore isn’t made up of the large-volume mailers directly, but rather their data processing centers, which also print mail for local governments. It’s a model that’s well received, not least because we are always looking to keep this part of the added value within the region.
Image credits: hpc DUAL, 123rf/AndriyPopov, istock/oonal, istock/viadans, istock/jakkaje808