With physical mail in decline, postal services like An Post seem poised to become the digital age’s version of a buggy maker. But instead, Ireland’s national postal service is fighting fire with fire by using the very technologies threatening to supplant it to support a remarkable transformation.
Leveraging the largest electronic network in the country and in excess of 1,100 retail locations (aka post offices), An Post has morphed into a service aggregator. The organization has diversified into a wide array of services from banking and credit cards to gift cards and bill payments. Customers can get a dog license, pay a parking fine, buy a gift card, and make a bank deposit, all at the same counter. It has grabbed nearly 40% of Ireland’s market for foreign exchange services since An Post launched the service four years ago.
Combined with a service-wide cost efficiency program, the overhaul has paid off, as the An Post Group turned 2013’s €11.5 million operating loss into a €5.9 million operating profit for 2014.
As a services intermediary, however, An Post is generating millions of new individual transactions from retail customers and partners, straining its existing IT infrastructure.
Additional nightly feeds from internal systems like finance, HR, and payroll are adding even more data, further taxing system performance. On top of that, the company wanted to analyze some data in real time in order to prevent fraud, ensure system performance wasn’t degrading, and provide feeds to executive dashboards. The old platform just couldn’t keep up.
“This is big, big data,” says John Cronin, Group CIO, Group Technology Solutions at An Post. “We were running out of hours in the day to process the data.”
In response, the organization deployed a big data analytics platform as a service (PaaS) consisting of Oracle Exadata with Oracle GoldenGate, Oracle Advanced Analytics, and Oracle Database 12c.
Cutting Data Processing from Hours to Minutes
The high-performance platform immediately solved Cronin’s data processing crunch, cutting some of the overnight processing times from hours to minutes. It also consolidates and analyzes data from sales, HR, finance, and An Post’s retail operations to find ways to improve employee performance and cut operational costs. For example, An Post can now analyze data in real time to flag possible fraudulent activity across the organization’s network of services. “From a finance point of view, this ability is massive,” Cronin says. The finance department now produces monthly finance reports in minutes rather than days, and can automatically run weekly cash accounts instead of spending hours consolidating data from numerous source systems.
The cloud-based platform has also significantly reduced the amount of time needed by IT to provision new systems. “Previously, it would’ve taken two to three days to provision smaller things, and a couple of weeks for a new piece of hardware,” Cronin says “We can now provision a database in minutes.” That increased responsiveness in turn helps An Post quickly go to market with new services, such as providing parcel recipients with four convenient delivery options, or offering homeowners secure delivery boxes that notify them via email when a parcel is scanned and put into the box.
An Post CFO Peter Quinn anticipates that improved cash management and administrative and labour efficiencies should yield a return on investment within four years, allowing the postal service to not only survive, but to thrive in the digital age. “The move to Exadata and the whole analytics piece was one of the best decisions we’ve made in recent years,” Quinn says.