It's easy to send letter mail items across borders and between continents in digital form, printing and enveloping the communication as close as possible to the recipient’s physical address.
That's what we call hybrid mail, and its a stepping stone to the next generation, digital, global, postal network of highly secured communication logistics.
Article 253 RL of the Letter Post Manual defines Hybrid Mail as follows:
1. “Hybrid mail is an electronic-based postal service whereby the sender posts the original message in either a physical or an electronic form, which is then electronically processed and converted into a letter-post item for physical delivery to the addressee.
Where national legislation so permits, and when the sender or the addressee so requests, the designated operator effecting delivery may convert the original transmission received to non-physical means (such as fax, e-mail, or SMS) or to multiple means.
1.1. Where physical delivery to the addressee is used, the information is generally transmitted by electronic means for the longest possible part of the process and physically reproduced at premises as close to the recipient’s address as possible.
2. The tariffs applicable to hybrid mail are fixed by member countries or designated operators, taking costs and market requirements into account.”
Hybrid mail is an electronic-based, non-mandatory postal service. Member countries or designated operators are permitted to enter bilateral agreements to provide the services described in the regulations.
The Universal Postal Union (UPU) Postal Operations Council, Committee 4 (New Services) has adopted a proposal for a Global Hybrid Mail project. In response, the European standardization organization (CEN) has revised its Hybrid Mail Standard TS 14014 and updated its XML content.
The UPU’s project for a global hybrid mail system is possible because printing, enveloping and delivery can all be undertaken globally.
The necessary global infrastructure for transporting documents digitally is also available – the internet.
UPU / CEN / ETSI / ISO standards are already in place to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. This is particularly important for establishing the necessary trust and integrity (privacy) of any consequential or transactional document-based communication distributed within a hybrid mail network.
Postal operators are developing from item-driven (physical mail) operators to data-driven service providers, in order to remain the infrastructure of choice for their users.
They understand that hybrid mail - a hybrid physical/digital service - is a step on the path to becoming a multichannel communication logistics hub. The information needed to identify the postal service user lies at the core of the next generation postal network.
In today’s multi-channel communication logistics market, hybrid mail with its different service levels can offer hitherto unforeseen levels of added value.
By transporting documents in digital form and integrating digital printing and enveloping solutions, time-to-mailbox can be reduced to less than 4 hours globally.
With the physical mail piece being produced geographically close to the recipient, the price and quality of the service is commercially extremely viable.
The creation and delivery of marketing messages is often a time-critical part of omnichannel marketing in which channels converge into a single, unified communication logistics approach, based on preferences specified by the postal user profile.
Wherever societies are pushing digital communication agendas, hybrid mail becomes an integral part of the road map. It is therefore no surprise that the European Postal Regulators and ministries have identified common Quality of Service (QoS) measurement standards as being extremely important for monitoring the quality and service levels of hybrid mail.
Countries in which electronic delivery is being pushed by the national governments see the greatest need for transparent quality measurement.
A next generation global postal network based on open standards and shared quality of service principles is understandably meeting resistance from postal services who currently use, and are continuing to build, closed-network legacy hybrid mail systems, both nationally and internationally.
This is a deliberate customer retention strategy. Their strategy is simple; the higher the cost of change, the easier it is to retain the customer.
Hybrid mail is, by definition, data-driven. It's growth is being driven by postal services who are extending their service provision into the digital sphere. It is therefore natural that leading regional and global mail providers will want to establish their own hybrid mail production capabilities.
Fig. 1: The hybrid mail landscape: customer-centric, based on global standards.
However, the next generation postal network (.post) is global and digital, and based on worldwide standards.
Hybrid mail, as the name suggests, represents the intermediate stage between physical and digital delivery. Large mailers are increasingly communicating in an omnichannel environment, making hybrid mail an increasingly important service that every postal service provider must offer.
CEN is updating the hybrid mail standard and will soon be ready to provide the basis for a global hybrid mail initiative. For the majority of national postal services, leveraging on these open standards is the most efficient method of becoming part of the global hybrid mail network, and a means of bridging between existing legacy systems.
Although hybrid mail legacy solutions will remain, they are only half the solution.
Mail services are gradually becoming recipient-driven, not sender-driven, and customers are increasingly demanding global, digital services. Thus legacy solution providers will need to adopt open standards to ensure interoperability, giving customers the access to the global postal network that they demand.
Walter Trezek is the Chairman of the Consultative Committee (CC) of the Universal Postal Union (UPU).