Letter writing: The '90s.
You write one. Put it an envelope. Trudge to the post office, stick a
and post it.
It's a day late already.
It is collected, taken to the
office and sorted according to district or city. Add another day.
is stale by a couple of days, which is the time taken to reach its
destination by train.
Sorted yet again, the postman finally delivers it
Letter writing: The year 2000.
You write one.
Email it to the remotest village in the country with a
It is printed on paper and delivered to the addressee.
Less than 24 hours.
If the pilot of the Pune Postal Department is a successful one, then
what you can expect in the near future. It is scheduled to be tested in
Pune, Ahmednagar, Solapur and Satara within six months, since post
in these districts are computerised.
The concept is simple. Log on to the Indian postal service website
(http://indianpostoffice.net - yet to be operational). Open an account, obtain an email ID,
start mailing. Messages are sent to the nearest wired post office where
are printed and delivered to the receiver's doorstep. All the
needs to have is a geographical or email address.
The idea is far from original; the Indian Postal Department has only
woken up to its potential. Bharat Mail has been doing something similar
since July 1998. Log on and email a letter which is then printed and posted to
destination in India.
However, BharatMail offers some value additions to its service. Users
receive scanned imprints of handwritten
letters through the ScanMail
feature. It has also introduced multilingual email and voice mail
(all of these essentially aimed at cutting through language barriers).
Catering to NRIs spread over 140 countries, the site has notched up one
users in the US, and three lakh in India, with a person in the
"The site was conceptualised because there is a whole generation of
citizens that is not going to get used to the Net. Besides, the registered user on our site is usually the son or grandchild who uses this facility to keep in touch with parents and grandparents who are not net users. This number is increasing by leaps and bounds," points
Sunder P, Managing Director, Bharat Mail. "We provide a clean interface
use the infrastructure of the Indian Postal service to post close to
mails a day." While this service currently does not generate any
does drive traffic to its other revenue-generating channels.
Sunder does not perceive a threat from Indian Postal Service to his
"Even the US Postal Service has been thinking about the same thing but
been unable to implement it. It will take a long while for the Indian
service to get its act together. Besides, there will be a surcharge to
which is where we dotcoms beat them hands down!"
Dakwala , which set up operations in November
is a similar enterprise. "It was set-up to provide a media face to
corporate website -Business OnlineIndia. It is not a revenue stream for us but purely a way to earn goodwill. and hence, we are not competing with the Indian post." explains
Nayyar, CEO, Business Online
"Initially the service was open to Indians as well, but the mail we
was unmanageable. Now we are open only to mails from outside India. The
number is therefore considerably lesser, around 150 mails daily," says
Suresh. They have four people working exclusively on processing the
which is posted twice a day using the Indian Postal service. "The revenue we currently generate is
sustain the operating cost of the site. However, we intend to sell space
the printed letters, besides banners on our site," he adds.
Each site has its own niche and clientele. Dear India
gets a lot of mail from the Gulf, but is planning to try and grab the
in Russia. "Word of mouth and advertisements in Indian papers abroad
helped generate traffic for us. That's where the main cost of the site
incurred," explains CEO, K Joseph, who runs this operation at home along
with his wife and an assistant. Currently receiving 600 odd mails a day,
their revenue is from printed ads on the envelope and writing paper.
response is quite good; enough to sustain operations and make a marginal
profit too," says Joesph.
For the users, it is a boon. Explains Chennai-based Mallika Srinivsan, who uses Bharatmail's Scan mail and snail mail to communicate with her landlord's son in the US , "It is easier to explain complicated matters of property and bill payments in a letter than spend huge amounts of money on telephone calls." Privacy is an issue but she trusts Bharatmail not to violate the policy. "What I like about their service is they are courteous, prompt and very patient!" Right now smitten by voice mail, Srinivasan also seems open to using this service if offered by the Indian Postal Service…
Muddasir Qazi stationed in the UAE also seems very enthusiastic about the efforts of the Postal department, saying that he would definitely give it a shot! "It is an essential service which has been well provided by Bharatmail and it has made communicating home easier and more frequent. It's not a chore anymore to post letters and besides, it is a free service! My brothers, sister and brother-in-law also communicate using the same service and find it very efficient and reliable!"
As for Colonel Sadasivam, Post Master at Pune, he refuses to think of the Internet
a threat to sales or future plans. "It would be a threat to us if we
to change. But we have." Capitalising on the core competence of the
Post - the post offices within reach and door delivery, Sadasivam is using the benefit of speed offered by emails to his advantage. "Today, the Internet and
account facility are limited only to those who have the internet connectivity or
Both these groups account for less than five per cent of the population. So the internet is not a threat to us, instead it is an opportunity to extend our services wider."
Currently, eight lakh mails are handled daily by 700 post offices in the Pune region. "For the pilot project, we are hoping to
500 odd mail stations. Besides, efficiency would improve as instead of two centers of sorting out mail physically, there will now be only place where this mail would need to be manually sorted."
The challenges facing the department are many. "To plan a foolproof
identify suitable software packages, train a taskforce... But none of
are insurmountable," says Col Sadasivam confidently, adding, "Technology
always been assimilated in our department quietly. We will do so again."
The staff seems very
enthusiastic to start the venture and deal with technology," asserts the
The target audience has not been segmented according to age or income
brackets. "This universal service would have two main beneficiaries.
who would want to send a large number of letters to different addresses
if either the sender or receiver has never been exposed to the Net,"
explains Col Sadasivam.
The revenue generation issues also seem clouded. "We have already
identified the revenue generation streams and details are being worked
says the Colonel. Roughly, 500 mails per day in major centres would mean
break-even while 100 mails per day would suffice for smaller
Also, there seems to be no ad spend allocated for this project with word
mouth being their only trumpeting factor.
What might hamper this dream is the lack of connectivity to an ISP. But
Sadasivam plans to start talks with major regional ISP players, and
to add an e-commerce accent to this venture in the near future. "The
is to see 20,000 of the 26,000 major post offices linked as inlets to
Let's hope, this remains no pipe dream.