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Alex Osborne

Reimagining the Post Office

Reimagining the Post Office
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How do you keep a near 400-year-old organisation relevant today? How do you maintain and develop services that serve the broadest possible range of people across the entire country? These are the constant challenges facing the UK’s Post Office.

Of course, these challenges are similar to those of other public institutions, but as a government-owned commercial business with a social purpose, the Post Office also faces additional complexity.

The Post Office operates the UK’s largest retail network with more than 11,500 branches – 99.7 per cent of the population live within three miles of a Post Office and 97 per cent of branches are run on a franchise or agency model by retail partners. The Post Office aims to reset its relationship with postmasters who run the network of independent branches and support them so their businesses can thrive, but it is under pressure to become more self-sufficient.

The need for transformation could not be clearer.

Delivering on the promise of modernisation

The Post Office had clear objectives for this modernisation. Firstly, completely reimagining its purpose, which in this case means reforming the fundamental mechanics of the organisation for the benefit of the postmasters.

The key component of the Post Office system is the postmaster’s terminal — the portal used to manage transactions with customers, and which also enables them to access other services to run their branches such as ordering stock.

The Post Office needed to make the whole service experience easier, faster and more intuitive for its postmasters. For two years the Post Office worked on building a new self-service system in-house to help postmasters manage their branches and provide a richer user experience than its legacy, terminal-based system, but progress had stalled. A partnership with Accenture and putting a new, delivery-driven internal programme team in place at the start of 2020 gave the project the kick-start it needed.

Why build when you can buy?

For the Post Office there was an assumption that solving its many challenges would involve some form of in-house development – a common assumption across the public sector. But why build when you can buy?

ServiceNow had already been working with the Post Office for seven years delivering its IT ticketing system. But working with Accenture, the Post Office quickly saw the potential for the ServiceNow platform to play a far bigger role in its operations.

Accenture reconfigured the ServiceNow portal, expanding it from an IT ticketing system to make it a complete one-stop shop for postmasters to access a range of Post Office services. It delivered a significantly improved experience for these postmasters, making it quicker, easier and more convenient for them to run their branches and giving them the time to focus on delivering excellent service to their customers.

Starting with a proof of concept, the benefits became apparent quickly and the infrastructure was expanded to become the Post Office’s new Branch Hub platform. The original launch was planned for July, but due to the agility of the Now platform this was brought forward by three months, launching nationwide on 1 April during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Services to help postmasters deal with the consequences of Covid-19 were prioritised, such as allowing postmasters to update their branch hours if they were affected by the outbreak and providing a way for them to order personal protective equipment (PPE) for their branch teams during lockdown.

A service offering fit for the 21st century

Given the huge challenges facing the Post Office, the roll-out of Branch Hub has been a standout success story.

Just one month after launch, more than 2,300 branches had registered and now, six months on, there are more than 9,500 branches and 12,300 individual users. But this is just the start of the modernisation programme. The Post Office is rolling out even more services on the platform – stock ordering is now live and has already been successfully adopted by more than half of the network, and cash and coin ordering services are now being introduced. Ultimately postmasters will be able to access the majority of the operational services they need to run their branches via the ServiceNow platform.

The Post Office is not alone among public services and institutions in facing huge pressure to overhaul services while delivering cost savings. Yet its success with Branch Hub shows not only how IT transformation could be successfully realised in the public sector, overcoming its poor reputation in this area, but how it can be done at lightning speed.

There is still a huge amount of legacy technology underpinning the services delivered by public sector organisations. But if we are to make public services work better and create services that are fit for the 21st century, then the Post Office has demonstrated that being smart, being agile and working with the right partners can deliver industry-leading results.

You can hear further customer stories at the Now at Work event live on 6 October, and beyond, by visiting www.servicenow.com/now-at-work.html.

Alex Osborne is UK Head of Public Sector & Regulated Markets at ServiceNow