Want to Improve Your Postal Service Operations? Be More Proactive with Your Mobile Device Management

Parcel volume is skyrocketing, as is the number of consumers who expect on-time delivery and real-time status updates. It will be hard for postal workers to keep up – and keep customers in the loop – if their devices are offline (or left behind at the sorting office).

A postal service workers talks on a Zebra TC77 handheld mobile computer
by John Wyer
June 21, 2021

Mail carriers are arguably the most mobile workers in the world. Whether they deliver parcels via foot or four wheels, rarely a minute goes by when they are stagnant. Yet, many are idled in their ability to deliver the high-quality service expected in today’s on-demand, e-commerce-fueled era. This is typically due to one of three reasons:

  1. They are using older mobile devices or software that lack the right communications and data capture toolset for today’s real-time routing and reporting requirements.
  2. They have the latest and greatest devices in hand, so they assume everything is working well – until it’s not. (There’s nothing worse – and more preventable – than a dead battery halfway through a delivery round.)
  3. They are uncomfortable using technology, so they stash their mobile devices away and just rely on manual/visual methods to ensure the letters and parcels make it to the listed addresses. If there are any issues, they report them when they return to the central station at the end of the day.

All of these scenarios are problematic because there is an intrinsic connection between mail deliveries and mobile devices.

Both consumers and shippers have become accustomed to tracking order status in real time. Some postal service providers even offer digital previews of incoming letters and packages to customers each morning. If something goes askew – maybe a package expected that day didn’t arrive – questions are going to arise. But it will be hard to answer them if there’s no record of the package’s movements because the postal worker wasn’t using a mobile device for whatever reason. And the customer service team will be hard pressed to explain to a customer why visibility – and their package – was lost in the last mile. 

There may not be a lot of competition in the postal sector in some countries, but there is still a standard of service that must be met to maintain public funding and support. Customers will be less inclined to pay for tracking services or expedited shipping if packages are consistently lost or late. Or they may choose to use another shipping service provider moving forward, even if it costs more. Speed, visibility, and accountability matter.

That’s precisely why postal service providers need to ensure carriers are fully mobilised with devices that will help them run their routes and report deliveries transparently and efficiently. That means…

  1. giving carriers secure, well-connected, enterprise-grade mobile devices with the right mix of ruggedness and consumer styling. They must be lightweight but also robust and accompanied by an extensive accessory ecosystem that allows users to personalise their mobility solution. Postal workers may prefer to use headphones for voice communications and a wristband to carry their mobile devices to keep their hands free to grab packages, scan labels and go to the next stop.
  2. integrating the right software on the back end and for those on the front lines who need real-time guidance on delivery changes and the ability to report status in real time.
  3. training carriers on how to use the devices and giving them on-demand resources to jog their memories on new or less-frequently used features as needed. It will help tech novices become more comfortable with the devices and drive greater adoption. It also helps to show them the self-diagnostic tools that are available should they suddenly lose a wireless signal or accidentally press the wrong button and change a setting.
  4. paying more attention to carriers’ mobile device use (or avoidance) and performance. If you don’t know what your carriers are doing – or not doing – with their mobile devices, how will you know what steps are needed to encourage adoption? (For every postal worker not using a mobile device, there are probably hundreds of people not getting the information they need about their letters and parcels.) And if you aren’t conducting daily wellness checks across your fleet, then you will forever be in reactive mode and your IT ticket queue will grow faster than your ROI. It’s quite likely your customer complaint ticket queue will also multiply and your customer care teams will be fielding an unwieldy number of inquiries about package status and resolution.

In my opinion, this last requirement is the most important, as it ultimately determines the mobility of your workforce and the return on investment (ROI) for your mobile solutions.

If you’re able to see which devices aren’t being used or charged properly, you can take proactive steps to get the situation sorted. Same goes with device performance. If you are alerted to a potential battery, security, or connection issue as soon as it is recognised, then you may be able to troubleshoot and resolve before it becomes truly disruptive. Preventative device maintenance and management is always the best strategy, especially when those mobile devices are the only way you can:

  • provide accurate navigation guidance based on real-time traffic, weather and operational factors.
  • implement dynamic routing.
  • communicate in-flight delivery changes to postal workers.
  • provide real-time tracking.
  • execute on-the-door-step services and payments.
  • facilitate voice communications between carriers, postmasters, and customer service teams.
  • drive the efficiencies needed to ensure successful first-time, on-time delivery completion and total consumer satisfaction.
  • effectively coordinate an alternative parcel pickup/ collection transaction with the customer if first-time delivery fails.

What to Look for When Assessing Your Current Mobile Device Management Capabilities

With mobile devices becoming increasingly multi-functional in postal services environment, it has become more critical than ever to ensure they’re operating at their best at all times. But, as our Chief Information Security Officer Mike Zachman might say, you have to play both offense and defense to keep your devices fully up and running and properly locked down at all times.

This is something many postal providers are struggling with right now because they are lacking visibility into their fleet and the ability to understand what little they are seeing. Let’s just put it this way: packages aren’t the only thing going missing and the upfront cost of their mobile hardware and software isn’t their greatest solution expense. Therefore, the focus – and investment – from a mobile device management perspective must shift to tools that make it easy to proactively:

  • monitor device health via targeted alerts that help prevent service incidents or support fast ticket closeout when escalated.
  • flag and recover lost and stolen devices quickly.
  • right size device distribution across the workforce.
  • see when a battery is reaching end of life and automatically order a replacement before it dies completely.
  • detect when a device has been damaged, especially when it was a malicious act. (Postal customers have told us that mobile device damage can equate to 25% or more of the estate per year. That’s far too high considering much of this is preventable through proactive device monitoring and user accountability.)
  • confirm device utilisation levels and address under or improper utilisation patterns.

There are at least 250 different device data points you should be digging into each day. But I appreciate this is an overwhelming amount of information for any one person or team to aggregate, much less mine and analyse. That’s why most postal providers we have spoken to will admit to only reviewing these metrics monthly or quarterly – or when a help ticket is submitted to IT.

This is also why postal providers (and any organisation dependent on mobile devices to conduct business) should really employ a managed services solution that can dig into the data, detect issues, predict potential impacts and then provide a simplified view of the situation and next steps to every stakeholder. Mobile device management should not require a data scientist or IT specialist. Nor should it overload service managers. Anyone in your organisation should be able to login to an internet-connected device and retrieve an easy-to-read dashboard that provides the full picture of what’s happening in the fleet and specific device-related issues that require action. It should also be customisable to that person’s role and responsibilities, specific sites, or even certain sets of device users.

“Isn’t a mobile device management (MDM) or enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform enough?” I’m often asked.

The short answer is no. Those types of solutions can pull device data into back-end systems and push certain software and security updates back out to the devices. But they can’t dissect and discern the updates being received from the field about a device health, performance or utilisation at a cumulative or granular level. Plus, they’re not typically integrated with other systems and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes that can automatically facilitate diagnostic, maintenance or repair actions without delay or much manual intervention. Managed services solutions, however, are usually designed to trigger action when battery health drops below an agreed percentage value, for example. (At least Zebra’s are.)

A Final Thought

Postal service providers are being pressured to innovate, and many are introducing new field services that require mobile devices, such as postage sales or on-the-spot printing of return labels. Yet, if a handheld mobile computer or printer stops working in the middle of a route or transaction, money will be lost along with customer satisfaction.

In today’s times, complacency costs more than modernisation – and far more than any amount of money spent on a proactive managed services program.

So, while I appreciate those who are moving fast to meet expectations may prefer to polish existing device management processes rather than completely transform them, the fastest way to fall short is by assuming things work “well enough” today. Even postal providers who have previously survived without visibility into their mobile device fleets will see just how easy it can be to increase device utilisation, performance and ROI once these metrics are aggregated and properly presented in a single pane of glass – and viewable in real time 24/7.

Though everyone was forced to “react” to the unpredictable impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and postal service providers had no way of predicting or preparing for the ensuing e-commerce explosion, we now know the only way to minimise further disruption and maximise the growth opportunity is to acknowledge the need for full-time mobility and adapt operational strategies accordingly. This includes strategies used for mobile solution and application design, validation/testing and management.

Postal services can’t afford to be caught off guard anymore. They need to see when their mobile devices – and postal workers – are at risk of going offline. And they need to know exactly what to do when that risk emerges. That means they need to be able to pick up the phone and call a managed service provider or manufacturer any hour of the day for assistance when required.

Here at Zebra, we pride ourselves on being available 24/7 to answer questions, help troubleshoot issues and, when needed, engineer fixes. We don’t want our customers to be in a position where they have to wait for a device to disappear or incur damage to react because they lack the resources or know-how to be proactive. Replacements cost money and time, even if you have a full-coverage warranty plan, because someone will still have to configure and administer the devices once received. And I’ve already discussed the implications of letting a postal worker go even a day without a mobile device in hand. If you have to ship a device to a service center, that’s a few days without, at a minimum.

So, I encourage you to explore the benefits that can be gained from a proactive managed services solution (that can integrate with your EMM/MDM, if desired). Then weigh them against the benefits and risks of sticking with a more reactive device management approach. Talk to other companies about their experience with different types of device management solutions, particularly end-to-end managed service models. Ask for their honest feedback. Did they get the ROI they expected? Were they able to reduce device losses and failures? Do they report greater cost containment post-deployment? Did workers see any improvement in the user experience once devices were proactively managed? Did they have access to end-to-end services and support, including application testing and validation, OS and security management, intelligent/proactive analysis and reporting, and training? Could they – and their end users – call into a helpdesk any time of day? Did the managed services provider also offer the mobile management platform and fully integrated back-end repair infrastructure?

I'd be happy to connect you with some of Zebra’s customers if you’d like to learn about their experiences with all the integrated services and tools available in our Managed Services portfolio, including OneCare™, VisibilityIQ™ and Learning Services. Reach out anytime.

Until then, you might be interested in these other insights and perspectives from my colleagues around the world, all of whom are incredibly respected and trusted experts in the enterprise mobility space across multiple industries:

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John Wyer
John Wyer is a Product Marketing Manager working within the EMEA Product Marketing team at Zebra.
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