Royal Mail is investing around £130 million over five years in handheld technology to "support more flexible deliveries for customers" and better tracking capabilities.
The handheld investment through a contract with BT Global Services is part of Royal Mail's IT transformation programme, a key objective of which is to support the organisation's parcel delivery strategy. Royal Mail will begin rolling out around 76,000 next generation handheld devices to postmen and women in 2015. The rollout is expected to be completed in the 2016/17 financial year.
Royal Mail says the handhelds will support more flexible deliveries for customers not at home when it attempts to deliver parcels. The devices will enable customers to inform Royal Mail of safe locations to leave items if they are not at home, although Royal Mail has not confirmed how it will liase with customers over such deliveries. And presumably such flexibility does not apply to "signed for" parcels.
A Royal Mail spokesman told ComputerworldUK that the devices and technology around them had not been finalised yet. He said much of the information to be provided by customers - such as their contact details - would be given to their retailer on ordering items. At the moment, rival courier firms have the ability to text customers in advance of delivery to confirm they are in to take parcels, or to make alternative arrangements.
The Royal Mail spokesman said any exchange of information, once the delivery process had started, would be between the customer and a central Royal Mail location. Information would then be sent to the posties' handhelds where appropriate. It has not been confirmed yet as to whether the handhelds will have a phone capability and/or internet accessibility.
There will also be improved management information and enhanced tracking for its parcels customers, said Royal Mail, by adding information barcodes to shipping labels.
Earlier this year, Royal Mail launched a new parcels shipping and tracking platform to enable e-retailers to improve integration between their IT systems and Royal Mail. This could lead to customer delivery information being shared between retailers and Royal Mail's delivery systems, which would then enable customers' previously stated delivery "safe places" - when they're not in - being sent to posties' handhelds.
The contract with BT covers the day-to-day management of current Royal Mail devices and the new devices and operating platform for a five-year period. Royal Mail's mobile connectivity is provided by BT under an existing, separate contract. Royal Mail says it expects to finalise a contract in the coming weeks for the supply of software applications for the new devices - this contract will come out of the total £130 million.
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