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Pitney Bowes bets on digital logistics and APIs to move beyond meters

Clint Boulton | April 5, 2016
Like many companies of a certain age, Pitney Bowes is banking on software to bolster lagging sales in a world where ecommerce is gaining steam.

As the world increasingly relies on data to conduct business, traditional companies are embracing the notion that they must refashion themselves as technology organizations. Pitney Bowes is doing just that, evolving from a 96-year-old manufacturer of postage meters and mail-sorting services to a producer of digital logistics that fuel ecommerce around the world.

james fairweather
James Fairweather, Pitney Bowes senior vice president of technology.

Pitney is building mailing and logistics applications to help companies sell and ship their products and services online, a critical piece of a multi-year transformation that began in 2013, according to James Fairweather, Pitney's senior vice president of technology. At the core of these services are application programming interfaces (APIs), building blocks that enables developers to write and integrate apps without having to write fresh code. APIs reduce the frictions with which programmers can build, test and run software, and their democratization is considered table stakes at a time when companies are racing to build new digital products with which to attract customers.

Pitney is making its APIs publicly available so that developers working for its customers can use them to improve the functionality of their own ecommerce software. "We see APIs as a way of making the services we provide useable in both applications we build and applications our clients want to build," Fairweather tells CIO.com. "We want to provide the capability to plug into clients' business process and let them run their commerce on top of Pitney Bowes."

Pitney bets on APIs to trump declining sales, mail volume

Pitney faces a formidable challenge. Although it set the gold standard in machines that mass-produce weighed and stamped envelopes, its customers have moved online the billing, banking and other services once conducted via mail, straining traditional supply chain and logistics. Pitney is struggling to keep pace with this sharp uptick in ecommerce as customers, including Macy's and Harrod's, ship merchandise across borders, based on consumers' clicks from computers, tablets and smartphones. With mail volume shrinking, Pitney's sales have dropped to $3.6 billion over the last handful of years.

pitney apis
Pitney is making its APIs publicly available so its customers can use them to improve the functionality of their own ecommerce software. (Click for larger image.)

But over decades Pitney has collected logistics and shipping data on its 1.5 million customers, and those customers need help processing online orders and shipping goods. So in 2015 Pitney partnered with Apigee, a provider of software development tools that help companies build, manage, monetize and calculate the return on investment from APIs. Apigee enables enterprises to build platforms, essentially smaller versions of ecosystems Apple and Google have cultivated by enabling third-party developers to build applications on their iOS and Android software, respectively.

 

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