Business Times

Sri Lanka's postal service goes hi-tech amidst falling mail volumes

By Bandula Sirimanna

Sri Lanka's archaic postal service is moving with the times, being fully modernized and computerized despite declining mail volumes as people and businesses switch to the Internet in place of letters and paper bills.

Sri Lanka Post Master General Rohana Abeyratna told the Business Times that the Sri Lanka Post, once considered a slow service, is set to go high-speed and hi-tech under a network improvement programme designed by the University of Moratuwa. The services of 7750 postmen who reach nearly 4.5 million households across the island will be made more productive without confining their duty to delivery of letters and bills only. At present postmen are engaged in the delivery of pre-paid mobile cards across 25 districts in the country. The new scheme is being jointly implemented by Sri Lanka Post and Sri Lanka Telecom-Mobitel in which pre-paid Reload to Mobitel SMART Pre Paid customers will be delivered at their doorstep. The postal department is looking at various productive delivery and messenger services to deploy postmen, in order to ensure the security of one of the oldest jobs in the island, he said.

Mr. Abeyratne noted that the use of postal service for personal and business mail has declined by 10% in Sri Lanka The number of letters mailed per day has dropped by 1.5 letters compared to previous years, he said adding that the decline in communicating through letters is evident in urban and rural areas alike. He attributed this decline to the spread of mobile phone, use of Short Message Services and email as well as Internet. The Department lost Rs. 4.6 billion in 2011, up from Rs. 3 billion in 2010, with revenue dropping 27 % to 3.2 billion rupees. Expenditure rose 5.7 % to Rs. 7.7 billion.
Mr. Abeyratne said that the government has prepared a network improvement plan to computerize post offices spending Rs 646 million in an effort to modernize the country's postal services, and to make it a more financially viable venture.

Sri Lanka has 4,742 post offices, with 4,058 run by the state, and 463 post offices and 158 rural agency post offices run on an agency basis by citizens. The network improvement plan is set to introduce IT into the service. Mr. Abeyratna disclosed that 100 post offices will be connected via Internet under the first phase of this

programme by October this year. Another 654 will be connected under the second phase. The hi-tech postal services will include online utility bill payments, accepting payments on behalf of other institutes for different purposes, mail and parcel tracking from the point of acceptance to delivery and logistics insurance.

The department would also provide philatelic services, address verification (online service to verify proof of address), virtual fax (providing fax facility to small and medium businesses without the fax service) and mail forwarding video calling, value added services such as ticket reservations, hotel bookings etc, mail holding on request by customer, delivery of email copies and maintaining pre-paid accounts as a mode of payment for different services, he revealed.

Online postal shopping will be introduced through a web portal which would allow suppliers to advertise on different products and services of their own to improve efficiency and customer responsiveness.

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