Australia Post wants more of your data than it already has

​Australia Post told ZDNet its strategy is to track everything, and with 4 billion items delivered each year, that's a lot of data the government-owned entity will soon have.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia's incumbent postal service already has a lot of data on citizens, at the very least to cross-reference addresses with the ones illegibly written on the front of envelopes. But this thirst for data appears unquenchable, with Australia Post Head of eCommerce Data Analytics Rose Yip detailing the organisation's intention to gather more information on individuals.

The government-owned entity has an 80 percent market share in Australia and delivers over 4 billion items per year to over 11.5 billion households. It has a record of every single item it delivered to an individual over the last few years.

But it isn't just the delivery itself; data is garnered from every single touch point.

"Every parcel has more than one point of contact with our database," Yip told the 4th Australian Government Data Summit in Canberra on Wednesday. "A parcel could have 10 points of data created."

Showing an example of one of the company's highly-automated parcel sorting facilities, Yip said for each parcel that moves through the belt, there are multiple sections that scan the item as it progresses to the next.

"Each section of the belt is actually coded so that it filters out to the right area that it needs to go to ... every component of that is coded and the data is stored," she explained. "We have the time the parcel comes through, the vans, the drivers.

"Unless we scan it, we can't track it. If you do not scan the parcel at every part of the journey, you don't know where it is, or just the last scan, not necessarily where it is right now."

With such a high market share, Yip said Australia Post can build a pretty good picture of where Australians are and who is shopping online.

Australia Post knows who has made a purchase, where they have made a purchase from, and how frequently that person shops online through any company. While it doesn't know what is in the bag branded by ASOS, Yip said it can be pretty easily surmised that clothing or related accessories sit within the packaging. Australia Post also knows when you've returned the item.

What it doesn't know is the exact item purchased, its cost, or credit card/payment information. But if a loyalty card has been used to purchase an item that will be delivered, partners may provide the postal service with further specifics.

Where the organisation loses data is when the item has left a depot, right up until it is signed for at the other end.

However, Yip told ZDNet that tracking the delivery driver via a GPS-like means is in the sights of the postal service.

Australia Post received a new CEO last year in Christine Holgate, who joined the organisation in October from health supplements giant Blackmores.

One of the things Yip said is a high priority in Holgate's strategy is that everything should be tracked. But given the entity enjoys a positive balance sheet at the end of each financial year, Yip said that extending the benefits of a Domino's-like driver tracking initiative to the consumer would be at a cost.

Seeing Amazon's Australian entry as competition, Yip said AusPost needs to continually get better at forecasting emerging technologies so as to not take a hit when the tech reaches the market.

"With the growth of ecommerce, we see the demand is going to be much stronger," she said. "The challenge] is ensuring our infrastructure is there to support that demand."

Yip expects tech like Google Home to boost deliveries, with the ease that consumers can order something online. She said the postal service needs to be on top of the technology also disrupting the transport industry spanning land, sea, and air.

"Robotics and automation is a big thing for us ... unless we reduce the amount of manual activity -- I think we're still very manual even though we have some fantastic machines in the facility -- we could do a lot better," she explained. "We need to embrace new technologies really quickly so we don't get disrupted."

Where air is concerned, Australia Post nearly two years ago announced it was considering trialling drones to deliver mail in some rural areas.

"I know there are some retailers right now that we're working with, and I'm hoping later this year we're going to do some trials," former Australia Post managing director and group CEO Ahmed Fahour said at the time.

"The reality is that anybody who doesn't believe that technology is going to fundamentally change the way we do business in this country is mad."

On Wednesday, Yip said drone delivery is "a little bit challenging" when it comes to working through which circumstances drone delivery would suit, as well as working through legislation and policy stalemates.

The organisation last year also revealed it was looking into robotic means of delivery, by way of a vehicle that would work like a parcel locker requiring a code to be entered before the delivery can be retrieved.


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