Time to Open Up and Tell All!

5th December 2012 came and went. Did you notice that Israel changed its postal code system from a 5-digit code to a 7-digit code? No? Hardly surprising. Although there was an English language page on Israel Post’s website announcing the change, the details were only available in Hebrew. The later announcement that the change would be delayed until 1st February 2013 was made only in Hebrew, as far as I can ascertain.

So, what’s the problem?

Many postal authorities treat the information and resources that are required to use their postal systems correctly, such as address formats and postal codes, as grubby little secrets, only revealed on a need to know basis, something that you have to root about to find out for yourself, because it’s not their job to tell you. It’s symptomatic of a much larger problem, which is how postal authorities are failing to understand or embrace the globalisation of communication and their business.

Lost in translation

A number of postal authorities don’t have web pages at all. Others have pages in a local language without translation into English or French (the language of Posts). Where a translation is available, it is often an emasculated version of the local-language website, sometimes only concentrating on areas such as philately. Furthermore, many postal authorities make themselves as customer unresponsive as possible.

When I first started researching postal systems in the early 1990s, when the internet was still in its infancy and Google wasn’t even yet a glint in anybody’s eye, I laboriously contacted every postal authority to try to find out about how their addresses worked so that people outside the operating country would be able to send mail into that country using correct addressing (something one would think the local postal authorities would applaud). The number of authorities that answered: Two. Just two. (Royal Mail and Hong Kong Post, in case you’re interested). Little seems to have changed for the better in this respect. When others have tried similar exercises, responses, where there have been any, have been to demand why anybody would want to know about such things. Postal authorities too often cannot comprehend why anybody other than residents within their delivery area would need to understand their addressing system. The Israeli Post situation is typical. No information or resources for mapping old codes to new ones are being provided, leaving businesses floundering in search of ways of correcting the addresses in their files. Over the years I have had to work around, rather than with, postal authorities to get information. My request to Israel Post for information on their latest change was responded to with (the expected) resounding silence. The UPU (Universal Postal Union), the umbrella organisation for national postal authorities, doesn’t have information on their website about the change either. We are left scrabbling around for snippets of information and have to hope that we hit on essential information in a timely fashion.

Time to come clean

There are honorable exceptions, but it’s a persistent problem. eCommerce and cross-border postal delivery is booming. Yet many postal authorities would rather you addressed mail incorrectly, or not bother to send it at all, than provide information and data to enable their systems to be used more and better. A strange state of affairs which is negatively affecting their turnover. Time for posts to come clean and tell us how to use their systems!