The European Commission gave mandates to the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) based upon the various framework directives leading to full postal market liberalization.
Fifteen years ago CEN created the Technical Committee Postal Services (CEN / TC331) structured into five Working Groups (WG); quality of service; hybrid and electronic postal services; automatization of postal core processes; postal trays and receptacles; and letter and parcel acceptance devices.
Since hybrid means of communication had not traditionally been covered by the postal universal service obligation, previous work undertaken by Working Group 2 (WG2) was not the focus of the European Commission’s mandate to standardize postal services. However, from 2008 onwards the picture changed considerably.
The Universal Postal Union laid the foundations for extending postal service provision into the internet, and WG2 then actively ensured that the spirit and aim behind liberalizing the European market for postal services was not jeopardized by new and exclusive areas dedicated to the incumbents.
WG2 sought to ensure equal and non-discriminatory access to hybrid postal services and converted UPU technical specifications into CEN format. Moreover, it is in the process of revising existing European standards, and aims to develop new technical standards for hybrid mail.
Hybrid mail, as defined by WG2, is an electronic based postal service.
The sender posts the original message in either a physical or an electronic form and the message is then electronically processed and converted into a letter post item for physical delivery to the addressee.
Where national legislation permits, and where the sender or the addressee requests, the postal operator effecting the delivery may convert the original transmission received either into non-physical means, such as fax, e-mail, or SMS, or into multiple means.
Where delivery is physical, the information is generally transmitted by electronic means for the furthest possible distance before being physically reproduced at premises as close to the recipient's address as possible.
The leading technical specification “CEN / TS 14014:2006 Postal services· Hybrid mail – Document type definitions for customer to operator: a common set of default tags” is under revision in 2012.
Most communications, even letter post items, have their origins in digital media. Letters are overwhelmingly composed and written using IT-based output systems. So it is true to say that “the original is digital” and is stored and archived digitally. The printed mail piece is simply a copy.
Therefore, more and more postal services providers are extending their core postal service offerings into upstream markets. Hybrid mail has become a vital value proposition for postal services and output management providers.
Defining hybrid mail was the first step, the second step was to extend European standards to Secured electronic Postal Services (SePS).
The progression from a digitally composed mail piece to secured electronic distribution, whether driven by governments or postal services, is a process of evolution rather than revolution.
Most would say that this evolution is due for completion sooner rather than later. It is therefore no surprise that , in countries where third party players are large enough to have an impact on the letter post market, postal services have decided to actively drive forward the evolution from physical mail to secured electronic mail themselves.
WG2 has supported these developments by actively participating in converting global postal standards in this field into European Postal standards, with defined interface specifications for SePS and for the Electronic Postal Certification Mail (EPCM) service created by early 2011.
The core service provision of postal providers offers a unique proposition to the two parties involved in any letter post communication: authenticity, integrity and trust. These principles are safeguarded globally by national and international legislation. This is the Trusted Third Party concept that postal service providers will use as the cornerstone for future service offerings.
Enshrined in the postal service provision, this cornerstone of the postal service obligation was extended to e-mail through the development of a functional specification for postal registered electronic mail by CEN.
This specification was also instrumental in transforming the ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), REM (Registered E-Mail) standardization and providing technical standardization for any interoperability for a postal service provision extended to digital communication means.
E-Delivery and certain aspects of electronic cross-border identification were therefore made interoperational, supporting the evolution of the postal network which is by definition universal and becoming increasingly multichannel.
Reverse hybrid mail will specify the technical processes and means for converting physical mail into digital form for delivery to electronic mailboxes.
The electronic mailbox (e-mailbox) in the digital world will serve a similar purpose to the traditional mailbox in the physical world. It can be argued that everyone online already has an e-mailbox. The answer is both yes and no; it is only partly true. Currently e-mailboxes are not quite the same as traditional mailboxes: the legal obligations associated with a physical mailbox are not yet valid for e-mailboxes.
However, as you read this, posts globally are going through the evolutionary process of adopting the concept of secured electronic mailboxes.
All these developments are based on international standards and principles which aim at establishing global SePS networks, parallel to the physical networks which were established by postal service providers around one hundred and twenty five years ago, and which have been maintained ever since.
The concept of a postal electronic mailbox was enshrined in the letter post convention of the UPU in June 2011. A postal electronic mailbox enables the sending of electronic messages by an authenticated mailer, delivery to the authenticated addressee, and access, management and storage of electronic messages and information by the authenticated addressee.
As a result, and to ensure the equal and non-discriminatory access to reverse hybrid postal services, WG2 started work on standardizing the processes and technologies already in use. The results and first drafts of European standards will be ready by the end of 2012.
As delivery of mail and addresses, and sender and recipient identification, become fully multichannel, the extension of postal service provision into new means of digital communication at both national and global levels requires new European standards.
This becomes even more important as personal and sensitive data, profiles and preferences all need to be protected, authenticated and secured. Data is the new commodity in a market driven economy.
Data protection legislation, copyright and consumer protection are increasingly changing the way we communicate.
Across the world states and businesses are tackling the issue of identification in order to know who their clients are, and to ensure that people only get access to the information and services to which they are entitled.
Yet again, postal services find themselves in the important role of a trusted mediator. The postal address is core to several levels of postal "In-Person-Proofing" services offered by most postal service providers today, whether for secured delivery, first class or second class mail, parcel services or postal financial services. In the same way, European standards for user identification and authentication are essential if many cross-border services are to become successful and secure.
Accordingly, WG2 is currently working on two new technical standards.
Postal markets are dynamic and are quickly evolving in conjunction with the ever widening markets for communication, advertising and electronic commerce. Facilitating the interoperability of postal industry stakeholders along the postal value chain becomes increasingly important.
Postal services rely on addresses. Paper based mail and new means of communication, and therefore distribution and delivery, require highly standardized addresses to identify recipients and deliver document-based communication. As addresses become multichannel, access to those channels will be based on consent and opt-in mechanisms.
This new work item will focus on technical specifications for distribution and delivery on a European level, clearly identifying different means of delivery by different means of addressing recipients and their preferences.
Similarly, outgoing mail applications follow the preferences of recipients and senders.
Switching between different means of delivery, combining paper-based mall streams with new added value offerings in the ICT based world leads to new business models and integrated mail solutions.
The security and integrity of digital documents, using existing standards, ensures that delivery is based on the preferred media of any recipient. The documents may be transactional, legal, personal, confidential, governmental, health related, marketing or informational, and as presented to recipients will offer different standards of security and different levels of non-repudiation.
A service such as this can only be offered by a trusted party, providing a trustworthy, fast and efficient service based on technical specifications. Postal services, as well as related services, are ideally suited for this service.
The current lack of a standardized interface offering results in proprietary solutions being created. This prevents software providers from adopting a single common interface, again preventing competition in the market for the service, both for users and for service providers.
Building on work done in the past in
the fields of SePS, EPCM and PrEMo, WG2 will work to provide European technical standards for the switch between media for delivery channels, taking into account different
levels of authentication and non-repudiation.
Walter Trezek is the Chairman of the Consultative Committee (CC) of the Universal Postal Union (UPU).