Interview with Jonas Hagner, ICT Director, Posti

Can you tell me a bit about your role at Posti?

I'm the ICT Director for Operations, so I take care of all of our logistical solutions. Half of my time is spent with business, representing IT and half of my time is spent with IT, representing business! I ensure that the two teams have a common agenda and strategy.

Tell me all about your smart post boxes!

Last year we were faced with a few problems in relation to our mail delivery processes; by this I mean traceability and visibility. We began to think about some potential solutions and started to co-operate with Telia, with whom we already were cooperation with on the network side of things.

Telia came and helped us out with creating a device concept to effectively address our own issues; they learnt our processes and issues and came back with a solution to fix them: The smart post box.

The smart post box allows us to see and anticipate our letterbox usage with real-time data. This means that we can optimise our collection routes and also adjust them based on seasonal usage. Additionally, we have real-time visibility with regard to logistics: Has everything been collected on time? Where is the mail man in relation to the post box? Have any of them been vandalised? All of this information will help us to provide a better service.

The route optimisation is particularly important to us here in Finland because a lot of our post boxes are in rural or remote areas, so we can save a lot of time, effort and impact to the environment by planning in line with real use rather than working against a set schedule.

Our field workforce will be saving minutes in time each day. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you think about the amount of people and mailboxes that we actually have, then saving a few minutes each day actually turns out to be a great money saver. This is a synergetic effect that we didn’t really consider in the beginning, but of course we can automate a lot of manual processes.

So how much of a role did you play in developing the product?

Honestly, Telia did pretty much everything, they were great. We basically gave them a postbox and told them what we needed it to do. We also said that it should be easy to service with a long battery life and able to withstand harsh weather conditions. Additionally, it had to fit into exactly the same specification as a standard letterbox.

Once we’d told them everything we wanted, they handled the whole thing through their own ecosystem and gave us a turnkey solution around that. Of course, we are not a technology company, but we are interested in what it can achieve. Telia are bringing NB-IoT coverage to Scandinavia and, from a business perspective and what it can do, this is very interesting indeed. Now, we are exploring NB-IoT for a number of different use cases. The post boxes are just the beginning!

What stage are you at with the project?

Initially we are testing five letterboxes and are currently gathering data from those. The NB-IoT network in Finland is not nationwide yet, but as this grows, we will be adding more letterboxes at the same time.

Once we have finished the pilot, we will be creating ‘letter box 2.0’. To do this we will use the data we gathered from the initial stage, along with input from Telia, our customers and of course our own insights.

At the same time, we are exploring our role into connected society. By this I mean other uses for a smart post box not just related to mail. We would like to spread the project as far as we can!

Were there any problems you had with the post boxes? How did you overcome them?

Of course! Posti and how people perceive the role of Posti in society is very traditional and that can cause some friction, especially when you try to change that perception.

Luckily however, one of our own traditions is to do things quickly and achieve fast implementations. Additionally, we had a sponsor with a huge amount of willpower who sponsored this initiative and allowed us to break down barriers as we came across them.

Do you have any advice to a business who wants to utilise IoT or LPWA and how they would get started?

I would say that it's pretty simple. We really just started with our business problems and decided to look for solutions to them, knowing that technology is often the cost-efficient answer to many things. We also knew that we could collect and analyse data to solve problems, and that sensors are a great source of collecting data.

If businesses are interested in this, start with the business problem and find somebody who can do the legwork; find an ecosystem rather than doing it the traditional way.

We saved a lot of time and effort by not trying to do every little aspect of it ourselves and instead utilising someone who knows the technology. Use your partners and the ecosystem to your own advantage!

What do you see as the future of IoT at Posti?

Well for us at Posti, NB-IoT really is a game changer. We have huge amounts of things that could be tracked but this can of course be very expensive! NB-IoT would bring a cheaper and smaller sensor which we can attach to assets. We could then use this for real-time and dynamic planning, to control and improve upon our conditions, to control our assets. The cheaper the sensor, the cheaper the tracking mechanisms, and the further we can bring it down into our processes.

Finally, what do you hope to gain from LPWA World?

Well, we love networking and we love having the opportunity to understand and see what everybody else is doing in the world around us, especially if it's anybody in logistics or asset management. It’s great to just get to get to meet new people and get influence from the rest of Europe. We hope that there are different use cases and more advanced cases than what we're doing that we can learn from.