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Mail in Singapore is starting to go digital, and the city-state’s lean startups will likely embrace the shift as early tech adopters.

Back in February, SingPost launched its new service ScanMail in an attempt to help small and medium businesses sidestep the headache of excess physical mail.

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While the vision brought to life by Singapore’s postal and logistics service doesn’t actually help on the environmental front — mail is digitised at SingPost’s warehouses rather than at source — it is an interesting move.

The proposal seeks to use technology “to harness ICT, networks and data to support better living, create more opportunities, and to support stronger communities”.

The new service enables SingPost to provide a correspondence service designed to enable the digitisation of physical correspondence. SingPost will receive, scan and lodge the digital version of a client’s mail content into a personalised mailbox.

For a startup in the city, ScanMail will offer the ability to check all their incoming physical correspondence from the convenience of a dedicated web and mobile app. Especially among the tech-savvy startup demographic, this has the potential to catch on.

Outbox tried and failed

But while this is a new idea for Singapore, the concept has been done before elsewhere. As pointed out by VulcanPost, ScanMail is reminiscent of US-based startup Outbox, which in the end shuttered its operations due to lack of demand.

However, this service is unlikely to die such a swift death.

“We are the first [ScanMail] partners in Singapore,” Imran Nazimuddeen, Chief Consultant at Stamford Advisors, told e27 in an interview. The five-month-old secretarial firm deals largely with foreign startups setting up shop in Singapore, and believes the ScanMail technology is a move in the right direction for overall business productivity.

“I think [the service] will become pretty common,” he added. “Most mail is unnecessary, and companies receive most of their mail from banks… Everybody corresponds by email. The only kind of mail they get is utility bills, expenses for directors, bank statements, that kind of stuff. It’s not really necessary that they get the hard copy. They can make do with the digital copy, and save it onto their hard disks.”

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Singapore recorded in the region of 650 million items of domestic mail in 2014, and around 120 million items of international mail, according to government statistics. That’s a huge opportunity for ScanMail, but the digitisation process will also require an absurd amount of manpower — and as mentioned before, it doesn’t tackle the environmental issue of paper waste.

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Obvious questions remain

It’s far from a perfect system. If bank statements and other types of bills still make up the bulk of incoming physical mail for SMEs, that problem can already be taken care of at source by switching on digital statements directly with service providers.

And let’s not forget the service is not free. Price plans range from S$29 (US$21) up to S$89 (US$65) depending on the volume of mail being received. Will the convenience of being able to check a maximum of 50 mail items per month from a mobile or web app justify the extra costs? How about for a lean bootstrapping startup?

“Because the entire government is hoping on the startup [movement] — and primarily tech startups — there’s a fair few foreign companies that are coming into the tech space as well,” Nazimuddeen said of the local environment. “It was a blue ocean, but sooner or later it’s going to be very concentrated with service providers and new tech startups coming into Singapore just to avail themselves to the funding options [here].”

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Secretarial firms like Stamford Advisors are now beginning to partner with SingPost to help spearhead the adoption of digital mail in the city-state. Just how long it takes to catch on with the mainstream market remains to be seen.

“Once SingPost reaches economies of scale, it will drive down the costs [of digital mail] and make it more affordable for the mass public,” Nazimuddeen said.

imran-Nazimuddeen

Imran Nazimuddeen, Chief Consultant at Stamford Advisors

Corrigendum: ScanMail is not backed by the Singapore government as previously stated. The article has been rectified accordingly.

Image Credit: onestepart / DeviantArt