Commentary & Analysis
Pitney Bowes Seeds the Cloud with a New Set of Commerce Enablers
The company, traditionally known for postage meters, sees a $40 billion marketplace for its digitally enabled shipping and transaction services.
By Patrick Henry
Published: May 4, 2016
Clouds used to connote things like gloomy moods, confused thoughts, and stormy forecasts—none of them especially conducive to business. Now the collective cloud of the Internet is where every forward-looking business wants to be. Among the latest arrivals in this digital land of opportunity is Pitney Bowes.
It’s there by virtue of Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud, a collection of software-based shipping and transaction enablers that the company formally launched in New York City on April 26. Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud is SaaS (software as a service), and it addresses five solution areas with the help of desktop applications, mobile apps, and the more than 200 APIs (application program interfaces) that make it work.
Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud is also “one of the most consequential moments” in the 96-year history of Pitney Bowes, said Marc Lautenbach, the company’s chairman and CEO since December 2012. He described it as the company’s springboard from the $4 billion market it now serves to one worth 10 times that “in the connected and borderless world of commerce.”
Pitney Bowes’s traditional anchor in that world consists of postage meters and other mailroom equipment. But, said Lautenbach, the aging of that business had led to an “identity crisis” for the company that required an “archaeological dig” into customer relationships to resolve.
About 1.5 million small and medium sized businesses use Pitney Bowes hardware, and it is for these customers that Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud was created. By using its tools, said Lautenbach and other Pitney Bowes spokespersons, these businesses will be able to:
• ship across international borders with less difficulty
• build geodata into business processes
• expedite billing and payment
• work more efficiently with the leading package shippers
• streamline e-commerce and order fulfillment
Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud will support these five areas with what Lautenbach called “a series of capabilities delivered through the cloud.” Those shown in demonstrations on April 26 are commercially available now, and more will be added through the remainder of the year.
Postage meters and the like are still in the picture for Pitney Bowes, and “that context will continue to be important,” according to Lautenbach.
But, he said shareholders have been told that by vaulting the company into the $40 billion digital commerce and shipping marketplace that the five solution areas represent, Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud will reinvent the company, be “a brick on the road to our second century,” and identify all those who work for Pitney Bowes as “craftsmen of commerce.”
The company’s technical goals for the project are ambitious. Roger Pilc, chief innovation officer, said that Pitney Bowes has hired 25 data scientists and trained 500 support staff members in connection with it.
He called the decision to build Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud within the Amazon Web Services infrastructure “completely transformative” because it will permit features to be developed much more quickly and economically. Part of the vision, Pilc said, is to bring Internet-of-things functionality to the company’s installed base of postage meters, enabling the devices to gather and share data for better performance.
Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud isn’t the company’s first try at reinventing itself in the cloud. Five years ago, it introduced Volly, a project conceived to offer consumers “digital mailboxes” where they could consolidate ordering, bill paying, and other e-shopping activities. The Volly cloud failed to coalesce, although some of what it was meant to do survives in another Pitney Bowes venture, a digital document delivery service called Inlet.
Like Volly and Inlet, Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud is a developmental partnership between Pitney Bowes and companies doing business in the spaces being addressed. Microsoft, for example, will release a version of the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud SendPro™ shipping application that is optimized for use on devices running Windows 10.
An Internet-of-things technology company called FABRIQ has used Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud location intelligence APIs to improve its safety-as-a-service offerings: for example, an app that puts people designated as safety contacts in touch with 911 emergency services in states and cities other than their own. Salesforce.com, Kickstarter, and Apigee are also among Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud partners.
Currently available Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud solutions also include the following:
• pbSmartPostage™ (online shipping and mailing)
• Spectrum® On Demand (data quality and enrichment)
• Universal Address Management (address validation and correction)
• Relay® Hub (cloud-based mailing)
• EngageOne® Video (personalized and interactive video)
• Borderfree® Marketplace (international shipping to retailers)
• Borderfree® Retail (end-to-end cross-border shopping experience)
• Global Financial Services (secure and reliable payment)
• Clarity™ (cloud-based production mail)
• Enroute® Shipping (cloud-based transportation management)
• SendSuite® Tracking Online (inbound package management)
Pitney Bowes says that all of them are designed to streamline and simplify the tasks they are applied to. The collection of tools in SendPro, for example, helps shippers find the best and most cost efficient options for sending packages via FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service.
Running either in the cloud, as a mobile app, or through a combination of hardware and software, SendPro calculates rates, prints shipping labels, and tracks deliveries, among other functions. Costing $15 per month for a single user and $35 for up to 50 users, it comes with a starter kit that includes a scale and a label printer.
The EngageOne® Video solution is an e-commerce environment that lets sellers fine-tune their online interactions with customers by presenting contextualized content: pre-recorded “snippets” of video that are specific to whatever transaction is being completed.
For example, an e-shopper placing an order would see a “personalized” video that confirms her purchase and recommends related items she might like to buy. One way to connect shoppers with EngageOne experiences is to use QR codes as mobile gateways to them on postcards and other mailing pieces.