Canada Post saves millions, improves worker safety with analytics

Explosive cost savings, fewer workplace accidents, and smarter campaign management are just some benefits use of analytics software brought to Canada Post Corp.

The corporation used SAS Business Analytics from Cary, NC-based SAS Institute Inc. in a broad range of initiatives.   

Canada Post was one of four global organizations honoured with the SAS Enterprise Excellence Award at the recently concluded SAS Global Forum in Seattle.

This award recognizes companies “for effectively using SAS software to address business challenges and empower leaders to make confident, insightful decisions.”

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Other winners were U.S.-based GE Rail Services, Australia’s Telestra and Lloyds Banking Group in the U.K.

Canada Post saved millions of dollars last year alone through its use of the software, according to Brian Shea, the organization’s general manager, business analytics and revenue management.

While using analytics to hone its pricing, Canada Post also extracted value in other areas, such as marketing automation and health and safety, said Shea, accepting the award.

He said Gabriel Toichoa, director, pricing and modeling, brought Canada Post’s various data sets together, enabling real time access to operational data.

This allowed the team to predict who was likely to have an accident in the workplace, and how long injured workers would be off the job.

“It changed the culture for the management team and employees,” Shea said.

Over the past four – five years, he said, the accident rate had been on the rise, and management couldn’t easily get information about the incidents to develop prevention strategies.

Now all details are available the next day, and thanks to this, in 2009 for the first time, there was a significant reduction in accidents.

In fact, the rate currently compares favourably with that of North American courier companies, and Shea expects to reach optimal levels next year (his benchmark is DuPont, whose accident rate is 3 per cent).

Accident severity has been reduced too, Shea adds, now that health and safety teams have better information.

Time off from accidents is lower too, as with details of an accident readily available an injured mail carrier can be reassigned to desk work, where appropriate.

SAS tools have also helped Canada Post’s marketing initiatives. Mounting campaigns used to be a highly manual, labour-intensive process, subject to uncertainties of timing and data quality. 

Now, using analytics tools, the corporation can do advance segmentation models to determine the right targets, and then easily track return on investment.

Toichoa says having all the data in one place has let Canada Post cut the time needed to launch a campaign from months to weeks. “Prior to introducing the tool, we had no way of telling if a campaign was effective — we now have feedback.”

And that’s a huge competitive advantage in the postal world, according to Manoj Rawat, director of service performance evaluation.

He said the government mandates a certain level of reliability for Canada post. “It also has an impact on revenue.”

Canada Post does 45 – 50 billion transactions a year, and there are 90 billion points in the system where defects can occur – people, processes or anything else that touches the mail.

Terabytes of data need to be stored, processed and analyzed to help the corporation get each item to its destination in the least time, at the lowest cost.

After a less-than-successful experiment with Oracle, the monster database has been moved to SAS Scalable Performance Data Server (SPDS), which is optimized for business intelligence and analytics. 

Says Toichoa, “We’ve found that SAS, using intelligent storage, can support significant amounts of data.”

These projects are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition, says Shea, he is building a Centre of Excellence in data management and integration, and a feasibility study is now in progress to integrate even more datasets to help operations improve its quality of service.

“The problem is there’s so much demand,” he notes. “With more than 70,000 employees, there are a lot of business problems. It’s never going to stop. Once you identify one business process, the thirst grows. Health and safety was the tipping point. It has become an easy sell.”

Next up is some serious work with operations – “a big ocean to step into”, Shea says – looking at management of Canada Post’s fleet of vehicles.

Even relatively simple things such as proactive maintenance of a component whose service is coming due when a truck is already in the shop for something else can save time and money.

Shea also plans customer experience analytics, and is moving to advanced predictive analytics in the health and safety area.

Canada Post is also thinking about opportunities in HR, for human capital management.

But data integration is the pillar on which everything rests, according to Toichoa. “Many companies try to get into analytics without integration and run into problems. Integration enabled a lot of our achievements.”

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