The Royal Mail is beginning to offer corporate customers a new way to get their paper mail - employees at the Royal Mail will open letters for companies and then transmit them electronically to the intended destination.

Deployed on a full-scale basis yesterday, the new Physical to Electronic (PTE) mail service lets businesses have their regular mail - anything from general correspondence to application forms, customer surveys and purchase orders - sent directly to their computer systems via the Internet or dedicated networks.

Not everything can be delivered electronically, though. For example, the Royal Mail said it won't scan in cheques, and will physically deliver them to companies if they get included in envelopes that are opened. It also won't open envelopes that are marked confidential, a spokesman said.

The Royal Mail is using e-commerce software developed by San Jose-based ActionPoint to transform the physical mail into electronic data. About 20 companies in the UK have signed on to use the PTE service so far, and already receive a combined total of hundreds of thousands of documents electronically per day, according to the Royal Mail. The early users include companies in the financial services, telecommunications and pensions and insurance industries.

Kimra Hawley, ActionPoint's CEO, said postal services in Germany and other countries are looking at developing similar electronic mail delivery systems.