As one of the UK’s busiest palletised freight networks, it is crucial that Pall-Ex’s communication with its members and corporate customers is robust, transparent, and efficient.
IT is a huge contributor to this, but with such a wide scope of what information needs to be shared across the network, it is tempting to over-complicate the solution – which could ultimately lead to its downfall.
Here, Chris Holland, IT director at Pall-Ex Group, discusses the modern demands of a logistics business’ telematics, with an underlying aim of always providing clarity, future-proofing and outstanding customer care.
With 25 years’ experience in IT and 17 years working within logistics specifically, it’s fair to say I’ve got a good insight into the demands and responsibilities of a freight network’s IT system.
What we’ve seen is a definite move towards customers being more self-sufficient. There is a growing need for visibility and efficiency, as the supply chain becomes more and more ‘just in time’. Knowing exactly where shipments are is crucial, with customers wanting an ability to track them independently without picking up the phone or requiring customer service assistance. As such, real-time track-and-trace is really a minimum requirement for an industry like ours, and though it takes a lot of investment in behind-the-scenes technology, the rewards in terms of time and resources are huge.
At Pall-Ex, we have also acknowledged that ‘in transit’ notifications are required as standard, via email and SMS, and logistics providers need to do more than the bare minimum in order to compete. Telematics services like tracking are no longer just serving a practical purpose – they must add value to the business as a whole to generate profit and attract (and retain) clients. So it’s not just a case of knowing that a consignment has left the depot or has been delivered – vehicle telemetry can provide accurate real-time ETAs. This, combined with allowing customers to change arrival times or points of drop off, can reduce the number of problems associated with missed or late deliveries.
For Pall-Ex, data capture in telematics is easily managed through our cloud-based network IT system, TWINE, which also enables our network members to instantly share real-time mobile proof of delivery (POD) information.
On receipt of POD, TWINE automatically triggers the creation of customer invoices. A real-time POD means the customer is safe in the knowledge that goods have been delivered and signed for. It also means there is no longer a need to wait until the end of the month to raise invoices, greatly reducing administration and improving the business’ cash-flow.
There has also been a rise in demand for click and collect. As a convenient purchase option for shoppers who want to pick up their goods at a time to suit them, it’s not as cost efficient for retailers, but companies need to find alternate ways of delivering this growing choice. A partnership with haulage networks is certainly an option.
It’s naïve to think that deliveries only work one way, and that when the consignment has been received, it’s job done. Returns is a key area and now seen as a major part of the supply chain. To put this into perspective, approximately 30 per cent of all goods purchased online are returned.
There’s a need for flexibility, and the process is made more complicated as retailers are increasingly looking for returned goods to be listed immediately as available stock (whether these products have been physically returned to stores or depots) and then delivered to fulfil new client orders. This is becoming such a frequent occurrence that retailers are over allocating orders against stock levels, actively anticipating a degree of returns.
To facilitate the returns process, clever telematics could allow consumers to manage their returns themselves, resulting in warehouses receiving real-time notifications of inbound deliveries, and drivers being advised to collect goods from a new designated collection point, speeding up the entire process.
All of us can find technology baffling or off-putting at times – and this is why systems need to be as easy and intuitive to use as possible, in order to encourage the greatest possible engagement. Telematics needs to be simple, efficient and unbreakable, otherwise systems will simply be ignored. It also helps if they’re free.
For networks like Pall-Ex, it’s our responsibility to recognise how technology is evolving and what customers are demanding of the retailers. By understanding these developments and advanced requirements from members and customers alike, networks like Pall-Ex can make sure the bar is consistently high across the whole supply chain.