Partnerlink is a freight-sharing network that offers the efficient and direct movement of freight to its ultimate destination. Working on a point-to-point basis, the network eliminates multiple handling and wasted miles that occur when operating via a traditional hub and spoke distribution arrangement where freight is transported via a central warehouse somewhere in the Midlands.
Instead, via its sixteen partners within the network, it reaches all four corners of the UK, offering strong regional distribution and excellent customer service for its users. The partners share knowledge, resources and values that in turn allow them to deliver the very highest solutions with the very best customer service.
The network has six key shareholders; Knights of Old, AK Worthington, Viamaster, David Hathaway Transport, John G Russell and R Swain & Sons. It moves approximately 12,000 pallets weekly, has 1,700 trucks and 500 trailers in the UK, four million square feet of warehousing, 3,500 employees and a combined turnover of around £375 million per annum.
"The ability to be able to see where the freight is within the network without the need to pick up the phone, and to estimate its time of delivery accurately was the primary objective." John Davidson, Partnerlink
Central to maintaining customer service across the network was the requirement to have access to track freight across the partner organisations, regardless of which partner was transporting it to its final destination.
John Davidson, managing director of Partnerlink explains; "To a degree, the pallet industry has followed the parcel industry, and in our own daily lives we know how accurate receiving parcels can be in terms of tracking. You get a text message narrowing delivery time down to the exact hour in some cases, and that makes for very happy customers. Knowledge is power.
"We wanted the ability to be able to accurately track freight across the network. So much of a logistics company’s time is spent chasing deliveries over the phone. A customer would call and ask where the freight is and when it would be arriving, and in turn we’d have to call the partner organisations and they would need to call the drivers. It could take as many as three or four phone calls to locate the pallet, and the customer would be getting more and more frustrated chasing his consignment.
"The ability to be able to see where the freight is within the network without the need to pick up the phone, and to estimate its time of delivery accurately was the primary objective for looking to find a technology solution."
Partnerlink recognised the need to invest significantly, but also realised that the smaller carriers within the network wouldn’t want to invest in expensive hand held hardware for their drivers to capture delivery status, and so began identifying those technology providers who could provide the solution on an android device.
The chosen software solution had to provide the ability to communicate with the office and also capture signatures and be future proof. Android provides benefits that Microsoft Windows solutions couldn’t: the ability to deploy rugged devices, have a low or high cost device and a large screen for ease of use for drivers.
"OBS Logistics’ CALIDUS ePOD and CALIDUS TTM software provided the solutions we’d been looking for and was clearly ahead of the market place. We can now see the signatures of those who have signed for consignments and we no longer need to call up and ask who signed for it when chasing a delivery," explains John Davidson.
The software ‘pings’ the driver’s location back to the OBS Logistics server and with the help of each driver’s manifest, it can estimate when the driver will be at the drops within that run. It also provides a predicted delivery status via a traffic light system; green, amber and red, to show how late consignments are running.
For the network partner it’s easy to see where the vehicles are, where the freight in question is, with which partner and if they’re on time or running late. Where delivery has been made, the system updates across the network so that all parties can see the status, reducing any freight chasing within the network.
"When we chased deliveries on the phone, we used to say that in an ideal world, you’d take the phone receiver of the customer’s incoming call to chase a delivery and put it next to the phone receiver of the outgoing call to the driver so they could speak – and essentially that’s what the technology is doing.
CALIDUS ePOD and TTM is cutting edge technology that saves our partners so much time by eliminating the leg work to track freight, and providing real-time information to keep customers happy," said John Davidson.
The solution had to integrate with other shareholders transport management systems (TMS). CALIDUS ePOD bolted on to five different TMS’s: Vigo, Stirling Solutions, Mandata, TOPS and Haultech.
The benefits of the new solution are four-fold. There is much less cost to the network in terms of both time and the cost of telephone calls to track down consignments. The traffic light system via the arrivals and departures board provides the information needed at the touch of a button to better inform customers of when they can expect their freight to arrive.
In turn this had led to a redeployment of personnel who can now focus on providing proactive customer service instead of fire fighting, making much better use of their time. The information now available at the network’s fingertips also means that network members can pre-empt any problems and inform the customer accordingly, before they have a need to chase it up.
John Davidson explains; "This keeps us ahead of the game. Customers are rarely annoyed that the consignment is late - simply that they didn’t know it was, and were unable to plan accordingly. If we contact them and tell them it’s running late, it takes the wind out of their sails and they are much happier knowing before it causes them any problems. We have noticed that our customers are happier and we have received hardly any complaints since the software has been implemented.”
The final benefit is that it keeps the drivers happy.
“The industry finds it hard to retain drivers. It’s a stressful job and driver retention is a massive industry issue – we fight hard to keep our drivers happy. The pressure is phenomenal in an industry that has tight time and profit margins. Reducing the number of calls to the drivers to chase deliveries takes an enormous amount of pressure off and helps retention," explains Davidson.
"I suspect the way the industry’s going is to be able to email the customer with an exact ETA narrowed down to the hour of when they can expect delivery of their freight - much like we’ve come to expect from our online grocery shopping or parcels. We’re well on the road to being able to provide that to our customers," concludes Davidson.