Case study: Smart software for the long haul

23 Jan 2006

Some businesses are born into technology and others have technology thrust upon them. While some companies grudgingly modernise, PalletXpress definitely comes into the former category and has been using technology since it started trading in 2004. As a central hub for freight providers around the country, the company simply couldn’t function without IT, affirms managing director Tom Carr (pictured).

PalletXpress offers a nationwide freight distribution service through a network of 16 members located around Ireland. Ordinarily, a haulage firm operating in Wexford would not be able to provide next-day delivery service to Galway or Donegal. Now it can: having collected loads from customers, it brings them to the PalletXpress facility in Mullingar and from there the pallets are collected by other members of the network for fast-onward delivery to their destination.

PalletXpress manages the task of ensuring that every pallet brought in to the hub is allocated to the correct outgoing truck. It then handles all of the related administration tasks and looks after the financial transactions. Every member’s own systems can also link in with that of PalletXpress.

To put a management system in place to handle the workload, the haulage hub turned to ProStrategy, a Microsoft business partner that already had experience in the transport and logistics sector. It developed a software package for PalletXpress based on Microsoft’s Navision supply chain management tool. ProStrategy then trained staff at PalletXpress and all of the member companies in how to use it.

The software produces detailed reports on all activity. Invoicing and accounting is handled by the hub, which means that rather than an individual haulier billing each of the other members for various amounts, PalletXpress calculates how much each member owes and is owed and cheques are exchanged at the end of each month. The company then charges an administrative fee based on the number of pallets each member brings.

In addition the software also has a facility that lets each haulage company’s customers make bookings online, track consignments from collection through to delivery and access proof-of-delivery information.

Although the software was live when the company opened its doors in 2004, much of the year since has been spent tweaking and changing elements of it to add new functions. “We’re still only using 30pc, 40pc, 50pc of its features,” Carr estimates, praising the versatility of the software.

“We put a huge demand on ProStrategy; there were a load of things we would have modified or suggested in the software,” he says. “I have to say they’ve been very good in delivering that and understanding what we’re looking for … everything we’ve asked for, they’ve said: ‘that can be done’.” Carr adds that the software’s ease of use is another important factor as it caters for a wide range of users with different technical skill levels in each of the member companies.

The total cost of the system, which also has human resource and sales elements built in, came to around €300k. Carr is very satisfied with the investment because of the advantages it brings to the operation. “It’s trying to take out as much manpower, phone calls, paperwork and follow-up out of it,” he says. The investment in technology also allows PalletXpress to stay lean; the company employs 14 daytime and nighttime staff. “We will always need a core staff but it allows us to grow the business without proportionately growing the same amount of people.”

The innovation doesn’t stop there for PalletXpress: the next stage in the system will involve using digital pen technology so that when goods are signed in on arrival at the company’s warehouse, this signature is then sent to the Navision system to that a customer can go online and view the proof of delivery.

By Gordon Smith