Well-known Express Freight Network operator PBT has been a stalwart on New Zealand’s delivery scene for nearly half a century. When it hit a roadblock with replacing its ageing mobile scanners in a way that could integrate with PBT’s existing systems, it sent for a tech partner who could keep it on its wheels, and fast. Thanks to a smart Microsoft Azure based solution from Inde that handled lockdowns and unprecedented demand with ease, PBT was set on the road to even greater success.
PBT trucks and vans are a regular sight on New Zealand’s roads, zooming that latest shoe purchase, shipment of building materials or pallet load of recyclable cups to homes and businesses the length of the country. The company has grown from a single Bedford truck back in the seventies to a team of more than 800 people working in 21 locations (or driving in between). But when a business has been established as long as PBT, things eventually need to be replaced.
By 2019, PBT’s scanners were fast reaching the end of their useful lives. When goods arrived at the depot or got delivered to someone’s door, it was the job of PBT staff to scan them in and out – but too often the scanners weren’t working. The result was frustration and delays, which are the enemy of every express freight company around the world.
PBT had already signed on for a two-year Transport Management System upgrade, which was set to overhaul its equally ageing technology platform and backend. However, with its hardware at end-of-life, the business couldn’t afford to wait that long for a scanner solution. As every business knows, a poor experience doesn’t just affect one customer, and any delay in the supply chain has flow-on effects for other organisations down the road.
It wasn’t just a matter of replacing the scanners. The whole backend would also need to be updated so it could merge seamlessly with the new IT system when it was ready, and remove the glitches and slowness they were seeing in the meantime. PBT also wanted to ensure its investment could deliver better services to customers and staff than ever before, as befits a modern organisation.
So PBT went looking for a tech partner who could deliver, and fast. Many tech companies suggested complex and custom solutions that would have required a lot of time and money, on top of what PBT was already spending on the business transformation. But an Express Freight Network that prides itself on being nimble deserves a solution to match – and that was Inde’s genius.
Success in testing times
“PBT needed a quick and effective option that could integrate easily into its 20-year-old legacy systems while being adaptable and scalable so it could keep up once those systems were updated,” says Rik Roberts, Inde’s Chief Technology Officer. “We saw that the best way to provide that was a low-code/no-code integration platform based on the Azure cloud. No need for a lot of custom code development, licenses or servers, and the best thing of all was that any changes or updates could be modular.”
In less than a week, Inde had already run a successful test pickup and delivery that demonstrated proof of concept. That was in December 2019. They got the go-ahead to roll out the solution across the courier division after Christmas. The one snag was, of course, what happened in March.
“Testing the system during COVID-19 with IT and support staff working from home was tough,” Rik admits.
“What really helped was that the solution was cloud-based, so people could access it from anywhere and we could also deploy updates remotely. Being a low-code solution also meant we were able to make changes very quickly, with minimal coding. The lockdown brought additional pressures for the logistics industry, including health requirements to provide contactless deliveries. We worked to enhance the existing mobile solution so that it could run alongside the legacy business systems and also enable deliveries to flow without disrupting the economy.”
While the scalability of cloud is talked about a lot, Inde’s solution is the perfect example. The serverless architecture designed by Inde identified potential choke points in the solution and worked to resolve them by itself. Its capabilities were put to the test as the Inde team deployed the new mobility solution one depot at a time. A particularly heavy-traffic day at one Auckland depot saw an enormous amount of morning scans threaten to overload the system. The Azure platform responded by scaling automatically to 10 times its previous capacity, clearing the backlog of messages and downsizing again to the usual scale as soon as the queue was cleared.
Not only did Inde’s quick thinking and quicker solution help PBT keep operations running during lockdown and beyond, the new scanner system is able to do so much more than the previous one, giving PBT valuable insights and boosting its customer service and operations.
As well as instant scalability, the platform has sped up the flow of messages between drivers and depot. The drivers are loving it, not even having to change their old logins to use the new devices. What’s more the solution is transparent. PBT IT staff don’t need to know coding – they can visually see and understand the flow in the integrations, and it just works.
“It’s become an important enabler to allow PBT to easily handle volume growth during a period of unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19, global supply chain issues and recent weather events,” says Dave Lovegrove, CEO of PBT.
Auditing is now much easier as well, with total traceability from scanner to back office. The project was such a success that Inde is now working on supporting PBT’s freight division to improve its processing efficiency and reduce costs. New features in Azure enable it to capture metadata and the team is looking to AI and machine learning to facilitate predictive analytics.
“Inde has significant experience across the integration space, especially in logistics where they’re helping automate many areas of the industry to increase efficiencies and reduce manual efforts. They’re a Microsoft partner who’s literally delivering the goods when it comes to helping New Zealand businesses grow and transform themselves into more customer-centric, more resilient operations without needing to invest in significant in-house resource,” says Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand.
This technology means PBT is set up to become a much more responsive and efficient company that can truly get to know its customers and quickly adapt to their needs – ‘Working Together’ as the company motto goes.
”We’re happy to report the Azure solution was delivered professionally by Inde at exactly the right time to solve a number of legacy issues, and it’s also built a platform for future success as NZ’s leading Express Freight Network,” says Dave.