Parcelforce: Empowering the business with data analytics
Image: Getty
Share on LinkedIn
Share

Parcelforce: Empowering the business with data analytics

Jim Mortleman — June 2017
Leading a fundamental transformation of digital capabilities, Parcelforce IT director Liz Allen explains how cloud services are turbo-charging the courier service provider’s strategic decision-making.

When Liz Allen arrived as IT director at Parcelforce Worldwide in 2012, the former Fujitsu head of government programs stepped into an organization where there had been weak investment in IT for the previous decade — with obvious consequences. “Systems were falling over left, right and center,” she recalls.

Although the UK’s leading business parcel courier was privatized in 1992, its parent company, Royal Mail, remained in public ownership until 2011. As a result, for many years Parcelforce retained aspects of that public-sector culture and its accompanying budget constraints. In some respects, that background was a positive – staff retention among its 5,000-strong workforce, for example, is still far higher than in most private companies, with employees staying an average of 10 years. And while Parcelforce may have historically lagged behind competitors such as DHL, FedEx and UPS in terms of speed of innovation, the workforce gives us a more stable base for customer service than key competitors, says Allen.
From T-cards to tablets

Allen has spent the past five years overseeing a fundamental transformation of the company’s use of digital technology — a shift that is still ongoing. “We’ve been on a pretty significant journey,” she says. “For instance, when I joined, the [parcel sorting] yards within our hubs and processing centers used a manual — and very complicated — T-card system that identified the location of all the ‘shunters’ [vehicles] in the yard. Now that’s all automated and employees track assets using tablets.”

Evidence of the transformation is spread right across Parcelforce. The company has been working hard to enhance the package delivery experience at both the back and front ends. Optimized route planning for its vans and trucks, for instance, allows Parcelforce drivers to make more collections and more efficient deliveries. It has also optimized manifests, modernized its online channels and introduced ‘in-flight options’ so customers can track deliveries on the road and change instructions such as where the parcel should be left if they are not present. “We’ve focused on becoming a truly omnichannel service — ensuring we have a presence across not only the traditional channels but across social media platforms, retail networks and so on, allowing people to interact with customer service in the way that’s most convenient for them,” says Allen.

Other projects include developing a native consumer app for smartphones and tablets, improving the accuracy and frequency of delivery slot notifications, multichannel ecommerce and digital labelling. “Parcelforce now has all the key innovations that are required to succeed in this sector going forward, even if we still have a bit of a public-sector attitude to marketing those achievements,” she says.
An explosion of data

One of the big consequences of the digital automation is that Parcelforce’s systems are now generating much more data. Last year, the company delivered 88 million parcels, despatching items to 200-plus countries and territories worldwide. The largest of its hubs, in Coventry, takes delivery of a fully loaded vehicle every 45 seconds during peak times and can process 58,500 parcels per hour.

“Every item we handle is tracked end to end. That generates a stream of data — from what our customers are shipping and their package destinations to the profitability levels within our import/export business. All that data is absolutely critical for making the right strategic decisions as a business,” Allen says.

Allen has ensured that such data can be turned into actionable insight by adopting advance business intelligence (BI) technologies that speed the delivery of the most timely and valuable management information. That has meant taking advantage of superfast in-memory database technology and state-of-the-art Intel-based servers. But with the in-house IT team already tied up with a slew of projects and a desire to control capital expenditure, Allen decided to deliver the BI services via cloud analytics specialist Zizo.
Keeping pace in the cloud

“We needed a step change in terms of the amount of data that could be processed and how business users access that data,” she explains. “Now we have a web-based management information system that over 300 users access and which drives critical data delivery for us in terms of decision-making.”

That spans all commercial reporting, including profitability by client and drill down into data about individual parcels. As a result Parcelforce is able to take informed strategic decisions about whether to increase its focus in particular markets such as healthcare or the handling of dangerous goods.

The system also drives the company’s operational quality and service, and volume reporting.  “We know depot by depot, route by route and driver by driver whether we are meeting our quality of service (QoS) targets, and what we need to adjust at each of those levels in order to continue to deliver the kind of service excellence we’re renowned for. As a premium-rate carrier, we have to ensure we deliver a trusted, reliable and safe service. Having such a huge range of data in one place, for the first time, is enabling us to understand more and more about our customers, routes and traffic,” she says.

And while every business is becoming more dependent on data, she says: “The way we can now harness and mine that data has enabled us to speed up decision-making and is showing us the right strategic path for our business.”

• Liz Allen was speaking at Cloud Expo Europe 2017 in London.
First published June 2017
Share on LinkedIn
Share
I-CIO on Linkedin
    IMPORTANT:
    This website uses cookies to improve functionality. Continue to use the site as normal if you're happy with this or click here to find out more about cookies.
    Web       Analytics