As President of the NCDA, and owner of a nationwide courier business, people often ask me. “what’s more important – people or technology?” For me, it’s a moot point. Skilled and experienced couriers, who deliver on time and enjoy what they do, will always be the most precious commodity. But, in a freight landscape that has been super-charged by eCommerce, technology comes a close second.
We believe in embracing technology, but of course, it depends on how you define it. Having worked in logistics for over 40 years I’ve witnessed the technology revolution unfold. I remember a time when everyone in the industry communicated by pager when computer screens were green and televisions were black and white.
The simple truth is that for software apps to be effective, they must be courier and customer-focused. There’s no point employing a fancy gadget if it doesn’t help you or your client. And for technology to be game-changing, for it to take a business to the next level, it must seamlessly open the door to a partnership, to collaboration, to wider horizons.
So technology that creates an opening for collaborative logistics, (as the academics term it, or working together as I call it) has helped Point to Point, the business I own, grow year on year. Courier Exchange and Haulage Exchange two of the UK’s largest freight exchange platforms, have played an important role in our development and have provided the foundations for other NCDA member businesses to grow too.
But how then have freight exchanges helped us? As President of the NCDA, our motto has always been “to deliver excellence together”. In our heavily polluted town and cities and on our overly crowded roads and motorways, that means championing a sustainable freight business model wherever possible.
The CX and HX platforms have played a key role in enabling us to cut empty miles and emissions. And secondly, thanks to enhanced visibility that the Exchange affords, we’ve been able to experiment with what the scientists would call ‘self-organisation’. In other words the logistics sector finding a solution without government intervention.
But let me explain what we’re doing in more detail. The new business we have started is called ‘You Drop, We Deliver’. In my role for the NCDA, I speak to many small and medium-sized courier businesses, many of whom can’t afford to upgrade their vehicles Euro-6 standards. When Mayor Khan’s ULEZ comes into force in May next year, many of these hardworking small operators will be forced to pay an extra levy just to make their deliveries to London. I don’t think that’s fair, and I wanted to do something to help alleviate that burden of legislation that will largely fall on the small guy’s shoulders.
Therefore we’re in the process of sourcing locations to set up mini-logistics hubs on the edge of London’s T-charge zone, where other courier companies, whose vehicles don’t meet Euro 6 standards, will be able to drop off goods for consolidation to warehouses. They’ll then be transported through the city centre by smaller compliant vehicles, which in the future we plan to source through Courier Exchange’s virtual fleet.
This is ‘Last Mile’ delivery at its cleanest, most sustainable and most effective. And with the introduction of London Ultra Low Emission Zone which will cover both the north and south circular ring roads by 2021, we believe that demand for this service will increase dramatically.
We also think that with the Exchange, which operates one of the largest virtual fleets in Britain, will give the business the oxygen it needs to flourish. By providing us with real-time access to 40,000 vehicles across the country, we think we can roll out ‘You Drop, We Deliver’ not just in London, but throughout the entire UK.
But as well as helping us operate more sustainably, the Exchanges have helped us to grow and to generate large profits. I don’t want to provide any figure in this article, but let’s just say if we didn’t have access to CX and HX, it would be challenging for us to operate in the way that we do. Why? Because the 5,600 trade-only businesses, all of whom have been vetted before being allowed to join, compliment the skillset and high professional standards of our privately-owned fleet.
We know that whenever we’re in a tight spot, we can post a job on the Exchange, or can easily source a backload for a driver on their way back to our London depot. So returning to my opening statement, this, in my view, is a perfect illustration of couriers using technology to deliver a better, more efficient, not to mention a more environmentally friendly service.
The driver is the boss and not the app. He still does all the work. He must load the goods on to his van or truck, drive them to their location, post regular updates along the way, before delivering them to the client with a smile on his face.
But the specialist software being developed by freight exchanges, which is tested by drivers in real-world conditions, plays a vital role too. Used in the right way, it’s a tool to make everyone’s life easier. Its smart match technology creates supply, satisfies demand and provides unprecedented visibility – meaning that subcontractors and contractors are always in control.
I believe that ‘enabling’ technology like this is the future. The ‘so-called experts’ who have predicted ‘that machines will take over’, would probably disagree. But they don’t work on the front lines as we do. As someone, who has done so for 46 years, I believe we are in an era of ‘smart professionalism’, where technology is helping drivers and transport managers scale new heights. The sky’s the limit I say…
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