GeoPost UK is one of the UK's most successful parcel carriers and owner and operator of Interlink and Parceline in the UK, where it delivers more than 50 million parcels a year. It is part of the La Poste group, the second largest postal operator in Europe and its UK operation employs around 3,500, working at 165 branches nationwide and uses some 2,500 collection and delivery vehicles.
Competition is intense in the parcel delivery business. Customers want to know their parcels have been delivered on time, while carriers are constantly looking for ways to make their operations more efficient and cost-competitive. One of the main differentiators among operators in a crowded market is the effective use of technology, in particular best use of automatic identification data capture (AIDC) for paperless track and trace of parcels from point of pick up to delivery.
With over 50 million deliveries a year, reliable technology is a key factor in the smooth running of the business at GeoPost. While GeoPost already had a parcel management system in which delivery drivers used handheld computers, its existing system had reached the end of its useful life. The equipment was becoming obsolete and was increasingly unreliable and high maintenance. In addition, drivers found use of the equipment in-cab was complicated and the overall application was cumbersome and time consuming for the operator, particularly when training. A review of current technology suggested it could help to radically improve speed and ease of operation throughout the business.
Steve Mills, IT Director, GeoPost comments, “The logistics and distribution industry has grown and is now highly competitive. Customers are more demanding and the accurate tracking of delivery information is becoming almost as important as delivering the goods. In addition, if there is a problem, customers now want a proactive approach. Consequently, we need reliable technology to stay ahead in the game.”
To solve the unreliable technology problems that it was facing, GeoPost set tough criteria for a new solution and approached a number of suppliers. Top of the list was product reliability and durability, particularly for the screens and batteries. The handheld equipment also needed to be ergonomically designed and to have integrated keyboards and GSM connectivity for up and downloading data from vehicles on the move. Ultimately, GeoPost and its Parceline subsidiary looked to Intermec Technologies and introduced 2,750 of its 700 Series handheld computers, including the latest 700 Color machines, which offer both GSM and GPRS mobile connections.
Intermec was the only company able to meet all of GeoPost's requirements. Since the introduction of the new Intermec handhelds both GeoPost and Parceline have seen substantial benefits in operational efficiency and ease of use. The new machines are extremely reliable, work remotely, and enable parcels to be scanned onto a route in the morning and deliver a proof of delivery signature to a main central server on an hourly basis. This gives operators a real time track-and-trace solution.
There are also significant reductions in paper-based deliveries and the time to upload and download data has been greatly reduced from a typical 20 minutes to no more than seconds. Instead of having to wait for their machines to upload and download data at the beginning and end of the day, drivers now experience virtually no delay – saving the company time and helping to foster user acceptance of the computers.
For GeoPost’s drivers, life has been simplified as everything needed to process a delivery is now all on one screen. It has reduced their level of administration and cut paperwork.
Not only is the new system very easy to use, it is also very easy for new drivers to pick up. It takes hours instead of days to introduce all aspects of using the new machines, making it much easier for GeoPost to train new drivers, temporary staff and sub-contractors.
Crucially, user-feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. A GeoPost warehouse employee comments “It’s great security for us, because once the details of a package are on the handheld you cannot get rid of your delivery until someone has signed for it, so we now have instant proof of delivery, which is great.”
In addition, GeoPost were also looking to dramatically reduce their upload and down load time and to cut the number of paper deliveries. The new solution also needed to be GPRS compatible, to integrate fully with GeoPost’s other existing systems within the supply chain and to be portable to other devices in the future as availability of GPRS becomes more widespread.
GPRS is the next generation of mobile phone and data transmission technology. It offers the potential for "always on" mobile connectivity, with users charged for the amount of data transmitted and received rather than for connection time. As GPRS becomes more widely available, GeoPost intends to switch over to use of this technology allowing full real-time operation. With GPRS the fact that a parcel has been delivered will be updated literally instantaneously in real-time.
Steve Mills, IT Director, GeoPost comments, “The Intermec handheld device matched all of our criteria. No other supplier was able to do that. We had a really good relationship with the Intermec team in the UK and they also had an excellent product offering.”
Mills continues, “One of the things that was really important to us was that, post implementation, if we experienced failures, Intermec recognized the need, working with GeoPosts’ UK IT department, to ensure the operators had a unit available every day, without fail. Working in conjunction with Intermec, we can now guarantee that in the event of any failures, we will make sure the operators have a unit back, ready for use the next working day.”
In fact, GeoPost and Intermec have a 'bespoke' maintenance contract. If an Intermec handheld device needs repairing then a new one is shipped in immediately, as are parts. Part of the contract includes the renewal of consumable items such as batteries, elastic hand straps, touch-screens and compact flash cards. This has allowed GeoPost to fix their cost base for the period of the contract.
Steve Mills, IT Director, GeoPost concludes, “The introduction of Intermec's solutions has meant that we now have a more efficient and more effective operation. Of course, our customers are also benefiting from that because we now have a reliable solution and therefore the information that we can provide is more reliable and on time for our customers.”