Tech Ed: Express Couriers adds geospatial smarts

Company adds spatial analysis and design to 'precooked' data

Express Couriers, the corporate entity behind courier and logistics brands such as Courier Post, Pace, Roadstar and Contract Logistics, has added new layers of geospatial functionality to its operations using Microsoft’s SQL Server 2008.

Programme manager Michael Farrell, who will present the project at the Tech Ed conference in Auckland today, says the new version of Microsoft’s flagship database has geospatial capabilities Express Couriers wanted to deploy to deliver one view of the company’s data and one source of truth.

That led Express Couriers to engage Wellington-based e-Spatial to build a centralised address database to form the core of all systems.

Farrell says the effort would not have been necessary if New Zealand had a national address database, as many other countries do, instead of multiple registers held by NZ Post, Terralink, Critchlow and councils among others.

A project to build such a national address register (NAR) was terminated in May last year.

Farrell says once the database had been created, the company wanted to view the data spatially. It created a web map portal to deliver that view to couriers, investigators, fleet managers and operational staff, he says.

This allowed staff to view address information, see which couriers serviced a particular address, see which depot they belonged to and which branch the depot belonged to. Being able to produce maps of runs also helped when relief drivers had to take over when others were on holiday, he says.

That functionality also boosted customer service, allowing staff to provide information on delivery times and to set customer expectations accurately, Farrell says.

Despite that, this is all “pre-cooked data”, he says. On top of that functionality, Express Couriers added ArcGIS from software company ESRI on specific users’ desktops to allow full blown spatial data analysis and design.

“It allows us to redesign runs to be more efficient and effective,” Farrell says. “We’ve never been able to do that spatially before.”

The GIS part of the project was delivered by Eagle Technology.

Jill Barclay, operational owner of the NAR project at NZ Police, wrote last year that the NAR project steering committee had decided to terminate the project despite it showing potential to reduce duplication across government and reduce costs. She said it was too expensive to proceed with.

At the time, a blogger on the New Zealand Recreational GPS Society website wrote that the cynic in him said the reason this project failed was because of the commercial interests in existing roading datasets.

“Currently there are multiple roading datasets from different providers and they are making very good money from these. Some roading datasets sell for six figure sums on an annual basis. Naturally, very few organisations can afford these prices, so only large government agencies tend to be able to purchase them.”

The NAR had the potential to create a single, free and authoritative road, address and placename dataset, the blogger wrote.

“Tenders were invited for the project, and there was going to be only one organisation to win the tender.

“As a result, all but one of the current commercial providers stood to lose their revenue streams from their roading datasets.”

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