Express Couriers on track to roll out 1,000 mobile devices

All-in-one-type units combine scanner and phone functionality and allow for future add-ons, such as RFID

Express Couriers is rolling out mobile devices to around 1,000 couriers nationwide.

The company has already completed about 70% of the project and CIO Michael Pilkington expects all the couriers to have the devices by the end of August.

“With a fleet of couriers that are really busy — working 12- to 14-hour days — it has gone remarkably well, so far,” he says. “The one thing you can’t do is interrupt their day.”

Express Couriers is a joint venture between New Zealand Post and DHL. It includes the Pace, CourierPost, Roadstar and Contract Logistics brands, which means the mobile device roll-out is actually more than one project, says Pilkington.

One project involves CourierPost and will see about 700 units rolled out to couriers on the road. Units will also be placed in depots and some customers will have the new units on-site if it is more efficient and convenient for them, says Pilkington.

Another project involves Pace, Express Couriers’ urgent courier service. This project, which has now been fully deployed, involved rolling out 120 devices that also incorporated an application that has been specially built for Pace, says Pilkington. Pace has not had mobile devices in the field before.

“All in all, there are probably around 1,000 units going out between the [various] businesses,” says Pilkington.

The units are called Workabout Pro, and are provided by Canadian-based Psion Teklogix. These are all-in-one-type devices, combining scanner and phone functionality, and allowing for future add-ons, such as RFID, says Pilkington.

CourierPost has had technology out in the field for nine years now, so for that company the roll-out is an update, says Pilkington.

The new equipment will mean better communication and fewer mistakes, says Pilkington. The system will send information back to the company’s websites and databases faster than before, allowing customers to do “track and trace” quicker, he says.

Express Couriers talked to five hardware vendors and undertook rigorous testing before deciding on the Workabout Pro device.

Express Couriers had a long list of criteria, Pilkington says. The company wanted a network-agnostic solution with local support. Cost per unit and functionality were also important.

The devices were also tested in the field, to see how they could handle drops, and to test battery life and how the screens read in strong sunlight.

The Workabout Pro was a winner because it is a fully integrated unit, with both CDMA and GSM/GPRS capabilities built in, says Pilkington. “It has a colour screen, with sharp colours, which makes it easy to use, and it’s ruggedised,” he adds.

Another advantage is that the devices are supported locally, by engineering company Pocket Solutions, says Pilkington.

Express Couriers also bought a central-management tool from Psion Teklogix, called Mobile Control Centre (MCC), to manage the software on the Workabout Pro.

“The benefit of MCC is that it gives us visibility into what is going on in the fleet,” he says. “If we have a problem, for instance, we can sign-on to the courier’s scanner and quickly diagnose and fix any problems, without [the courier] having to go back to base. So that keeps the couriers out in the field all the time.”

The IT department can also download updates of the software or fixes to the scanners directly and behind the application, without interrupting the couriers in their daily work. Previously, couriers had to go back to base to have updates installed or hardware checked, which was quite labour-intensive and slow, says Pilkington.

In addition, the new system enables full asset management.

“We know which couriers are online at any one time. We know which devices they’ve got and which versions of the software they’ve got on those devices,” says Pilkington.

Getting buy-in from all the couriers was a challenge, initially.

The company’s couriers are contractors, which means they will have to pay for the hardware themselves.

“We did a roadshow around the country showing the device and informing everyone what was coming up,” he says. “It’s early days, but feedback from the couriers has been positive.”

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