E-FILES: Scepticism is necessary

A good dose of 'show me' scepticism is necessary to keep costs down, says Mainfreight CIO Garry Collings.

www.mainfreight.co.nz

A good dose of "show me" scepticism is necessary to keep costs down, says Mainfreight CIO Garry Collings.

Mainfreight has been at the forefront of technological development, beginning with interactive voice and electronic data interchange services for its haulage services as early as 1991.

It began integrating that with the Web in 1996, somewhat ahead of its customers, Collings says.

"When we started on the Web hardly any of our customers were able to use it. We were spending all this money on technology for the customer and they couldn't get to it."

That coincided with the explosion of interest in the Internet, however, and Mainfreight came up with a simple solution to the issue - advertising. It painted the Web address on all trucks.

"Within about 18 months we went form 12 hits a month on the site to 36,000 a month. Its now getting close to 68,000 a month."

The next big move for the company, which Collings says will bring big savings, will be installing a link on the Web site which will allow Mainfreight's customers to run their own reports.

"At the moment they have to phone the help-desk and get them to run a report overnight. But, now that customers are getting more computer savvy, they can run reports when they want to and download them to their desktop."

But despite the fact that Mainfreight is one of New Zealand's first companies to use such technologies as IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), the company does not rush to embrace new gadgets for their own sake. Collings says this scepticism is a big factor in keeping costs down and ensuring the firm gets value for its IT investment.

For example, three years ago the company was looking to revamp its host server, but the main model available at the time was client server - "and I've seen some real dogs in client server", says Collings.

"We didn't want to move from fat host/thin client to a thin host/fat client model. In our business the cost of communications in client server, when there would be 70 to 80 people logged on, was too high. We said stuff it, we'll wait, and we kept running an old Unix green screen that did the job. Then, lo and behold, ASP (active server page) came along."

The company's Web offering is now being moved to a mainframe host, with Informix on the back end and running Solaris on Sun boxes, with NT machines serving up ASP pages.

"It's important to get technology that adds to your competitiveness. Trying to get technology to do that is the biggest and most difficult part of my job."

Collings cites one courier company that wanted to replace the scanner wands in its trucks, and basically compelled its drivers to buy the new technology.

"We were in the market for wands at the same time, and there were about 35 options but none of them turned my clogs so we waited. And sure enough a new one came out about six months later that gave us something extra. The other company bought a product that gave them no added advantage."

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