Mainfreight unPicks for new tracking system

A lack of experienced programmers has forced Mainfreight to ditch its Pick-based freight tracking system in favour of Microsoft products.

A lack of experienced programmers has forced Mainfreight to ditch its Pick-based freight tracking system in favour of Microsoft products.

Mainfreight’s freight tracking system has been running well, and the company might have decided to stick with the unusual operating system/database combination, says global IT manager Kevin Drinkwater, had it not been for extreme difficulty in finding programmers with a knowledge of the McDonnell Douglas All programming language, in which the old system was written.

This problem persuaded Mainfreight to ditch Pick. The new freight system, with a web-oriented user interface to replace the old “green screens”, has Microsoft ActiveX business components in its web server, communicating with an Informix database at the back end. The user tier is based on Java server pages with the IE5 browser.

The first step has been to replicate all the existing functionality of the old “door-to-door” freight tracking system, including pick-up staff “wanding” data into a Palm Pilot, and internet, EDI and voice recognition telephone inquiry capability for the customer.

This is complete except for a few minor details, says Drinkwater. The next step will be to replicate the full functionality in the company’s Australian offices.

“It’s been an incredible changeover; it has gone far better than expected,” he says.

There have been teething problems. One was a period “of about three hours” when the database had to be taken down and reindexed to speed performance. “The Pick database is a workhorse, but Informix is a thoroughbred,” he says. “If you don’t tune it just right it runs slowly.”

The new set-up, like the old, is based on Sun hardware, with Cyclone boxes for the webservers. The system is worth between $1 million and $2 million, he says.

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