Case Study: Neil Williams Haulage

10 March 2008

With a growing construction services business to manage, Mark Williams, Managing Director of Midlothian-based Neil Williams Haulage (NWH), had to contend with a mountain of logistical issues across the company’s 70-strong truck fleet. Now, after trialling a pioneering Proof of Delivery system, named The PODFather, time and cost savings have had a remarkable impact on shoring up the company logistics.

From its humble beginnings forty years ago, Neil Williams Haulage, a family business based on the outskirts of Edinburgh, has a turnover that has risen from £1.8 million five years ago to a projected £27 million this year. The business – now owned by the three sons of one of the company founders, David Williams – has eight operating divisions; NWH Construction Services, Citysweep, Opal Homes, Opal Fire and Security, NWH Sandstone Products, NWH Recycling, NWH Plant Hire and City Truck Sales.

As the company grew, NWH was being weighed down with an increasingly burdensome paper trail, particularly within the haulage division, which, given the disparate nature of the business, required hundreds of job tickets, invoices and dockets to be processed manually every day. This, according to Mark Williams, was not only an inefficient working practice, but inhibited future development prospects if the company was to create new operating divisions as part of its ongoing evolution.

“We were processing all administrative paperwork manually. Everything was handwritten as this was the way we had always worked. We were invoicing roughly two weeks behind, so, at any one time, we had a fortnight’s worth of cash waiting to be invoiced.”

Two years ago, NWH contacted a business software firm, Valley Technology, with a view to conducting an appraisal on how this ‘paper trail’ could be assimilated into a fully functional automated process.

Valley Technology carried out an appraisal of every facet of NWH’s operations - from the weighbridge to the transport office – and automated the reporting procedures and processes, which streamlined operations.

However, a key issue remained - getting job tickets and other documents back from the trucks. This was now the only non-automated, paper-based side of the operation.

Colin McCreadie, Business Development Manager at Valley Technology, takes up the story.

“NWH found that getting its proof of delivery documentation back from the driver was, at best, haphazard. The whole process was exposed to human error and if a single ticket went missing the cost to NWH could be several hundred pounds. With no easy way of knowing how many tickets were going missing, a failsafe system that could easily allocate jobs to vehicles and automatically collate a signed delivery ticket with the customer order was required. Knowing this problem is not unique to NWH, we thought about how we could best tackle the issue, and the result was The PODFather.”

Following a trial, NWH purchased XDA Trion devices on an O2 mobile voice and data tariff. This, alongside access to the Internet, was all that was necessary to get The PODFather up and running and consolidate the augmentation.

The PODFather, proof of delivery (POD) concept is Internet-based and has been developed as the UK's first pay-as-you-go tariff. It is one of the most integrated pod systems on the market, with an ability to capture timecritical data, enabling job details to be sent instantly to drivers via a handheld PDA device.

There were obvious cost benefits to NWH signing up for a mobile phone tariff to get the required access to a handheld PDA: there was no need for a significant financial outlay for hardware.

Jobs can be entered into The PODFather manually or uploaded from an existing system via an XML interface, and can then be viewed on the system, both in the office and on the road. Allocating jobs to a team member is easy with an innovative drag and drop system. Once a delivery is complete, a signature is captured using a 3G or a GPRS equipped handheld and the pod is available to both staff and customers online. A copy of any POD can also be sent to customers via fax or email. The whole system is geared to reduce administration and improve customer service.

The transparency of the system, whereby you can view job information at every stage of the process, is what makes it so efficient. Concerns about security are minimal as all job detail and information is backed up through two data centres, resulting in a very robust system. The driver can also complete jobs in areas with no network coverage, storing the signature on the handheld and sending them back once they are back in network range.

Mark Williams continues:

“I now have complete peace of mind that if our transport department allocates a job to a vehicle using The PODFather, it will always come back complete with a signature and we can now process invoices on a daily basis. It’s a seamless and very efficient operation. Previously, when we had sixty or seventy lorries bringing back ten or twelve job tickets each a day, we had to ensure no tickets went missing or it would cost us. That, thankfully, is a thing of the past.”

“I can pull down activity reports earlier because the data from The PODFather comes back real time and is integrated with our other systems. For example I know what each vehicle in our fleet earns per day. To have these figures so quickly makes a huge difference. The POD Father’s added bonus is that when we don’t use it, we don’t pay for it – it is, financially, a very viable option for all types of businesses.”


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