Nuts and Bolts: The man who fixed his Ferrari

By : |April 17, 2014 0

GURGAON: First a simple question if you can wrestle this: What makes Sebastian Vettel better (or otherwise) than his arch-rival Fernando Alonso?

Number of races gained?

Point hauls? Pole positions? Rally numbers? Average grid scores, or something else?

Well, a lot of that but at the same time, the difference between an unbeatable F1 champion and the half-an-inch-away second racer is also tucked away in that mystery called pitstop crew. One of the most thrilling, if not the best part of watching a grand prix is, how those elves jump out of nowhere and fix the most stubborn wheels in a jiffy.

When every nano-second of fixing a new nut counts, bigger things like aerodynamic design or engine torque can seem to pale in comparison. And why not, aren’t these so-called bigger factors becoming common denominators rather than exclusive footholds, thanks to the pace at which technology, financial strength or design engineers are becoming increasingly accessible to many teams.

The reality is getting more and more unrelenting every day, be it a formula circuit or the lanes of business races. Winners here, hence, are those sharp-eyed hawks who can see and accept the changing of contours before their rivals do.

Getting and maintaining an enviable lead in markets today is all about intestines and peripheral vision. Overtaking comes easily to those wheels that know the difference between a rut and fast track – in short, to eyes that can accept that sooner or later today’s X factor would be a Zzz button tomorrow, unless one harnesses some hidden strengths and sharpens some inimitable edges.

Like Harvinder Singh Banga, who is VP- IT at Flywheel Logistics Pvt. Ltd. and has been silently busy using his guts and far-sightedness in reshuffling some pitstop tools with his IT crew recently.

At the face of it, his 7 + 1 team, that is complemented with outsourced workforce (as per need and project pressures) takes care of development and support at this logistics player called Flywheel.

A dip below and the entire iceberg comes alive when we find how a lean and mean (in a good way) IT jersey club can throw an impressive curve ball when none is expected.

Of course, Banga’s modest introduction of his function does reveal that IT is the backbone of operations from the day one and the way he explains it becomes clear that IT is being leveraged beyond its clich© roles at Flywheel.

“Our IT Strategy is to be in-line with the Business and operations. Any implementations, new business or new process directly involves IT and IT investment is part of the business/service plan offered. As business and operations grows or new service launch, system and its investments are planned accordingly.

But then what is the probability of IT being more than a good extra tyre and instead a force to turn the whole business ship around? Something here wafts of a different breed of oil, something that has lubricated the very dice of this industry in a game-changing way.

Before we get a peek into the softly brewing storm his huddle has been up to for the last few months, let’s first zoom back and pan the view on the company snapshot.

What is Flywheel all about?

Flywheel is a notable name in the transportation space in India that claims to be rather a shipper with a unique customer-touch-point strategy to enhance the service experience beyond the transaction and not just a company that runs on vague adjectives.

Its span of services entails open-body conventional trucks high capacity ISO standard 20 ft containers (TEU), Door to Door (Over 150 destinations) delivery with 100% GPS enabled fleet, good track-&-trace experience, online booking of containers, advance booking discount, free transit insurance of goods, money back guarantee, time definite with express transit time, 7 days a week call-center support, online ePOD, Demand Draft on Delivery (DOD), Delivery Against Consignee Copy (DACC), dedicated fleet of ISO standard containers, single-time usable seal, smart trucks with low emissions and experienced teams to assist in statutory obligations.

Now if this already reads like the company brochure, well patience pays so you might want to put these words on your RAM shelf till we discover how IT is putting life into this apparent sales-spiel.

Its business edge is all about some sharp offerings like the LCL offering or the 3PL service. LCL is an area wherein the company operates a hub-and-spoke national network which enables clients to reach destinations far and wide while keeping an eye on some underlying viz. like safety, speed and transparency. The 3PL service is what the company tags as something customized to suit client needs.

In short, the company’s backstage pretty much circumscribes stuff like managing warehouse and distribution services for clients across India, or distribution services such as Dedicated Fleet Solution (DFS) and Cold Chain solutions, (which, by the way, now manages a 350-strong fleet). It also translates into ensuring tough goals like warehouse management, multi-location statutory warehousing, cross docking, receiving, break bulk work, picking/packing, invoicing, secondary distribution, statutory advices, intra-region and intra-city distribution; to name a few.

Now all that can turn extraordinary or average depending on the ‘moment of truth’ efficiency, or in other words, how the backstage guys serve it fast enough.

IT: Under the hood

Incidentally, the company which finds its inception in 2009 had set up a small IT team to create/ acquire the systems in place even before the start of its operations. That could explain a lot of what comes forth next.The company created the captive network to serve more than 150 destinations, 350 Vehicles, 8 Transshipment yards, dedicated warehouse and put in place 90 Days Pre- Launch Setup with Immediate Application Base between Aug, 2009 and Oct 2009. The first booking that went live on customer portal was on the first day of operations, i.e. 9-Nov-2009 and full-on tracking form the very first consignment kicked off too.

As to Banga and his team, it was about moving beyond this regular IT role radar, and not so gradually, Banga chose to juxtapose IT model and the company’s operating model on his desk. As he spread the bullet-charts out, he noted some features that stood prominent on the business’s operating boxes. This included areas like control on vehicle turnaround network strength, statutory assistance, single-time usable seals, express timings, new and efficient vehicles, need for extremely and professionally-trained staff, complete transparency, 7 days/week call centre support, and free transit insurance of goods.

His gaze also absorbed many other seemingly simple but formidable deliverables like a dedicated fleet, convenient fortnightly billing, Sunday/Holiday pickups, room for extended delivery area, and promises like money-back guarantee or assured availability, or green trucks with low emissions or discount on advance bookings and so on.

Easier said than done (day after day) – he must have mumbled to himself as he contrasted the IT model that further spelled out hard to juggle factors like 100% Scanned POD – Online, SMS Based Tracking, Online Booking, Web Based Track & Trace, Dynamic Online Discounts, 100% Live GPS Equipped Tracking, Strong Availability algorithm etc.

There was also in play, the concept of an ‘Optimiser’ which ultimately helps in proper selling.

There was nothing that screamed like a problem area or a bridge-to-fix then but then Banga’s IT clairvoyance helped him catch the writing on the wall early enough.

He knew that for a successful and sharp logistics market play operating costs should be minimised with an unbeatable pricing-level or other service-level comparison in the market.

Something that makes it hard for competition to emulate (or even imitate) strong factors of Flywheel’s operating model. If competition doesn’t have concept of containers in FCL and LCL, and lacks strengths of transparency, or technology, or a fully GPS-enabled force, that makes the battle a cinch; thanks to IT.

He distilled his challenge and courage together and simplified the idea to create an organisation led by the system.

“In new organisation, often multiple talent resources are acquired from the Industry itself and people always go by their past learning. We set up a 90 day project period before we started the actual business and operations.

We wanted to create a complete system available for people who were going to join Flywheel at the time of start of the operation.

This helped us basically to create an environment where experimenting with process came down to a lesser and manageable period.

The focus was very clear – to start up our organisation with the system and further improve and enhance by growing with the business and operations.”

This scenario put in place a complete program management as well as project management to control each project with internal teams.

Not only business processes and software, but the challenge on creating server level infrastructure along with system availability at all the operational units was also embraced here.

“We launched our operations with a unique order portal having very strong algorithm for booking the fleet in advance for next 90 days window. It allowed online discounting with varieties of choice of the Logistics Users. So, system is totally linked with internal operations team along with the call centre where CRM team is dedicatedly managing the customer.

Besides, Order Portal also has features like Book Order, Re-Schedule Order, Cancel Order, Track Shipment, Order Report, Manage Sub User – Customer, Track Multiple Shipment, manage Profile. As a Pre- Login Activities end user can register as New To Flywheel, HWB Tracking, Order Number Tracking, Vehicle Tracking, Vehicle Group Tracking etc.”

Behind the curtains: A quick view

Picture how logical process flow for Flywheel container movement starts from contract creation for a customer where contract is a legal entity containing details such as contract terms, contract period and rates, special discounts etc. Upon post-contract creation the customer is provided with a User ID and password for accessing the portal for order booking. The customer can search for an available reservation using the search functionality. On entering values for search parameters, system displays multiple options, with three best options for the day of booking as requested by the customer and one each for the previous and next day. For same day bookings, options for previous day are not shown and best options would depend on the availability for the day.

An optimizer running at the back-end assigns vehicles for pick-up at the origin location. Each vehicle is associated with a trip sheet and a manifest-cum-arrival report. Trip sheet is for a round trip of a vehicle from and back to that hub while a manifest is created for each leg of the journey.

The unique business model of Flywheel also required dynamic allocation of vehicles on routes. This meant a very high degree of planning and optimization for vehicle allocation process. To support this objective optimizer that was built in the system acted as the brain for the process of vehicle allocation.

“For finding out the most appropriate vehicle for a given trip, Optimiser takes into account various process parameters and associates cost to each of these parameters. It then comes out with the vehicle costing the least for that trip. The Optimiser functionality has 2 different elements – elimination and optimisation. Elimination is the process which narrows down the vehicle options for a given trip. Based on certain predefined criteria’s a set of valid vehicles is created which will consider region, vehicle type, availability, pickup time etc. Optimization process follows elimination process and runs only for the set of vehicles provided by the elimination process. It is the process of assigning cost to the trip of each valid vehicle from its current location to the pick-up location based on pre-set parameters like distance, time, vehicle preference, vendor preference, scheduled breaks, zones etc.” Banga elaborates.

As a IT Team, our continuous focus was to build/ implement a world-class logistics end users apps for increased visibility, reduced freight costs and other transaction costs, minimized manual efforts,  best-fit scenarios for end users, effective communication and collaboration with partners, better control, compliance, service level quality etc.

Helmets Ready, Ignition on

Skills, solutions, alternatives, first-gear lessons, potholes, advanced learning curves; everything mattered in making the initiative into something of an alive-and-kicking animal, its own steed.

Though Flywheel planned the operations in very innovative manner, and it tried searching some standard systems with high-end IT solution providers which can be customised as per unique requirements, Banga unveils that they got some to start with but couldn’t work completely as they were demanding degree of customisation more than 75 per cent levels. “As we were aware there was little possibility of off-the-shelf solution due to uniqueness in our business style so finally we developed it and complete integrated with the standard finance ERP. We do have multiple solutions and systems in the organisation, but the good thing about them is they all are tightly integrated.”

As to the human corollary, though people acquired requisite sets and the core team was backed with more than 25 years of logistics experience, the company tried to build the skill set on its differentiated and new processes. “We wanted to run it in a different way. We did lot of investment in process and people initially so that Flywheel can bring system and people together and in-line.” Banga reflects.

Challenges dappled this road like nails strewn on a freshly-tarred road. The first and the foremost challenge in Indian Industry, as Banga unbosoms, especially in a sector like Transportation, is that there are huge complex operations due to infrastructure, road conditions, mode of transport, high priced fuel availability and documentation & statutory requirements.

“Starting the company with technology will lead to good amount of investment. Moreover the operations and team is much diversified across country. Since problems are bigger hence bigger scope happens and that leads to Time and Cost, which always becomes the constraint for any new company in SME. We have to always come up with unique innovation or solutions which help us to manage our tasks in cost-effective manners.”

He applauds the side of having a strong management with an undeterred focus to help the team with maximum ethics and minimum investment baggage.

The sweet sound of a beastly engine

Banga and Flywheel today stand with a sigh of satisfaction as they watch both IT engines and Business wheels vrooming at top speed together. Both tangible and intangible benefits have rolled in.

“We were able to create a different product in the Industry for the Logistics market and dovetail that with higher brand values and highest existent in operational value.” Beams Banga.

Almost all logical and operational advantages have been delivered, except the kind of premium which they were expecting from the market.

As to ripples playing out on areas like compatibility with incumbent/future-planned systems, compliance mandates, departments like sales, finance, grievance care or CRM, future product development, predictive servicing etc, Banga is again full of new chequered flags.

“Technology portfolio like sales, finance, CRM, operations is already addressed since these were the part of Base model. Further we are working progressively on upgrades etc, as a part of future planning model. We are completely under the agile methodology. We also have predictive service Like Dynamic Expected Time of Arrival and the Expected Time of Delivery etc. For instance, we have one wonderful tracking which is ‘Pre-Pickup’ tracking where Customer can see the status of vehicles assigned to them; as it is reaching to the customer location with the exact GPS location on the map.” He observes

“Tracking is the heart of Logistics and we have a lot of functionalities available in our tracking, which can be done through mobile too; like post pick-up tracking – booking, intransit, delivered, multiple HWB tracking, multiple order tracking, POD, Order number, pre-pick-up, invoice-based and undelivered status trackings.”

Today the system, as he claims ahead, has covered not only basic transport management of Finance function but also keeps, tracks and manages Signed Physical Contract, Mobile Tracking Status, Trip Sheet Closed Monitoring, Periodic Data Log Reviews and Trends, Call Center Operation, Request Approvals, Manage Customers, Manage Promo Code, Manage CRM/Business user, Lost Sale Report , Maintenance Master, Price Analysis, Dynamic Destinations, Multiple GPS vendor Tracking Support , VIA Operations and Reschedule Process facets.

Time for a pick-up line then?

The initiative has fetched Banga and his bosses in business cubicles more than a temporary speedometer. More so with the way the system looks shaped up for bigger things ahead.

Talking of competition and some hard-to-catch differentiators if any, Banga shares the how the rules of game have already changed.

“What we can be easily claim as our edge areas are concept of order booking, dynamic EDD, complete GPS based system, completely online from order management to order tracking, unique processes, different operating model, selling containers services instead of truck services and a lot more. Plus, we are more focused on containers where material is spaced, instead of vehicles, and sharp on increases in effectiveness, constantly/closely working with technology that works in-line with the newer concepts.”

The big ground clearance is the feeling that this is an innovation yet not replicated by Flywheel’s peers and contemporaries. “Even today as per our knowledge we are not aware of any evidence of the similar implementation fully in other companies in the industry.”

Perhaps, Banga and his team at Flywheel have finally managed to change the game at a place where seldom any one spared a glance before. Clearly, IT can work out as more than a spare part if it happens to fix that stubborn bolt at that crucial five-second-gap in any business race.

The side effect, well, may be Banga has chosen to be a different Vettel of sorts. He no more plays Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s now- Rock stars, paperless IT and some really cut-throat-competition-edged scissors.

Game on!

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