30 November 2015

Mainfreight's philosophy made a reality

Mainfreight approaches business with a unique philosophy they summarise as 'ready, fire, aim'. The company empowers their people to take quick action, then assess the results and work out how to improve. The fact that their IT is their own allows Mainfreight to work this way. Their systems are robust and flexible, allowing them to rapidly adapt to:

  1. Meet their customers' demands
  2. Win new business
  3. Embrace advances in technology
  4. Exceed service expectations
  5. Meet business challenges

Add to that list of pragmatic business imperatives one of the important benefit of bespoke software, which is often overlooked: it enables an organisation to operate in alignment with its unique character. Mainfreight's bespoke IT gives the company the freedom to do things the Mainfreight way.

The partnership between Mainfreight and Sandfield goes back to 1989. For over a quarter of a century Sandfield has developed Mainfreight's key business systems, and worked with Mainfreight to reshape and improve those systems in response to the demands of the business and the market. During that time Mainfreight has grown from a local freight forwarder with a turnover of $40 million to a gloabl logistics company with a 2015 revenue of more than $2 billion.

1. Meet customer demands

System evolves in response to customer's wish list

Mainfreight's job description to its 6,000 strong team is 'seek to delight'. The company constantly looks for ways to deliver a service that exceeds expectations.

"One of the chief benefits of Mainfreight's bespoke system is how rapidly and easily they can take advantage of opportunities that come along"

"Mainfreight never like to say 'no' to their customers," says Matt Keith, Solution Manager at Sandfield. "That's why they use us, and why they have bespoke software. Out of all of the software we've developed for Mainfreight, it's MIMS, the warehousing system that we're adapting the most frequently because Mainfreight is constantly winning new customers who bring us new challenges."

MIMS or Mainfreight Inventory Management System is the brains of the warehousing operation. Mainfreight warehouses over 2.5 billion items a year and manages inventory and movement both to and from the warehouse for its clients. MIMS knows exactly where every single line item is in any given warehouse, in real time.

MIMS was built from scratch by Sandfield in response to Mainfreight's desire to offer their customers' flawless order management, accounting and stocktaking. Read more about MIMS or watch a short video on MIMS here.

2. Win new business

Flexibility gives the team the confidence to make promises

Bespoke software allows the Mainfreight team to live their 'ready, fire, aim' philosophy. When new business opportunities arise the team can make promises to potential new customers with confidence, knowing the system will adapt to accommodate unique of complex requirements.

For example, MIMS handles high volumes of small but complex orders with very tight time constraints for a multi-national hair products company which sells professional hair care and colour products to thousands of salons daily. The demands made by this company differ hugely from a company with more conventional needs that require pallets of a single SKU delivered to a single delivery point.

3.Embrace new technology

New opportunities grasped swiftly and smoothly

"One of the chief benefits of Mainfreight's bespoke system is how rapidly and easily they can take advantage of opportunities that come along," says Sandfield's MD, Bruce Copeland. "Mainfreight's Inventory Management System is a good example. MIMS is so robust and flexible, that when voice technology became available it was a straightforward process to incorporate it."

The advent of 'voice' offered Mainfreight tantalising cost benefits by finding more efficient ways for staff to pick items from the 326,983 cubic metres of warehouse space managed by MIMS.

The warehouse team could work 'hands-free' without the need to hold and operate mobile terminals. Pickers' efficiency would be improved significantly with the introduction of commands via headset. It took Sandfield 1.5 weeks to adapt MIMS to incorporate voice technology.

"Sandfield know we want action quickly when we want to make a change"

"Sandfield know we want action quickly when we want to make a change," says Kevin Drinkwater, Mainfreight CIO. "They take our ideas and they improve on them."

4.Exceed service expectations

Mainfreight enabled to keep innovating

In early 2014, Mainfreight began a discussion with Sandfield around how they could better provide relevant, useful, user-friendly information to their customers. 'IDi' was developed as a response to Mainfreight's drive to constantly 'seek to delight' their customers. IDi stands for Identity Index and it now forms the backbone of Mainfreight's logistics system globally. IDi means Mainfreight and their customers can locate any consignment or warehoused item at any point in its journey, using any one of the up to 15 reference numbers the consignment has attracted along the way as it changes hands and moves through countries. Before IDi's inception, customers would need to query each source system in turn and wait, sometimes up to a minute, for results to come back. IDi returns results at Google-equivalent speed. Clients can view and manage their consignments from any device via a highly intuitive and user-friendly mobile app. Read more about IDi or view a two minute video here.

Mainfreight CIO, Kevin Drinkwater describes IDi as much more than a consignment tracker. It turns data into "intelligence". "IDi allows the customers the information that they need – not huge lists of information, but what's pertinent to their business today – information that will allow them to be predictive in the way that they manage their supply chains."

5. Meet business challenges

Mainfreight free to grow by bringing others into the family

Mainfreight's phenomenal growth is fuelled by the company's appetite for challenge

"In 2015 Mainfreight achieved its goal of $2 billion in revenue. It took the company over 30 years to reach the $1 billion milestone. Doubling it took six years." - Mainfreight Annual Report, 2015

Acquiring new companies such as Owens in 2003, opening up new territories such as the United States in 2007, bringing on new suppliers such as Fedex in 2013 all come with unprecedented challenges as Mainfreight works out how to adapt to accommodate change. Their bespoke systems allow them to assimilate new organisations and territories without the trauma typically associated with such integration. Mainfreight can change but Mainfreight can also smoothly transition new entities to 'the Mainfreight way' of doing things. The company has shifted the technology platform a number of times but kept the fundamental software designed by Sandfield over two decades. "Not many companies can boast a relationship in software that long," says Mainfreight CIO, Kevin Drinkwater.

"With Sandfield I can say 'I want it to work in this way' and we'll work together in order to make that happen. If I grab an off-the-shelf package I won't get that. That's a very big difference." - Nilesh Bhuthadia, IT Manager, Mainfreight.

Mainfreight by numbers

  • Branches: 242
  • Staff: 6,277
  • Customers: 30,000
  • Consignments 2015: 5.7 million
  • Group Operating Revenue 2015: $2.54b

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