Getting IT right in small and medium businesses
30 November 2015
Mainfreight's Inventory Management System (MIMS) was created a decade ago to replace a legacy system that was struggling to keep up with the rapid growth of Mainfreight's warehousing operations. Since then the highly flexible system has adapted countless times to help Mainfreight win and retain customers.
Mainfreight is a global supply chain logistics provider with 245 branches in 20 countries, a staff of 6071, and a turnover of $2 billion. The company's IT systems are largely custom built. Mainfreight believes this approach allows the business to be more responsive to its customers. Mainfreight and Sandfield have worked together since 1989.
Mainfreight’s old warehousing management system was struggling to cope with the rapid growth of the business. Mainfreight wanted a platform from which it could develop the functionality the business needed to expand. It had to be flexible enough to smoothly adapt when Mainfreight saw the opportunity to take advantage of new technology. Flexibility was also critical to allow the system to be constantly tweaked to serve Mainfreight's 'never say no' to customers policy.
Sandfield, working with Mainfreight, designed, developed and rolled out a new inventory management system within a year. Sandfield utilised technologies and frameworks they had already developed to lower the overall cost and time of development. MIMS is based on an accounting framework which allows no room for inaccuracy.
MIMS, has been the hidden brains of the warehousing operation for the last decade. During that time it has been undergone countless fine adaptations to allow bespoke logistics solutions for Mainfreight's customers with particular or complex needs.
Eighty percent of Mainfreight's customers' needs are met by the standard system but 20% have special requirements. For example, MIMS allows Mainfreight to handle high volumes of small but complex orders with very tight time constraints for Schwarzkopf, a multi-national hair products company which sells professional hair care and colour products to thousands of salons daily. The logistical demands made by Schwarzkopf differ hugely from a company with more conventional needs. MIMS allows both ordering styles to co-exist and operate efficiently.
Mainfreight has the confidence to pitch for, and make promises to, businesses with complex logistics demands because the team knows MIMS' software can be tailored to suit a new customer's needs.
MIMS has adapted to take advantage of technology breakthroughs, such as the advent of 'voice' in the warehousing operation. MIMS converts an EDI file to voice commands to instruct the team in the warehouse which products to pick in which order. They recieve voice commands through wireless headphones directing them to the items needed for despatch via the most time-efficient path through the warehouse, as plotted by the software. By embracing voice technology Mainfreight has been able to radically increase picker efficiency, as the picker can work hands free, rather than carrying a mobile terminal.
The new system is far more stable, efficient and flexible than the old system, allowing developments to be made and bugs to be fixed without users noticing. Changes can be made on the fly rather than having to take the whole system down. MIMS was designed to look forward and prepare Mainfreight for future expansion.