23 May 2019
logistics optimisation today and tomorrow”
interview with Chris Dalton, Business Development Director (Touchstar
Here at Touchstar,
people are our biggest asset. We strive to find the brightest minds in data
capture, logistics optimisation and mobile computing; people who can support
our bulk logistics clients in implementing enterprise-ready solutions for greater
operational performance. This includes our
Business Development Director, Chris Dalton. With over 40 years’ industry experience
and specialising in the oil and gas sector, Chris brings a keen technical
perspective to our bulk logistics division.
As our management
systems continue to evolve, Chris shares his thoughts on the latest
developments at Touchstar and the wider bulk logistics market.
What are the biggest challenges
facing the bulk logistics industry right now?
“The logistics industry
has always been a hard business in the sense that there’s always been a lot of
competition out there. Operators can start up at very low cost; they just need
a truck and a carrier and they’re on the road, competing against companies that
are much more structured. I think the biggest threat
to this marketplace is also its biggest benefit – and that’s digitisation. It’s
what we do at Touchstar; we digitise the bulk logistics paper trail all the way
from the order hitting the system, to dispatch and delivery at the customer, with
every process of the job stored.
Digitisation is a threat
for those that don’t invest in the technology. Surprisingly, a lot of haulage
companies, even the larger ones, still use paper-based systems, while others
are able to commission very bespoke, very expensive digitised systems. Custom-designed
solutions are out of reach for most small and medium-sized companies, those
running between 50 and 150 vehicles, so they may question whether any digitised
system is right for them.
bulk logistics digitisation often mean companies miss out on the tremendous
value it adds – it’s seen as too costly, too problematic for drivers to adopt
and too time-consuming and disruptive to implement. Not only are these perceptions
false, once you get a system in place and live, it’s nothing but a benefit.”
Why is a paperless environment so important for bulk
“One side of having a paperless digitised
system is legislative; a company has all the data it needs to prove compliance
with industry regulations. The other side of it is all the practical
operational benefits, like instantly sending a driver a digital manifest in the
morning, updating it in real-time if plans change, and not having to worry
about lost, incomplete or damaged POD slips,
without which a company won’t get paid.
With a digitised solution, drivers can
capture a client e-signature on the glass of a connected handheld, along with
the geo-coordinates of the driver at the time of delivery, for complete POD. An
invoice can then be generated within minutes of POD for improved cash flow. Or,
say a driver has a minor accident in the field, they can photograph the damage
straight away, write a statement and send it back to the office in seconds,
substantiating the incident.
A logistics office that doesn’t work with
digitisation is nothing but piles and piles of paperwork, job sheets, PODs,
drivers’ expenses. It’s a nightmare to keep on top of. Where drivers don’t fill
in details, office staff have to spend time tracking down missing info to
ensure records are complete.
What sets Touchstar apart from its competitors in bulk
“Firstly, our systems are cloud-based. Many
of our competitors are working very hard to go cloud-based. The advent of cloud
technology has dramatically cut the cost of data storage and backup, improved
security and made systems vastly more accessible. Touchstar’s solutions are
based on Microsoft Azure cloud technology, which means that key issues such as system
reliability and redundancy, OS backward compatibility and upgrade paths are all
addressed automatically. They’re also accessible anywhere in the world on any
connected mobile computer, Apple or Android device, as long as you’ve got a
Wi-Fi / mobile connection.
Our systems are also really innovative and
based on real experience of the bulk logistics sector. We’ve developed our
solutions from the back end to the front, applying our practical knowledge on
the nuances of bulk and fuel delivery and what it actually requires. While some
bigger companies go to software developers for bespoke systems, they often just
take what they already do and put it into a software system - they’re not
improving operational efficiency or adding value.
With that in mind, ours is also a
multi-level application. Many other systems are designed for particular applications,
say service work. Podstar has been developed with a broad application across
all logistics sectors, which is really beneficial for the logistics operator
who’s trying to grow their business. Today, their business is delivering
pallets, but if a contract comes along for a tender that’s delivering oil, they
would have to buy another management system because theirs is only set up to deliver
pallets. If they had Podstar, they could do both within the same system.
Podstar has a service module within it, so bulk
logistics companies that also provide some sort of service, such as repairing pumps,
can manage all areas of the business within one system”
What’s next for the software in terms of new features or
“Touchstar’s logistics solutions are never
‘finished’, we’re always looking for ways to refine things and improve operational
efficiency for our clients. On the fuel side, we’re just about to
launch VMI – Vendor Managed Inventory. This will enable our fuel clients to
keep their customers’ stocks topped up to the perfect level; between min and
max stock so that they won’t run out or hold too much product. We’ve developed
an artificially intelligent (AI) algorithm that reads a fuel tank’s gauges every
hour, building a picture of sales of a particular product, say super-unleaded,
over a 24-hour period, a weekly period, a monthly period and so on.
The VMI algorithm works out average sales from
each tank over time, and then triggers an automatic replenishment order when their
customer’s super-unleaded stock reaches a set min level, say three days’ worth.
What’s more, the system takes into account when the next super-unleaded drop
will be made - it could be two days away, for example - what the levels of each
tank will be at that time, and the best way to balance the stock across the
customer’s super-unleaded tanks for the most efficient delivery.
It’s a really exciting new capability for
Touchstar, and one that should allow our fuel logistics customers to make and
pass on real time and cost savings. VMI works conversely too, so for waste management
companies who need to get rid of product, rather than top it up.”
What do you think the future of bulk logistics will look
like, and how will Touchstar continue to support its clients as the industry
“As it stands, there’s no alternative
solution to bulk logistics, so the industry will need to continue to evolve. What
Touchstar brings to the logistics industry is the ability to manage and
optimise load capacity through digitisation, so that haulage companies can
maximise return on every series of drops. Our systems already warn our clients
if vehicles are underloaded or overloaded, enabling them to load more vehicles
correctly and cut the number of journeys they need to make.
We’re also working on shift and planning
optimisation using predictive analytics and AI, which will enable fleet
managers to make the best possible use of time on the road. Traditionally,
logistics companies lose driving hours through static shift patterns, as once a
driver has completed his planned jobs, he clocks off. If a driver makes their
scheduled drops quicker than anticipated, there may be time left in a 10 hour
shift that’s wasted.
We are developing our systems to not only
predict journey times for future shifts, but to take into account loading times
and discharge times too, all based on historical traffic and statistical data.
The software our solutions use analyses huge amounts of historical traffic
data, so it can accurately predict how long a journey will take for a vehicle
that’s going to leave at 8.00am on a Monday to drive across London and around
the M25, for example, and plans that time into the shift. This way, as a fleet manager plans routes by
dragging and dropping loads on to a vehicle, the system will calculate the time
it’ll take to load the vehicle, travel to each location and complete each drop,
and will alert them if there’s any spare time on the shift to fill. They can
look down the list of loads for a job to fill an extra two hours a driver may
have spare – that’s shift optimisation.
Eventually, with AI behind it, our
software will be able to monitor real-time shift progress and automatically
move jobs around between drivers if one is experiencing problems or delays, and
another is working through drops quicker than expected, and send them both
updated digital manifests. It’s still a way off, but I think one day we’ll see
AI transform every part of the distribution chain, from the point of drivers
accepting their daily workload, to monitoring journeys, deliveries, time
estimations, and automatically updating customers of a driver’s ETA. Whatever happens, Touchstar will continue
to provide market-leading bulk logistics solutions that streamline operations
and boost efficiency for our clients.”
Touchstar logistics optimisation systems have been developed to excel in the complex and demanding fuel market.
We’ve applied everything we’ve learned about the oil and gas tanker sector on
the ground and in the field, making our management solutions a formidable
digital infrastructure for any bulk logistics supplier. To find out more,
simply get in touch with our expert team.