Kathy Ross knew there had to be a better way of sending freight around our cities. In partnership with her late partner Chris Grace, the founder of Auckland-based Icos Group, Kathy spent twenty years servicing transport operators with one-off software solutions, more than enough time to discern an industry pattern of inefficient routing, needless trips and revenue leakage before founding Icos Live.
“A lot of operators I saw were cash-flow and time poor. They all lost revenue and didn’t even know it, because important consignment papers would be flying out truck windows, being stomped on by drivers or having coffee spilt on them. And there was no track-and-trace going on, no signature capture, no date-and-time stamping”
Her ‘Aha moment’ arrived in 2009, in the depths of the recession, when pilferage began emerging as another industry headache. Why not just take the whole thing online, she thought?
Backed financially by an aunt, Ross launched Icos Live (the name is an acronym for Internet Cargo Operating System), a web-based, software-as-service solution for transport and logistics firms that handles everything from online ordering through to electronic proof of delivery. Five years on the business is thriving, with 1000 trucks in New Zealand signed up, and 50 in Australia. “We’re transforming the way transport operators do business, taking them into a totally paperless world,” says Ross.
Importantly, the benefits are not being felt solely by her customers. More efficient truck movements means less fuel wasted, and less traffic on our streets.
“Our scheduling system enables jobs to be assigned to trucks in priority order, which helps the efficient routing of vehicles,” says Ross. “Trucks aren’t being driven here, there, and everywhere, which is definitely saving on fuel and emissions and reducing congestion.”
The key word there is ‘efficiency’. From a world where orders were keyed-in by a dispatch team, an error-prone and time consuming process, Icos Live customers are able to book online, with updates relayed back in real time. Dispatchers can organise jobs more rationally, eliminating the old industry blight of short-shipments and lost consignments. Out in the field, drivers receive their job orders and capture signatures for proof-of-delivery on tablets and smart phones.
Tony Gare, General Manager of Dunedin-based transport and logistics firm Icon Logistics, says his firm is living proof of the green benefits. In combination with a fuel-efficiency focused driver education programme, introducing Icos Live helped to save 6000 litres of diesel over a four month trial period, says Gare.
“One big issue for us was to make sure we weren’t ‘dead running’. Previously, we’d have trucks come back to the yard empty, then dispatch them back to where they’d just come from [to pick up a consignment], which was just crazy. Through the Icos system, we’ve been able to give more control to our schedulers and to make sure the trucks are loaded wherever they go.”
“We’re all about burning less fuel, because fuel is a big cost to our company,” he adds. “The way to do that is to have a good dispatch system, to make sure your trucks are running efficiently, planning the most cost-effective routes you can take.”
In this case what’s good for the environment is also helpful for the bottom line. According to Kathy Ross, that’s typical of her customers. “I had one customer tell me that within six months of putting in Icos Live, with no new customers, his bottom line grew by 33 per cent, simply because of the added efficiencies and by plugging revenue leakage.”
Freeing up precious time for business owners is another considerable benefit. Ross says that many of the firms using Icos Live are smalltime mum-and-dad operators, whose owners have traditionally had to work 24/7 just to keep their business afloat. “One of my customers in Australia has been in business for 17 years, and 18 months ago they went on their very first holiday.”
With her company now numbering 11 staff and climbing, Ross has serious ambitions to sign up 10 per cent of the domestic fleet, plus a similar proportion in Australia. The UK is also in her sights.
Tony Gare is certainly converted about the benefits for his industry.“If you’re not thinking smarter, not getting into your fuel efficiency programmes and into your IT, then you will be left behind,” he says.