Blackbay specialises in the development and implementation of mobile solutions and services for supply chain and field service operations. Blackbay has been delivering mobile data solutions for over 15 years and has a firm understanding of the technology and services needed to monitor, measure and manage mobile workers. We spoke to Blackbay’s MD, Larry Klimczyk, to understand how mobile technologies can help organisations improve their business processes, efficiency, productivity and bottom line. Interview by Christian Harris.
BCW: Tell us a little about your day to day job?
LK: I’m the CEO of Blackbay, managing over 70 staff across APAC and EMEA. I spend about 60% of my day-to-day job focusing on new and existing customers, industry issues and on technology direction. 20% of my day is focused on the strategic direction of Blackbay and 20% involves the day-to-day management of my teams. I am actively involved with our sales and marketing team, using my management experience working for Motorola, Deutshce Post and TNT to help develop relationships with our existing and new customers. I also speak at a number international conferences, with recent presentations at the World Mail Awards in Munich, World Mail & Express show earlier this year, and a speaking presentation at this year’s technology conference at Post Expo in Hannover.
BCW: What challenges do you face on a regular basis?
LK: Despite the turbulent economic climate Blackbay has achieved a three year average growth rate of over 40%, so a continual challenge for us is to maintain that growth whilst balancing investment in R&D and innovation to ensure that we keep up-to-date with the rapid changes in technology.
BCW: How do you overcome those challenges?
LK: We work closely with our existing customers to make sure that we understand the business challenges they are facing. By continuing to strengthen and develop the relationship with our strategic partners and suppliers to gain a greater understanding of how we should be reacting to keep in step with market and technological developments.
BCW: Blackbay has some big named clients including Royal Mail and Hermes (who used to be Parcelnet). Do you also cater for small companies?
LK: The size of the company is irrelevant.
BCW: Who is your biggest customer? Let’s talk numbers.
LK: Blackbay’s largest customer is Royal Mail. Royal Mail selected Blackbay’s Delivery Connect solution to provide a real-time mobility solution for the majority of its tracked products, including Special Delivery and Recorded Signed For. Delivery Connect runs on Intermec CN3 mobile computers and has been deployed to over 27,000 delivery vehicles.
BCW: Back to reality. Who is your typical customer and what are they using your products for?
LK: Blackbay focuses on two core markets, Supply Chain and Field Service. Our supply chain customers include postal organisations, couriers and 3PL’s. They use our real-time mobility solution Delivery Connect, to improve supply chain management, information flow, accuracy and improve customer service. Key benefits include seamless connectivity between the driver and the depot, real-time job dispatch and status reporting, full visibility of assets, materials and resources in real-time, monitoring of customer SLAs, reduction in paperwork, reduced cash collection cycle, lower communication costs, improved accuracy and timeliness, administrative efficiencies, travel and routing efficiencies.
One of our customers has reduced support calls by 80% and is saving over 8000 hours at the doorstep per week across its field workers. Our field service customers which include service despatch, facilities management, reactive and scheduled maintenance deploy Blackbay’s Service Connect to make significant efficiency and productivity gains through improving communication and information flow between field workers, administrators and management.
Key benefits include improved administration and management control, shorter job life-cycles and more jobs accomplished in a day, greater administrative accuracy and improvement management information, faster and more consistent communication, time savings and an increase in productive hours, reduced transportation costs, integrated satellite navigation minimises time between jobs, environmental gains through reduced travel times/distance, improved first time fix ration, and overall improved customer service and worker efficiency. One of our customers has reduced administrative time by 70% in just a few months and has saved over 1 tonne of paper per week through the use of Service Connect.
BCW: How do you target new customers?
LK: We primarily target new customers through existing customer referrals. Through deepening our relationships with industry bodies to ensure we are informed of the market issues our customers are facing, and playing an active role in industry events. We also use our strong partner network with leading hardware vendors, system integrators and solution providers to drive new business.
BCW: What are the current trends driving enterprise mobility?
LK: Our customers are demanding solutions that do ‘everything’. They need solutions that include job management, SLA management, electronic signature capture, navigation, telematics, routing and scheduling all in one solution. They also need these integrated solutions to operate from one device, providing a single point of contact for the mobile worker. Our customers are now looking for mobility solutions that impact on more than the mobile workforce; they are looking for value added solutions which enable the workforce to deliver more to their own customers e.g. insurance services, return services, ad hoc collections, safeplace delivery etc.
BCW: How can a mobility solution overcome the pain of managing a mobile workforce?
LK: Easily! A mobility solution delivers visibility of an organisations entire mobile workforce which then enables it to monitor, measure and then effectively manage its mobile workers. Enterprise mobility solutions are fully integrated software applications that run on handheld computers which enable workers in the field to capture information. This information is then sent wirelessly to the back office where it is available in real-time for the back office admin staff or online to the customer. This provides the organisation with real-time visibility of operations and ensures its mobile workers are fully equipped and enabled in the field.
With a real-time mobility solution there is an instant connection between the mobile worker and the back office. Once collected, job information can be actioned immediately. Progress is visible and can be monitored against targets or service level agreements, with any remedial action necessary taken without delay. It is important to understand that mobility solutions deliver benefits across the entire organisation by easing the difficulties of managing the field worker, back office, call centre and the customer. Once the investment is made, mobility solutions provide accurate and real-time information from the field that enables the organisation to make measurable business improvements that impact the entire organisation.
BCW: Implementing a mobility solution sounds complicated. Is it?
LK: There is a perception that a mobility solution sits on the edge of the company primarily affecting the mobile workforce. In fact, to gain the maximum benefits of mobility, the solution should take and provide information to all parts of the organisation?this may make a mobility solution sound complicated, but in reality by taking some important steps, the complication can be removed from implementation.
Firstly recognising that mobility can affect the entire organisation is critical. We work very closely with our customers to understand what their short, medium and longer term goals are. By doing this, we can stage releases by functionality, job type or region to ensure that the implementation of the solution meets the needs of the organisation.
Secondly, Blackbay has made significant investments in a dedicated professional service team, who work with our customers to clearly define business specifications and functional specifications before even attempting to implement a solution. The net result is an agreement with the customer on the critical areas of what needs to be achieved and how. Through this we can reduce complexity and shorten implementation. In getting it right, Royal Mail rolled out to 27,000 devices and trained over 35,000 people in 12 weeks. Complicated? Potentially. Achievable? Definitely!
BCW: I assume staff training is required how long do your solutions take to fathom?
LK: Something which I learnt in my experience in the postal industry is that if you cannot train the postal/courier worker in 20 minutes, you are doing something wrong. Either, you are trying to make too much change, the solution is too complicated or the solution is simply not right for the customer. 20 minutes to train a worker is a considerable time, if you think about how many people need to be trained it equates to weeks of training, you simply cannot afford to take too long to train a mobile worker.
It is that philosophy that has been transferred to our solutions here at Blackbay. Through our extensive knowledge of the key markets we service, we have been able to make our user interface incredibly intuitive for the mobile worker, subsequently minimising the time for training. We believe that we can train our Delivery Connect users in under 20 minutes. Having said that, in most of our implementations the customer allocates up to an hour, not from a technical training view point, but they take the opportunity to get all of their staff in one place to train them, not only on how to use the solution, but why it was developed and what the objectives are. If you want to do it right, training needs to include the whole concept, not just the technology behind the solution.
BCW: Let’s say I already use a CRM system. Can your managed software solution talk to it?
LK: Blackbay’s solutions are designed to seamlessly integrate with leading systems including CRM, accounting, warehousing and transportation systems. The ability to integrate into multiple systems is critical in delivering scalable mobile enterprise solutions that enable our customers to continue to meet the demands for future growth.
BCW: Are there any other technical considerations?
LK: There are a lot of other technical considerations to consider?what hardware, network, support, hosting, etc. That is why it is imperative to work with a supplier that can offer a fully integrated mobility solution by understanding each and every one of the elements of the solution.
BCW: What happens if my field engineers are out on a job and your software servers go down?
LK: Information is stored on the handheld in the field, so operations can continue despite events in the back office. If there is a problem, the first line help desk is used to determine what the actual problem is and then the appropriate people are notified to resolve the issue. One of the benefits of working with Blackbay is that we offer remote deployment and remote device management to workers in the field. Importantly, while mobile workers tend to be remote, they are never alone. They are always in contact with the call centre and back office through Blackbay’s technology.
BCW: I suppose there’s nothing you can do to failsafe a GPRS wireless network. Are your services tied to one operator?
LK: Blackbay can work with any network operator; we do not have a preference for network operators.
BCW: Location-based services using GPS are big right now. Does Blackbay provide these types of solutions?
LK: Blackbay offers a fully integrated mobility solution that is designed to meet the specific needs of the customer. Through Delivery Connect, customers can access location based services including integrated routing, scheduling and navigation solutions. The organisation has complete visibility of where their field workers are providing information on the best route for their scheduled deliveries or service stops, and the expected arrival at the customer.
BCW: Moving on to RFID?how’s this side of your business doing and what type of customer is using the technology?
LK: Blackbay no longer offers RFID hardware services. We took the decision to focus on our core business of delivering real-time mobility solutions to the supply chain and field service markets.
BCW: Are your customer requirements changing? How do you handle change?
LK: Our customers’ requirements are constantly changing. They need mobility solutions that can handle multiple job functions from the delivery driver to the in-field supervisor. They are also looking for solutions that can operate over multiple devices as they swap out existing devices for new devices. Critically, they are looking for integrated mobility solutions that can be managed from one application like Delivery Connect.
BCW: What developments can we see in the next 12 months?
LK: Mobility solutions are evolving from job or asset focused solutions to complete transaction management. Generally today’s solutions include some form of job and asset management, with mobile worker solutions providing a valuable interface to the customer and sending that information to the back office, where management is able to drive business process improvements across the entire organisation.
Future development of mobility solutions will continue to expand to include not only asset or job management, but complete customer and transaction management. Customer management could include offering ad hoc collections, with insurance and payment in the field, return services for online shopping, market and customer satisfaction surveys at the doorstep and the ability to leave deliveries at safe places or 3rd party locations.
The biggest development is providing a service that meets all of the customers’ needs at the doorstep. Delivery Connect enables organisations to do this, with the ability to track jobs and assets. Worker health and safety is also included with surveys and scheduled breaks integrated into the solution. Delivery Connect also provides return services, payment and invoicing in the field, ad hoc collections and customer surveys at the door step?capturing the entire customer transaction and ensuring the information is available in real-time to the organisation.
BCW: I’m convinced. I want to buy some of your equipment. What’s the minimum order and how long do I have to wait?
LK: Purchasing a mobility solution is not a quick process; it requires carefully considered planning that matches the business process needs of the organisation with the mobility solution. Organisations can take between 6-12 months to determine vendors and outline business and functional specifications. However in saying this, often Blackbay has to work to very short time frames for our customers, while this is difficult, it is Blackbay’s ability to deliver quality solutions quickly and successfully that has positioned us as a market leader in providing mobility solutions to the field service and supply chain markets.