T hese days, technology plays a significant part in creating operational excellence. The convergence of technology changes and advances in the following areas means early adopters have the opportunity to gain quantum leaps in efficiency through process automation. This convergence of major technology changes can lead to major market disruptive opportunities:

Changing convergent technologies:

  • Faster, more reliable internet networks
  • More widely allowed business internet access
  • Web 2.0 Rich Internet Applications
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) on Demand
  • Cloud Computing (Off-Premise hosting)
  • Faster wireless communications
  • Cheaper On-board & handheld hardware
  • Increased memory chip data storage
  • Mobile device and PC OS convergence
  • GPS data stream capture & sharing
  • Mapping data availability at lower cost
  • Geo-coding, GPS positioning & tracking
  • Onboard Weights and alerts data capture
  • Reliable RFID tag UHF technology

These technologies are enabling a wide range of enhanced operating functionality:

  • Wider wireless coverage in metro areas,
  • High data transmission speeds
  • Ability to send and store more data
  • New Lower-cost touch-screen simplicity
  • Easier to program mobile devices
  • Finally – Electronic (Paperless) systems
  • Delivery receipt signatures
  • Auto Emailed as proof of delivery/pickup
  • Electronic Service Agreement Quotes
  • Electronic Invoicing (via emailed PDFs)
  • Mapping of Customer sites & bin locations
  • Auto-capture of Route data – kilometres travelled, start/end run times, driver fatigue rest times, time in tips, real-time locations.

By investing in these systems you can achieve substantial operational savings and create greater efficiencies, such as:

  • Reduced communication costs
  • Reduced staff and administration costs
  • Greatly improved operating/route efficiency
  • Integrated billing means less paperhandling – reduced transcription errors
  • Operating transparency for management

Yet how do you tell what’s a good buy?

Like the days when older two-way radio companies started offering data transmissions under the voice spectrum, it was hard then to tell the difference between early wireless mobile applications. Yet now voice has moved with phone technology to being fully wireless, you no longer need the noisy in-efficient costly radio bandwidth & social chat systems for drivers. (Half the time they’re out the back of the truck loading or unloading in a skip business, and hence out of earshot anyway). So there’s more reliable ways to get the message through, and more flexibility in setting bin-on/bin-off specific workflow support programs on devices to make it easier on driver input, than just sending a blob of text like SMS text messages.

As we move into new Web 2.0 rich internet applications on thin web browser clients, how does the average businessman wade through the technical verbiage to tell what’s good or bad. In many cases, new software vendors will put lots of large words on the table to make it sound like their solution is the best. Does it really matter if they’ve just pushed their old style Windows XP application through a downloaded thick web client (installable on each PC) to be able to say their programs work over the web? That’s the equivalent on putting lipstick on a pig!

There’s still a lot of mileage left in inhouse windows applications as Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Services helps GUI (Graphical User Applications) work faster over inhouse wide area networks, but if you think you’re buying new extensions or 21st Century applications you may need a technical consultant to help you check under the hood.

In modern applications the IT industry analysts and advisors say SOA is the way to go.

As the software systems move out beyond core accounting administration support systems, in amongst the operations and in-field processes in your business, there’s more and more need to meld multiple best of breed applications together into software user “ecosystems”. Even large corporates are backing away from ERPs (Enterprise-wide Resource Planning) systems where they realise that larger application vendors like SAP, Oracle and even Microsoft accounting applications are struggling to move their legacy apps into the new on demand web-sphere.

The software industry is now being led by the likes of Salesforce.com, Google and Adobe where there’s a higher level of application collaboration. Even office systems are moving to be web centric, accessible from anywhere.

Google Maps have broken the stranglehold on map data access – making mapping accessible to the masses. Application software companies who have collaboration interface points already built into their applications can now “mash-up” maps with their geographic transactional and master-file data. APIs (application program interfaces), as web services, help meld map views into new places.

Being able to plot customer, bin or truck position data gives a radical new perspective on waste collection business operations giving a quantum leap in visibility of more efficient ways to go about your business. Simple management visibility of inefficiencies is key to then being more able to do something focused to save costs.

Being able to get your run data automatically summarised from GPS start/stop and distance travelled data makes management information more directly linked to actual operations, more accurate and more readily available than from a room full of office admin clerks. Those same clerks could be spending time looking into traffic delay exceptions while we wait for real time road travel speed feedback to become available (as in the USA).

The Silo Systems Trap

However, watch out for sellers of stand-alone systems on the operations fringe. As novel new technology like GPS truck tracking becomes a commodity – and the prices drop on a pay-by the month plan to below departmental purchasing power, you can end up with a pile of separate silos.

While it sounds great to be able to see where your trucks are on a large wall screen in your despatch area at any time of day – you can’t actually get much from this if it’s not able to link back to feed data into your own systems. We often meet managers who signed up for several years worth of pay by the month cheap GPS, only to realise that you can’t sit there and just look at it all day.

Unless you can link the GPS data back into your own systems (eg link to customer sites) these big screens just end up as pretty expensive wall hangings.

So, collaborative capability of applications is key, even if for starters it’s between your older inhouse system and externally hosted add-on applets.

Beware of Kitty-Litter Software

As rapid application development technologies improve, it’s easier for developers to throw together electronic on-screen forms, that in turn, can pass data back to generic spreadsheet style application under-lays. Remember the Microsoft advertising campaign, what you imagine today we can build to work with you tomorrow…

Yet while these “apps” might look good on the surface, like Kitty Litter, but you wouldn’t want to dig too deep under the cover.

Applications that aren’t well structured to match your waste specific data needs are often difficult and costly to modify or end-up with spaghetti code adaptations that don’t migrate well when the one programmer leaves or when it’s time to upgrade.

The Retro-fit syndrome

Often when software applications from other industry segments look for expanded market territory, they may not appreciate the industry specific attributes or processes in detail. For instance the courier industry has had hand-held parcel delivery signature capture systems running for years now – well ahead of waste industry luddites. Yet when you look closely at the application infrastructure – small missing things like needing to cater for waste types, or the need to handle linked deliverypickup and tip-travel triangles can mean the functional workflow doesn’t fit your waste specific process needs that well.

The moral of the story here is that the software should support and streamline how you do business Look for these simple attributes:

  • Not cumbersome to use!
  • Easy to follow and efficient
  • Purpose-built for your type of business process!

Know your problem before you look for a cure!

If you don’t know where your business suffers at the moment or where you can likely gain most savings in the shortest time, effort and cost, then save what money you do have, from the software spin doctors selling snake oil cures and placebos.

Start with a situational review – what’s your current business situation, what paperwork are your staff grappling with now, how many spreadsheets are in use like gap fillers. Sometimes it helps to get an external consultant in (if you can find one with waste systems awareness) to do a discovery walk-through along your major business processes, taking snapshots of forms and data-flow. Often simply mapping these, can highlight inefficiencies.

Quantify and scale or grade your problem areas or perceived opportunity areas that could save money or effort or reduce dependence on individual staff herculean efforts or expert knowledge enclaves.

Select a short-list of vendors – don’t cast your net too wide or you’ll soon suffer from product blur (did you remember which application showed you what feature or function). Have a written evaluation process. If you don’t have a checklist of functions required, you can ask the vendors to supply application functionality checklists, but make sure you select items relevant and valuable to your business. Weight it with your own value grades!

Avoid the Kid in a Lolly Shop approach

Too much technology, all across the business, all at once, can make your company ill. Plan a staged approach and bear in mind the culture jump that your staff are going to need to make, into modern methods. Don’t expect to just computerise the manual processes you are following now. Computerising a mess, just ends up with a bigger mess. Yet remember: No change pain, no gain.

When you embark on a system upgrade or change project keep stages short and sweet. Go for early wins from low hanging fruit so you can reward participants early and show management some rapid return on investment.

Early adopters of new technology keep their company young and vibrant, attracting more customers and even attracting savvy Gen-Y staff looking for modern IT supported work-streams.

In a recent Rust report, Len Rust cited a white paper where Telstra collaborated with Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay, plus Roy Morgan Research, and the Customer Service Institute of Australia revealed that for Generation Y (aged 18-29) employees who were reaping and demanding greater productivity benefits from web and mobility systems than Gen X (aged 30-47) and baby boomers (aged 48- 65), who were more set in their ways and content with their work-life balance:

  • The role of technology in the workplace is vitally important;
  • They expect technology tools to enhance customer service;
  • An employer’s desirability is influenced by the technology provided;
  • They prefer to leverage their technology investment (eg mobile devices, laptops); and
  • Gen Y’s prize work/life flexibility enabled through mobile devices and applications.

Web self service is the norm not the exception!

These tech-savvy young customers and staff will be looking to you and your systems to engage them in new easy-as ways of doing business.

Are you ready for IT?

For more information, visit the Website: www.wastedge.com