Arrow Logistics uses a simple platform on a mobile phone which keeps all of the people involved in bulk grain supply chain informed about what loads are available to be transported, what trucks are available to do that load and where the product has to be delivered.
It also enables everybody involved to keep track on exactly what is happening with their product, or their trucks, or their deliveries. One of the most important aspects of the system is its transparency, but also the way it is tailored so that the person accessing it is getting the information they need to have on hand.
The genesis of the Arrow Logistics operation begins with Ian Forster working as a barman in a pub in Toowoomba. A friend of his from Clifton asked him to help out with his transport business and following that he worked on allocating loads for a larger operation, before the drought saw him retrenched.
“I was left with the decision as to whether I would go and work for someone else or have a crack at this, ” says Ian. “I had got to know a few owner drivers by this time and I had spent a good deal of time in the field by then. So, I approached a few of them and asked them, if I found them some work would they come and work for me, they said yes.
“I just focused on helping four trucks to begin with and they sort of became my trucks, without me owning them. I just worked in my backyard, with a phone, a printer and a computer, and worked seven days a week for about two years.”
The business concentrated solely on just moving grain and fertiliser. He worked with fertiliser companies, grain traders and larger transport companies. After two years without a break, Ian decided to expand and bring a few people on board to help run the business. He took on a coordinator, who still works for him in the same role.
The next step was to start a separate equipment division of the business. This is the entity that owns a couple of trucks. At the same time, a driver with whom Ian had worked at the original company in Clifton, approached him and said that he would be willing to drive for him.
“He said, that if I bought a truck, he would treat it like his own,” says Ian. “I had known him for seven years and thought he was one of the best in the trade. We bought a truck for him, and he’s still with us as well.”
For the next two years the team buckled down and continued to grow the business. In 2014, the business had a bit of a hiccup, with a truck going to the wrong delivery address because the text which have been sent with the information had been misinterpreted.
“It was the truck driver’s fault, but our system was not robust enough to have picked up on it,” says Ian. “Our system was excellent, but it was cumbersome, everything was a five step process. We were making notes on a bit of paper, then we would put it on the spreadsheet, then we would text message the driver. After this, we made notes on the spreadsheet, and then, when the notes came in, we would type up the invoice and then the corresponding supplier invoice.
“It was a cumbersome process, it was methodical, and it took ages to do. It was open to human error and I was constantly having to keep checking things to make sure everything was right. An error with the client lost us a trader who was giving us significant business at that time.
“It was enough for me to go, right, now I’m going to fix this. So I began to become aware of some software programs that were out there. I then spent the next two years trialling a number of off-the-shelf products for use in the business. They were job management programs, but they were either for tradies or something like that. There were a couple of transport related ones, but they seemed to be developed for companies which used mostly their own trucks.”
At the moment, Arrow still get phone calls from grain traders – many still rely on the traditional method of phoning up and telling Arrow about their particular job. Often, people working in the rural community tend to prefer that social contact, However, the platform does have the functionality for them to enter any work they have an offer, into the system.
The details of a particular load are entered into the system with the date and the time included. At the same time, the trucks which have the app are able to share their location with the platform.
If the truck driver has enabled the location sharing on their app, when a load is entered into the system and if they are within 500km of the location, they will get a notification about the fact that a new load has just appeared on the system.
“We have an Uber-type scenario with a map showing all the truck locations,” says Ian. “If a job comes in, say in Moree, we can look and see all of the trucks in a 100km radius and we can phone those trucks first.”
At the moment, there are about 20 trucks which are working for Arrow Logistics all of the time and then there are much larger number of operators, between 100 and 200, which do work for other operators, but will regularly take up work from Arrow. Between 80 and 90 per cent of all those trucks involved have the app on their phones in the truck.
Once the load is allocated, the driver of the truck receives all of the details about the load through the app on their phone. It is then up to them to make the appropriate phone calls from within the app, pick up and deliver the load and take a photograph of the weigh-bridge dockets, using the app.