Features

Igniting ideas in the transport and logistics software space

Carton Cloud, an Australian-based software company, received funding from the Queensland Government through its Ignite Ideas Fund. Eighteen months later, Vincent Fletcher, Founder and CEO at the company, talks us through the journey. 
If I told you that there are a million different ways in which freight can be charged, you’d think I was exaggerating. In truth, that’s probably an understatement.
Ask those who use a transport management system, and they’ll no doubt say that configuring charges to work correctly is the most complicated tasks of all, one they dread to tackle. Press them, and they may say it requires the equivalent of a PhD in that particular application in order to get it working just the way they need.
When I first started building our internal transport management system at Roving Logistics, calculating charges was simple. We charged clients in two ways, either per-carton, or, as a percent of invoice value. The calculation system I built into the software was very basic and as a result, very easy to use. It only required the user to enter in a couple of things: How much per carton or, what percent of invoice should be charged. Our staff loved it.
Several years later, when I’d moved onto selling the system we’d built to other logistics businesses, I quickly discovered the mind bogglingly large variety of ways companies charged for freight. Cubic, Net Weight, Gross Weight, Sliding Scales, Cumulative Sliding Scales, Minimums, Variable fuel levies, Demurrage, Surcharges, Discounts, rates that seemed to be based on the colour of the salesman’s tie or the angle of the sun when the delivery was made (ok.. I may have made up those last 2, but I’m pretty sure they’ll come up one day)… what an awful lot of options.
To address this, we started building customised rate screens for businesses. When they were first getting set up I’d work with them to design logic and forms to exactly match what they required, and how they needed it to work. This was OK when we were only adding one new client a month onto the system, but became a big problem for us when we started to add more than that, or, when existing clients came in asking for changes to the way their charging worked. Often times, we’d get multiple clients asking for the same enhancement to their rating at the same time, something we would need to manually code-in for each of them individually!
By mid 2017 we had roughly 50 companies up and running on the software, and it had become obvious this was not a sustainable solution. We needed to build something with (almost) limitless flexibility, yet was very easy for people to use. While manually coding rate screens for people was time-consuming for us, what they ended up with was a slick, very-easy-to-use rates screen that met their needs perfectly, and we needed to maintain this simplicity going forward.
Resolving this issue would require us not only to build something that suited all our existing clients, but in order to future-proof the solution we went out to transport companies all across Australia and New Zealand and collected as much information as possible on the different ways in which they charge their customers. We discussed with operations managers, business owners, fleet-controllers and even ex-staff of other software solutions. The further we looked into the problem, the more complicated it became. Who knew there really were a million different ways to charge for transport? Quickly we realised this was going to be the largest project we had ever undertaken.
As we couldn’t afford to fund the project alone, we applied to the Ignite Ideas Fund, an Advance Queensland initiative to provide up to 50% of the funding required for a project to move from MVP to commercially ready. Our existing transport rating system was the MVP, and we had clients successfully using it, but this was our bottleneck, and to really grow we needed something that didn’t require manual work each time. We were lucky enough to be awarded Tier 2 funding ($250k) and set about hiring the team necessary to pull off this project. This team included experts who had worked on previous transport management systems, software engineers with experience in large, complex banking systems, and an additional front-end programmer to build the user interface (UI).
First, we set about taking all the data we’d collected on the various ways to charge freight, and worked together to design a UI that could cover the bases. This went through an enormous number of iterations to tease out how to make it very powerful, yet easy to use. Once we had what we felt was a good starting point, we began building the back-end (the server-side code which actually performs the rate calculation). We also knew that no matter how hard we tried to cover every scenario we could think of, there would be a transport company somewhere, wanting to charge their freight in a totally unheard of way. So rather than build one big charging system that would be very difficult to modify, we developed the back-end using Java microservices allowing us to break up our big project into small, easy-to-modify pieces.
While the project has certainly seen its up’s and down’s, in March, 18 months after we were awarded the grant, we began our first client trials on the new charging system. As expected, there were some last-minute additions that needed to be made, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of both functionality, and ease of use.
The project has opened us up to a large number of transport companies who previously could not use our application due to gaps in our charging system, and has allowed us to take what was previously a real weakness, and turn it into an enormous strength. It’s also allowing our business to scale both domestically and internationally by removing an enormous bottleneck in our setup process.
For more information, visit: https://www.cartoncloud.com/

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