Cloud Break

By: ROB MCKAY


Gareth Hearnden realises the dream to run wharf-cartage firm Norman Carriers from his smartphone

 

Norman Carriers now has in excess of 70 years’ experience in the transport, general freight and wharf cartage sectors.

A decade ago or so, the transport and logistics industry was looking for efficiencies by getting to grips with hand-held devices – to run baseline tasks.

This was for urban truck and van drivers, mostly but not entirely for delivery purposes, and for warehouse operations.

But such is the speed of technological and IT development that a germ on an idea could develop in that time into using one much higher up – to operate the whole company!

Welcome to the world of Melbourne port logistics service provider Norman Carriers, the cutting-edge incarnation of which is run by Gareth Hearnden.

"It all began with a dream to be able to run the entire business off a smartphone," Hearnden tells Deals on Wheels.

"The first step was conducting a review of all our systems. Once it became clear that what we were using would not allow us to move forward in the way we wanted, it was a matter of finding replacements. 

"The first partner we brought onboard was FreightTracker. 

"We loved how easy the system was to use; you don’t need to be a computer expert to be able to confidently use it. 

"It would allow us to begin running paperless container operations as well as integrating with our clients. 

"The other main part was moving all of our emails and documents to the Google Cloud via Australian Google Partner Geeks On Tap. 

"This allowed us to remove any internal servers and decrease the need for us to be physically in the office, making all our data accessible from anywhere in the world." 

Gareth Hearnden, with the look of a man whose dream came true

PANDEMIC IMPACT

At the time of writing, parts of Victoria are beck in shutdown and much of the state economy is being run from home offices rather than headquarters, so the move looks uncannily prescient.

"The Cloud-based dream has never been more relevant than today," the company says. 

"We in the midst of a global pandemic, where staff are being forced from the office and yet we have never been closer to our work.

"Management and accounts and even operations are all working remotely and aside from the increased distance, it’s business as usual. Something that was only a dream five years ago."

The firm is well aware that things might have been otherwise had the timing been less favourable.

"Covid-19 became the apex of four years of work," according to Hearnden. 

"While we have had the ability for all our staff to work remotely at the same time, we had not taken that final step of testing it out.  

"Covid-19 gave us the opportunity to pull the trigger on moving all our operational and administrative staff to remote working literally overnight. 

"It has been a relatively smooth transition with limited issues but we can only imagine the complications involved had we not already be working paperless and using Cloud technology."  

Celebrating 70 years of the company with a new Actros

TRANSITION

Make no mistake, the move is brave as well as innovative and only came about after solid discussion within the family.

"Initially there was some resistance – change is always hard, especially since we had been doing it for how we had for so long," Hearnden tells Deals on Wheels. 

"So, yes, there were some concerns, especially around the cost and how we would get all the existing staff onboard with a new reality."

Part of the challenge of such a significant change is the inevitable disturbance of a reality, understandings and network built over decades.

"We had so many established processes, partners and relationships that we had been working with for many years, the hardest adjustment we had to make was sacrificing some of these sacred cows," Hearnden says. 

"This was definitely hard, but once our team began to see some of the benefits of the ‘new world’ it became easier to move away from the past."

Of course, it’s one thing to have the insight and drive to pursue change and evolution, another bring staff and particularly drivers, who often can be particularly conservative, along for the ride.

And it can be seen as a testament to the calibre of the workers when they do.

"Introducing tablets and apps for drivers instead of pens and paper was one of the big challenges we faced," Hearnden says. 

"We rolled the system out with a trial group of drivers who were happy to work with us in ironing out any kinks in the system or our process. 

"These guys soon began to see the long-term benefits for themselves: no paperwork, not having to constantly go into the office and more information. This initial trial group of drivers would help us rollout the system to everyone else. 

"The process was obviously not without complication, but we are fortunate to have a good group of drivers that could see the long-term benefits for both themselves and the company."  

Action at the wharf

ALLIANCES

It always helps to have a wise, cool head for advice when venturing into a future where few trails have been blazed.

Norman Carriers found its wise head with transport and logistics entrepreneur Dean Langenberg and firms linked to him help with this process.

"We met Dean through his involvement in FreightTracker and his telematics system, Procon, which we also brought on board," Hearnden says. 

"Dean became a trusted advisor for us and his knowledge of both the industry and new technology became invaluable as we overhauled our entire operational system.

"We chose Xero for our finances as first and foremost it is totally Cloud-based, allowing us the freedom to operate from anywhere. 

"It is again, simple to use and controls every part of our business, from invoicing to payroll to bank reconciliations. Xero also seamlessly integrates with FreightTracker, ensuring our data stays clean."

Langenberg, a veteran of Extra Transport and the wharf cartage scene, has huge admiration for what Hearnden has achieved.

"If someone had said to me, ‘you can go work from home and run a wharf-cartage business’, I’d have said, ‘you’re kidding yourself’," Langenberg says.

"It’s just paid off huge dividends for them.

"I’ve been watching this come out of the [United] States and what’s predominantly coming out is that those with digital platforms are the ones that are striving." 

Trialling the new technology with receptive drivers helped with wider appreciation of the paperless positives

ON THE ROAD

Innovative software are working wonders for the company but loads are carried by trucks and trailers and much of the IT is directed at ensuring they and their drivers are best tackling the task – so the tech is hand-in-glove stuff.

That said, the approach to heavy equipment is not all that far away from the more ethereal things.

"We are looking for a supplier that innovates the most," Hearnden says. 

"Our latest purchase was a Mercedes Benz Actros 2651LS. 

"Mercedes are a leading manufacturer who have excellent emission control and fuel efficiency.

"The trucks also offer our drivers excellent in-cab comfort, which is really important to us. 

"The Actros also has a safety pack that includes lane change assist, brake control and active cruise control. 

"There is also a full range of technological reporting available on driver performance that really allows us to review the efficiency and safety of our drivers." 

And trailing equipment is focused on efficiency as well.

"We use quad super B-doubles manufactured by Vawdrey. 

"It wasn’t difficult to integrate them into the fleet, but I would say there is a learning curve involved into how to use them to their best potential." 

The business has transparency on the container haulage task

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