Spotify, a digital subscription to your favourite newspaper, the latest triple A video game – everywhere you look, tech companies and software providers are offering their products as a service. Gone are the days of buying one standalone piece of software in its complete form; you can now expect it to continuously evolve with each new development and receive support from its creator years down the line.
This concept of ‘software as a service’ is one that has been fully embraced by Deltion, which has taken the model one step further, making its solution to managing supply chains one of the most robust and accessible products of its kind on the market.
Doing away with the need for a bespoke piece of software on a dedicated system of its own, Deltion’s solution is to provide the same level of supply chain management through a cloud-based portal, called CarrierNet, which requires little more than a web browser to access. Gone is the need to install updates or worry about computational requirements for the software to work; all the heavy lifting is handled on Deltion’s end.
As business development manager Bashir Khan explains: “If you’ve not got any IT hardware requirements, you don’t have to buy any of those, nor do you have to have managers to manage those IT hardware bits and pieces and infrastructure.
“The whole of that cost is left with somebody else, but you are sharing it across a number of different people. That’s the reason people do it – because you can focus on your business and other people will focus on the support activity for your IT.”
Initially a chemical engineer, Khan entered the logistics and supply chain world through a stint at freight company TNT, where he was seconded into the then Institute of Logistics and Distribution Management, now known as the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport.
“I then took much more of an interest in the technical aspects of logistics and – via a variety of roles, which included me working as a freight unit analyst at Transport for London – I ended up here at Deltion in a much more commercial role, which I think is brilliant because I can use my technical expertise and all the business knowhow I picked up along the way,” he says.
Now in charge of external business development engagement for Deltion, Khan is leading the charge for software as a service.
Deltion’s novel method of delivery has prepared it for an industry’s shift towards digitalisation of data. This, in turn, facilitates more transparency in the supply chain, as the relevant data about a product’s origin and transportation can be instantly pulled up at any stage of its journey from the producer to the retailer.
According to Kahn, this requires that data is as easy to access as possible from a central hub, preventing the need to make copies of data that can quickly become out of date.
“What this means in practice is we will pull the orders out via our API (application programming interface) and that means I’m not copying it necessarily, I’m taking it directly,” he says. “I’m not keeping my own date-stamped copy – I’m taking the relevant information, using it and not duplicating it.”
The real challenge, then, lies in making the data accessible for smaller businesses in the supply chain that are unable to use a computer or are not linked into a wider system. Indeed, any system that relies on the sharing of information is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, which can breed uncertainty.
However, Khan is convinced about the continued adoption of robots into the supply chain, particularly in large warehouses. He foresees business adopting the Amazon model of completely automated storage spaces, with little chance of there being a regression back to more traditional systems of working.
“It’s going to continue as they find more interesting ways of bringing innovation into the physical supply chain,” he explains. “It will be interesting to see if there are more new disruptive operators, like Amazon, who enter the market.
“They’ve only come into certain segments of the market and we know they’re going to keep on moving into sectors and areas that they feel are in their future growth plans. They do things differently and in a disruptive way, so there will be continuous change.”
Eco-friendly food supply
As the ability to monitor the entire supply chain becomes easier, thanks to the likes of Deltion, one question that might cross some people’s minds is just what are the limits of the information that can be tracked through its systems?
With a growing movement among people to be more eco-friendly, fuelled by better science assessing the impact our actions have on the environment and led by campaigners like Greta Thunberg, how well can Deltion’s systems track the carbon footprint of supply chains?
“The impact on the environment, now that’s a really interesting question,” Khan admits. “From our viewpoint, we have no issues around tracking it, we should be able to do it. What we would need is guidance – we would need to understand from our customers what data we are recording in that area.
“We can deliver it with that support, but we’d have to get a consistent view. We already do it in bits and pieces for different customers, but for the wider general public we need to have a consistent guideline that they can measure against to see who is a good performer.”
Whatever this guideline for tracking environmental impact is, there’s no denying that consumers are becoming more interested in the provenance of the food they eat, sparking a need for more transparent supply chains – a situation that Deltion appears more than able to cope with now and in the future.
Business development manager: Bashir Khan
CV: Khan started out with TNT in 1990. He also worked for Transport for London as a freight analyst (2005-10) and as a director at Logistics Spend Management (2010-16).
CarrierNet: The first web-based software as a service solution to provide a real-time software tool for manufacturers, retailers and logistics and transport companies that need to manage and control both in-house, outsourced and subcontracted logistics.
Future projects: “We’re looking at how we can use artificial intelligence in our systems to make them better.”