Wincanton reinforces its tech response to customers’ changing needs
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Wincanton reinforces its tech response to customers’ changing needs

Mark Samuels — September 2020

How application modernization and flexible IT have enabled the UK logistics company to support fast-evolving supply chains.

Richard Gifford, CIO at UK supply chain logistics, e-fulfilment and warehousing company Wincanton, was quick to recognize that the scale of the business challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic was going to be unlike anything he or senior colleagues had encountered before.

The good news is that the company’s technology infrastructure has helped the company address the challenges of the new environment head-on. And the success of this IT-led response has created a lasting, positive impact on the perception of technology both across the organization and among Wincanton’s customers, who range from Asda, Waitrose and Morrisons in retail through to Screwfix, Wickes and Homebase in the DIY/building materials area.


“Technology is becoming much more important to the logistics sector, which hasn't always been at the forefront of tech,” says Gifford. “But it’s fantastic that IT is now getting the attention it deserves. From the board room to the delivery teams, people are seeing the opportunities that technology can bring.”

That heightened attention is as much to do with Gifford’s ongoing efforts to transform the business as is it is with developments associated with Covid-19. In the three years since he joined the £1.14 billion ($1.45bn) company the IT organization’s focus has been in two key areas: dealing with legacy technology issues and developing fresh technology-led opportunities.

 

““Richard”
Richard Gifford, CIO of Wincanton

Gifford acknowledges that Wincanton had — and, in some areas, continues to have — pockets of outmoded IT. But his teams have been confronting that through an ongoing transformation of some of the company’s core systems, with older applications being rehosted on new digital platforms. Notably, the modernization strategy involves systems and application consolidation and the implementation of a new cloud-based transport management system (TMS) that is used right across the business.

The TMS acts as a platform from which to boost business efficiency and effectiveness, says Gifford. Important innovations have included the greater use of telematics to help hone operational performance and the introduction of paperless proof-of-delivery applications to enable drivers to provide status updates on drop-offs.

Longer-term technology ambitions are aimed at solutions to major enterprise challenges, including the use of digital services to support new business models. However, for the past few months, many of those developments  have been on “a slight pause.”
Pandemic re-prioritization

Gifford says Covid-19 forced “all hands to the pump.” For the technology team, that’s meant day-to-day operational concerns have trumped almost everything else: “All our focus very much shifted to on the run side of the business, at least initially.”

About 4,500 of the firm’s 19,100 employees are normally based at the company’s 200-plus offices, warehouses and depots from which it operates its 3,500-strong fleet of vehicles. The bulk of those workers were switched to home working. Assistance here came in the form of an existing Citrix virtual private network (VPN), which Gifford says had — fortuitously — been recently upgraded. That meant it was possible to ensure that workers using legacy finance and HR applications could still work as effectively as if they were in the office.

“Wincanton

The move to remote working was also supported by cloud-based technology.  Wincanton was already rolling out Microsoft Teams to replace Skype as its communications platform. Resources — both in terms of cash and capability — were rapidly diverted to ensuring that the platform was ready. Gifford says the company’s long-standing investment in Office 365 also helped the business to move to remote working quickly.

The pandemic is accelerating a shift to the cloud that was already central to the IT strategy. Wincanton’s legacy HR and ERP applications, for example, are about to move to the cloud, and any new software that Wincanton deploys going forward will run in the cloud, says Gifford. The workforce has already seen the positives of using the cloud, Gifford says, and Covid-19 has simply heightened that appreciation.

“What they’re experiencing is the first-hand benefit,” he says. “The levels of assurance [about working via cloud applications] that they might have looked for before have been made obvious to them through this period; it’s not just their own IT organization talking about the benefits of the cloud, it’s the wider world.”

Extensive use of the cloud internally also makes it easier to support quick moves into new business areas. Like others, Gifford views the pandemic as a catalyst for change. As Wincanton rises to the challenge of dealing with new economic realities, so its workers are identifying new business opportunities — and the cloud is seen as an enabler.
Agile storage

Key areas of new business growth have been online order fulfilment and warehousing. Many of Wincanton’s clients have found that they’ve needed to expand their capabilities in these areas rapidly, and Wincanton’s flexible warehousing has allowed to grow their resources without investing in fixed costs.

That is being supported by innovative work that Gifford and his team undertook during the past year. The company’s oneVASTwarehouse.com platform matches buyers and sellers of warehouse space. Companies that need on-demand access to storage space can use the platform to find it quickly, while warehouse partners have the opportunity to advertise their underutilized capacity.

“Wincanton

With many companies struggling with over-stocking issues, Wincanton has pounced on a major opportunity. “We have got a lot of customers [in fashion retail, for example] who are sitting on last season's stock or have had large inbound shipments coming in from China and not enough space to store them,” he says.

Such pioneering developments demonstrate how the agility of the IT team is helping to support new business growth. And that can only strengthen the case for investing in further digital transformation initiatives.

He cites one exciting example, Extended Enterprise Management — a capability to provide Wincanton’s logistics customers with “an end-to-end view of the supply chain, from the order, through manufacture, shipping and onto the final destination,” says Gifford.  “Essentially, using digital technology to bridge all the different elements of the supply chain.”

First published September 2020
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