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Issue of October 2006 
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How Elbee tracks consignments

When you are in the logistics business, it is essential that timely updates of the status of every consignment are available both for your own staff and for your customers. But Shirish Gariba, Vice-president of IT at Elbee Express, decided that more was needed than just a status-tracking portal. Dominic K reports


Shirish
Gariba

Elbee Express was under pressure to deploy a solution that would satisfy enterprise and individual customers by giving them the ability to know exactly where their consignments were, when they’d been despatched, and when they were expected to reach—all in real-time.

“India Post and couriers operate complex distribution chains. They are under immense pressure to improve efficiencies on a daily basis,” says Shirish Gariba, Vice-president of Information Technology at the company.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that Elbee has to cater to a diverse clientele from various industry segments who have different priorities when it comes to consignment tracking. Customers from the manufacturing industry, for instance, require more effective tracking of their re-usable assets such as trays, pallets, roll-cages, totes and kegs in order to reduce costs and improve their return on investment in those assets.

Massive undertaking

Elbee has centres in 11,600 locations across India, which makes managing thousands of document and parcel deliveries a difficult task

Elbee has centres in about 11,600 locations across India, which makes managing thousands of document and parcel deliveries a very difficult task. This vast chain has to run like a well-oiled piece of machinery for which pinpoint-tracking of goods, parcels and documents has to be a given.

To satisfy this need and automate many of the processes being followed at Elbee, Gariba deployed a Web portal named eTABS.

Chosen path

The primary need was for a dedicated data centre—dedicated because the system had to be accessible every single day including national and bank holidays—to host applications and the consignment database. The answer was to outsource the data centre infrastructure to Mumbai-based NetMagic Solutions. Elbee’s servers and solutions hosted at NetMagic are deployed on the Windows server platform. Branch offices are connected to the data centre in Mumbai using dial-up and broadband links. The corporate office at Mumbai is connected via a 1 Mbps leased line from MTNL.

eTABulating consignments

Once the IT backbone was in place, the company launched the eTABS portal. The consignment reference number is used to track parcels online.

The same portal interface is used by various Elbee branch offices to track the consignment before an aircraft lands. This means that branch offices can be alerted about loads before they arrive, and get in advance shipment details such as weight, destination, delivery and exceptions.

After deploying the requisite IT infrastructure and eTABS, Elbee took things a step ahead by launching consignment tracking through SMS. An SMS interface is available at the eTABS portal; by messaging 7575, a service operated by the Essel group, customers can generate customised reports (along with the latest updates) which contain the information for them to keep track of their consignments. The updates are transmitted to the client’s server after midnight at a time when network traffic is low.

In a nutshell
  • The company
    Elbee Express is one of India's well-networked distribution solutions and logistics management companies. Its branch offices are spread across numerous Indian cities and towns.
  • The need
    The company's supply chain requirements mandated a system that would support the pinpoint tracking of goods, parcels and documents. It needed to offer its customers the means to track their consignments through a variety of access devices including PCs and mobile phones.
  • The solution
    The eTABS Web portal to track consignment status. The portal is powered by a dedicated data centre. It is hooked into an SMS engine to provide status via mobile.
  • The benefits
    • The capability to provide a solution for both B2B and B2C sites
    • Tracking consignments via SMS and e-mail
    • DLL-based updates to customer servers
    • Automated response if the customer has subscribed for tracking
    • Tracking and tracing on the Web via airway bill number (single airway bill or multiple airway bill)
    • Tracking through call centre

IT Backbone

The company is availing of dedicated hosting at NetMagic with remote server, network, database monitoring and management. The 24x7 NOC is also handled by NetMagic. IBM Tivoli is used for management and monitoring resources.

Cisco 6509 series switches and Juniper M5 routers populate the network that is strung together using Lucent Cat 5 structured cabling. The x-way Xeon-based servers are from Dell and IBM. Data back-up is done using EMC Legato solutions. The eTABS portal was written in Visual Basic.Net. The database in use is Microsoft SQL Server.

The biggest challenge was to ensure that enterprises opting for periodic updates and customised report generation would not suffer security breaches by doing so. Because Elbee’s clients included major banks and financial institutions, security considerations were paramount. “The other major challenge was to balance the technological innovations with business needs. It was also a challenge to introduce innovations without hampering existing business processes,” says Gariba.

The road ahead

Elbee Express has multiple call centres across major cities. The organisation now plans to set up a unified and centralised customer-care contact centre to organise tracking and make things more efficient. The database that is currently on SQL Server will be migrated to Oracle in the coming months.

The other major deployment on the cards is migration to wireless Web-based applications. The Web application will update details in near real-time.

The company’s deliverymen will be equipped with handheld scanners. These will be employed to capture bar-codes of parcels and transmit this data over a wireless network to a remote application server from where it will be displayed on the company’s portal. This application is in the testing phase, and will be deployed across branch offices in phases based on test results.

 
     
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