IT keeps TNT Express going strong
By Charles F. Moreira
Netherlands-based TNT Express Worldwide is one of the world’s largest express delivery or “courier” companies, and information technology (IT) plays a crucial role in facilitating its operations in this highly competitive, yet lucrative industry. The company has 83,236 employees, a fleet of about 30,000 delivery vehicles and 46 aircraft worldwide.
It has 62 head offices and over 2,600 depots and sorting centres worldwide and moves over one million consignments of parcels, documents and freight to over 200 countries each day.
Its interconnected international air and road network in Europe, spans across Europe, China, South America, the Asia Pacific and the Middle East deliver businesses’ and individual’s consignments within a stipulated time or even on a specific day. The company earned 7.2 billion Euros in revenue in 2011.
TNT Express Worldwide (Malaysia) began operations in Malaysia in 1976 and today it has over 600 staff across 10 branches and 11 depots nationwide, and at its three international gateways at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Penang and Johor Baru international airports.
In December 2005, the company its Asia Road Network (ARN), the in Asia. The 7.620 long ARN spans 127 cities across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and South China. TNT Express Malaysia is responsible for TNT’s main Security Control Centre in Singapore, which oversees and tracks its entire road network operations across Asia.
A string of awards testify to TNT Malaysia’ effectiveness, including the Best Road Haulier Asia Award for the third time running in the Asia Freight and Supply Chain Awards in 2007, The BrandLaureate Award for Corporate Branding-Best Brands in Logistics Solutions in 2010, Express and Logistics Provider in 2008 and Technology Business Review Award for Excellence in Logistics, Express Services in 2006.
Couldn’t have done that without IT
All of TNT Worldwide’s and TNT Malaysia’s operations and achievements would not have been possible without the aid of information technology (IT) systems to enable and facilitate them.
“I cannot imagine what we would would do without our IT systems,” said Chong Siang Chung, Managing Director, TNT Express Malaysia & Brunei. “With thousands of shipments in and out of Malaysia every day, without our ICT systems we would require three or four times the size of our current labour force to handle the workload and they would take three or four times longer,” he added.
|Chong Siang Chung with model of TNT freighter aircraft|
The Asia Road Network employs the latest technologies to monitor the movement of consignments from its Security Control Centre. The system uses GPS to monitor the position of its vehicles and applies geo-fencing to define the limits of their movement and if a vehicle strays too far from its defined route, the control centre will call the driver to find out why. The system also specifies where drivers can stop and for how long,so the control centre can call to enquire in case of irregularity.
All this helps prevent instances where the driver might be tempted to abscond with a large consignment of valuable items, such as electronic components. Many of TNT Malaysia’s customers are semiconductor manufacturers.
The vehicle’s cab has a camera to remotely monitor the driver’s movements and lets the control centre also know if the driver is being threatened or the vehicle hijacked. Another camera remotely monitors the door of container being carried, so it can capture the face of an anyone trying to break in. The locks on the door are also digitally controlled and can only be remotely unlocked from the control centre.
The GPS also lets the control centre monitor the driver’s driving habits, such as accelerating too fast and braking too abruptly, while telematic data on the vehicle’s speed and other parameters are fed back to the control centre, where a computer analyses the driver’s driving patterns.
Besides being dangerous, such bad driving behaviour also waste fuel and this monitoring lets TNT coach such drivers in proper driving practices.
Cellular mobile data communications, such as GPRS are used to monitor movement of individual shipments delivered, since the collection and delivery personnel very often enter buildings where GPS signals cannot reach. Such mobile workers are issued with a Motorola MC70 Enterprise Digital Assistant – a ruggedised Windows Mobile smartphone which they use to scan shipping labels and to enter certain status codes such as “office closed” and these information are uploaded via cellular data to TNT’s website where customers can check on the status of their shipment.
When a delivery is successful, the consignee (recipient) signs on the MC70s touchscreen which captures a digitised image of their signature much like a scanner does.
Besides its own pickup and delivery staff, TNT Malaysia also outsources pickup and delivery to exclusive local partners – i.e. individuals or companies with at least one van. TNT Malaysia trains them in its operational practices, rules and procedures and issues them with a TNT identification and field equipment such as the MC70.
This exclusive partnership lets TNT Malaysia maintain security, consistency and quality of service of its operations across all its own personnel and partners and it aims to sign up more local partners, and it can be a good business. For example, one such partner in Johor was an individual with a van when he signed up eight years ago and today runs four companies which employ about 40 persons.
In some cases, such as for deliveries to remote areas, TNT Express also works with local delivery companies.
Records of vehicle movement and volume of goods shipped are also used to decide on additional vehicle purchases to serve certain areas, whether to merge two or more underutilised routes for greater efficiency, whether to split an over-utilised route into two and so on, and here, free applications such as Google Maps are used to visualise the density of TNT’s operational routes, while an iPhone app is used for tracking.
TNT Express’ comprehensive computer system includes its shipping automation system which provides different solutions for customers who ship small and large volumes.
It provides a Web-based application called MyTNT on its website for low-volume or occasional shippers such as small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) and individuals, who log into MyTNT through TNT.com and enter the consignee’s (recipient’s) details once. The web agent then automatically sends the booking to customer service which dispatches a driver to pick up the consignment. Each consignee’s details entered are retained on the server for future use, so customers don’t have to re-key them again.
For more frequent shippers, TNT provides a PC-based application called Express Shipper which lets them prepare their invoice and consignment note offline on the PC before they submit it online to TNT to initiate collection and shipment.
TNT’s Shipping Manager for large customers involves some integration between the customer’s and TNT’s systems. Shipping Manager generates invoices, airway bills and related documents and it integrates with the customer’s own order processing system. For example, many of its customers such as semiconductor manufacturers have their own order processing system which communicates with TNT’s system which generates a a TNT shipping label. Shipment details can also be sent to TNT’s system once the customer’s quality control has cleared the shipment.
Some customers want to use their own label issued by their own order processing system and TNT accepts their label as valid and an alternative to TNT’s own label, though this requires very tight integration at the back-end.
All customs clearance operations are automated and all related data on consignments are fed into TNT’s customs clearance system from anywhere in the world and TNT Malaysia extracts all relevant information before the shipment is picked up or before the plane lands in Malaysia, so its customs clearance staff will begin clearance proceedings and prepare the relevant clearance documents,such as customs import forms.
The system sorts consignments for clearance by their declared value, since consignments valued at RM500 or below can be cleared by “direct release” – whereby Malaysian customs clears them according to the declaration alone based on trust, while they could inspect and formally clear consignments valued at above RM500.
It also processes export clearance, though most of these are merely formalities involving export declaration with no duties, with few exceptions such as rubber products for example.
TNT continuously improves its customs clearance system to make shipment more intelligent. It captures and stores its customers’ import records to help TNT’s executives use the right tariff code for each item, either according to each customer’s instructions or codes used for such items in the past which attracted the lowest duties or tax rates. Its system also integrates with the Malaysian Customs Information System.
The company developed its own backbone and customer relationship management (CRM) systems in-house, while it also uses SAP financial and procurement solutions.
“We also have a worldwide private cloud for internal use by administration and other staff who log into it over a virtual-private network (VPN) but we try to minimise access to this cloud for security reasons,” said Chong.
All decisions on which applications to use on what platforms are made by TNT Express Worldwide headquarters in Amsterdam.
TNT Worldwide also aspires to become the world’s first zero-emission transport company and strongly supports the United Nation’s World Food Programme, while over the years, TNT Malaysia has supported campaigns such as World Press Photo Exhibition, Walk the World, myKasih, various charity fund-raisers and others in a spirit centred around four pillars – namely to protect the environment, enhance the lives of children and youth, care for the poor and needy, and to raise social awareness.