Reducing shipment scanning time by over 80% for DHL

DHL reduced scanning times, cut error rates and improved their analytics & reporting, with a custom software solution that Steer73 developed.

This solution included complex hardware integrations, PC software, cloud services and a data analytics package.
Client

DHL

Client since

2018

Services provided & technology built

Custom software development (shipment scanning software & hardware integrations), Power BI reporting dashboards, admin portal, PC app, technical support, system maintenance, hosting & cost management.

The problem

Like many logistics and supply chain organisations, DHL need to continuously improve their systems and take advantage of technology to enhance customer experience and improve business processes.

One area ripe for innovation was the shipment scanning process used to ensure every shipment was sent through to the correct destination.
The legacy system was extremely manual and involved staff scanning individual barcodes with a handheld scanner.

Steer73 were brought in to build an easy-to-use, reliable system to speed up shipment processing and reduce error rate.

Characterstics of the project

Integrations with large, expensive hardware
In addition to the expertise needed to integrate with the latest hardware, the size of this hardware, alongside its cost, meant that obtaining physical test machine to test the software on during the development process was not feasible.

Determined to provide the most robust service and maintain the predictability of timelines, we built a series of virtual test rigs.
UX & UI for an industrial setting
Would users be wearing gloves in winter? Would the strip lights cause glare on the tablet screen?

Our UX & UI team needed to ensure that the user experience was perfectly designed for the physical setting the system was to be used in.
Warehouse management system integration
The system we were building not only needed to replace a number of legacy systems but also integrate seamlessly with existing ones, including the warehouse management system.
Business-critical system
Quite simply, these processes need to happen, without fail and without delay.
High volume

The system would be used to scan millions of shipments for one of the UK's largest retailers.

The solution

The new solution would replace the legacy system of hand scanning packages.

Instead, operators would roll a trolley of shipments past the specialist scanning hardware. The system would then automatically scan each shipment and process it.  

The new system would enable DHL to:
  • Significantly speed up shipment scanning
  • View shipments that hadn’t scanned properly in real-time, reducing error rate
  • Cross-reference what should be in a shipment with what had been scanned
  • View collective analytics on the performance of the entire system

The tech

✅ PC application
✅ Web admin portal
✅ Power BI reporting dashboards
✅ Custom software
✅ Hardware integrations

Other services

✅ Operational digital transformation

Product services

✅ Stakeholder interviews
✅ Hardware provider interviews
✅ Business process analysis & design
✅ UX & UI design

Delivery methodology

✅ Agile
✅ Waterfall

To match the requirements of the project, different delivery methodologies were employed at different stages of the project.

Implementation: COVID-19 and working with large, expensive hardware

Within the solution Steer73 was building, there was a collection of physical scanning devices. The devices were large and very expensive, making obtaining a test machine impractical. Furthermore, COVID restrictions meant that the development team was unable to attend site.

This meant that:
  1. Steer73 had no conventional means of testing their solution against the integration as they built it
  2. Risk was skewed towards the end of the project when code could be tested on the real hardware
  3. There was a large unknown at the end of the project, leading to uncertain timelines and costs
Determined to deliver a robust solution, on time and on budget, Steer73 tackled the problem by building a series of virtual test rigs.

By working extremely closely with the hardware provider and all stakeholders, Steer73 was able to create mock instances of the external integrations.

Including a ‘virtual hardware’ mode in the application allowed the team to simulate specific hardware events. A simple scripting language extended this further, allowing the team to replay a large number of events sequentially. This included simulated delays, representing real-world usage.

This approach enabled both a wide range of different tests to be performed and also an incredible volume of test runs to be done.

The launch

By no means a given in the world of complex technology, the project was delivered on time and on budget.

The test rig model meant that there were zero issues with hardware integration when the software was deployed. Plus, many orders of magnitude more testing was carried out than would have been possible using physical hardware; in fact, the same quantity of tests would have taken over 2 years!

DHL had a system that immediately started to deliver on its goals.

Shipment scanning times were not only reduced by over 80% but staff costs and errors were reduced as well.

The outcome

Significantly faster shipment scanning

Shipment scanning time was reduced by over 80%, allowing increased volume to pass through warehouses in less time.

Reduced staff cost

By replacing a labor-intensive, manual task, staff time per shipment was significantly reduced.

Reduced errors

The system now alerts users in real-time when shipments are missed or errors occur.

Improved visibility for management

Detailed dashboards and data are now available to make more informed decisions, feeding through to a better experience for both DHL and their customers.

More detailed & actionable reporting

Giving management the ability to understand their business better on the ground level.

“Steer73 have offered us a high-quality service from the beginning of the project, working with us to analyze where our current range of digital products were successful and where they were failing, providing both the tools and the encouragement to grow our business.​ ”

― DHL

Ongoing support

We act as long-term technology partners to our clients and, far from building something and walking away, our relationships typically span many years, as we maintain and build upon the technology we deliver.

For DHL these services include:

Technical Support (Infrastructure): Providing a support team to respond to downtime or issues with system infrastructure.

System Maintenance: Preventative, corrective and adaptive maintenance work to ensure smooth, ongoing operation of the system.

Hosting & Cost Management: Managing hosting and other technical services.