Most Australian motorists have, at one time or another, passed a semitrailer bearing a sign stating, “You are now passing another Fox”.
Such is the ubiquity of one of Australia’s largest and longest-lived logistics company, Linfox.
While the business of goods transport involves trucks, trains and planes, the IT infrastructure supporting such a vast and complex logistics network has become almost as important as the transportation of the goods themselves.
So formidable is the technology supporting Linfox’s business that the company won a two-year, $8.7 million contract from the Department of Defence late last year for the provision of software maintenance and support services related to the government entity’s warehouse management activities.
The deal revolved around Linfox’s own SAP-based warehouse management system (WMS), the configuration of which Department of Defence took on for its own purposes in 2014, with Linfox called in to help manage it.
While Linfox now assists the Department of Defence with its logistics IT infrastructure, when the IT infrastructure that manages Linfox’s thousands of vehicles and the millions of items they carry needs to be tweaked, Linfox CIO Conrad Harvey often turns to external technology partners to help out.
“When we need to extend or enhance the SAP warehouse solutions, and as we embark on more cloud activities, then partners become more important, as we transition,” said Harvey, who took on the role in December last year after a 10-year stint as Coles CIO.
But partners that want to shack up with the haulage company for such projects are going to want to be in it for the long haul.
Taking the long view
Having joined the company late last year, Harvey is still in the process of changing the way Linfox selects and works with external IT partners, suggesting that the company has sometimes been a little too “opportunistic” in the way it selects and uses partners.
Instead, Harvey is working towards working with fewer, more trusted partners with which Linfox can develop ongoing relationships as the company’s IT strategy evolves under his watch.
“The most crucial thing is a long-term view of the relationship,” Harvey said. “You very quickly establish that you’re both in it to win it over the long-term, so you’re not haggling over the wrong little details from either side.
“Normally, that requires partners to prove their bona fides fairly early on in the process. That means that they create the atmosphere within which it’s easier for Linfox to give commercially uncertain terms knowing that it’s worthwhile in the medium or long-term.”
The ultimate goal for Harvey and his team is getting to the point where it’s easy and frictionless for both parties to bring resources to the table in a mutually trusting and beneficial dynamic that develops into a tactical relationship.
Given that trust and mutual understanding is required for such a dynamic to flourish, unexpected surprises are a big no-no.
“No surprises,” Harvey said. “The most important thing is, once you start working together in a strategic partnership, like in almost any relationship, to make sure that you are open, honest and transparent at all times.
“The worst thing to do is to overpromise and under-deliver.”
That’s not to say that everything needs to be perfect all the time, but if things don’t work out as planned, it’s important for both the partner and the buyer to feel like they are in it together, as a team.
“When a project goes south, there’s a very bad feeling to immediately be presented with the bill for the rescue mission from the partner that helped you get into the crisis in the first place,” Harvey said.
“Now, we’re all commercial entities, so at some point you have to accept that work requires pay, but it’s how that’s handled and when it’s handled that’s very important.”