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case study: Addison Lee
An ongoing project by Addison Lee to overhaul its legacy IT systems and build a new enterprise IT architecture, integrating new custom built scheduling applications with Cognito's strategic mobile communications solution delivered on the Orange high speed data network.
At a cost of £1.5m, this project enabled Addison Lee to grow its fleet by 200% (1,000 vehicles) whilst increasing backroom staff by just 100 and delivering year-on-year growth of around 30%.
Addison Lee is a family business founded in 1975 with just five cars. Like most minicab firms the company allocated jobs to its drivers via a human controller with an expert knowledge of London's streets. By 2003 Addison Lee's fleet had grown to around 500 cars and was experiencing greater customer demand.
Addison Lee's management decided that in order to meet demand for a larger fleet, a technological solution was required that could handle higher volumes of passengers and allocate many more jobs at a faster rate. In addition to the challenge of allocating jobs to drivers, Addison Lee also required a complete overhaul of its existing enterprise IT and telecoms systems, which were inflexible, hard to maintain and difficult to develop new services on.
"As well as allowing Addison Lee to expand, we wanted our IT system to help improve customer service", says Peter Ingram, IT Director, Addison Lee. "We didn't have the capability to keep passengers updated on the whereabouts of their vehicle or even provide a sufficiently accurate pick-up time. Furthermore, when allocating jobs to drivers the main challenge was keeping a track of their location and therefore knowing who would be the most appropriate person for a pick-up.
In our business, this is critical not only for customers but also drivers who depend on our ability to both effectively and objectively allocate jobs to make a living".
Addison Lee is a truly 24/7/365 company; its customers require the ability to have cars on call at any time of the day or night. Implementing any changes to business critical systems had to be done in such a way that resulted in zero downtime and consequently, parallel running of new and old systems was required at all times to enable 'roll-backs' onto the original systems, should any new solutions prove to be less than 100% robust.
The ability to have a full audit trail of customer interaction was another major challenge as this is where a number of complaints arise from customers. For example, in many instances customers would be charged extra if a driver was left waiting for an excessive time.
Not having a full account of the booking would mean that if any objections to waiting charges were raised, there were no records of waiting times or original booking details to help address disputes.
Having researched available 'off the shelf' solutions from large vendors, Addison Lee concluded that most existing solutions were just as inflexible as the current systems or so expensive that the company could develop its own bespoke system that would meet all requirements for less cost. The team therefore custom-built applications to meet the challenges of allocating thousands of jobs to the fleet of premium minicabs efficiently.
Alongside the in-house development, Addison Lee selected Cognito's strategic mobile communications solution optimised by the Orange high speed data network to integrate its mobile workforce of drivers and couriers with the call centre and bookings operations. Cognito was selected due to its impressive track record of delivering real time systems and its ability to meet Addison Lee's stringent roll-out requirements.
The challenge of handling exponentially increasing volumes of bookings from new customers was addressed with a custom engineered dynamic scheduling solution. By utilising complex mathematical algorithms and a real time event-based optimisation engine, the scheduling application was brought online with a capacity to process 10,000 jobs per hour. The scheduler is the key application enabling Addison Lee to rapidly expand its operations and grow the fleet from 500 cars up to the current 2,500, whilst ensuring maximum fleet efficiency and a drastic reduction in 'dead mileage' (miles travelled without customers - at a loss to the company).
As well as creating a bridge between the new applications and legacy systems, Addison Lee also needed to integrate a number of existing, previously siloed technologies, including: radio broadcast GPS system, automated route planner, driver PDA communication, call recording and fleet management software. Cognito's strategic mobile communications solution was a key element in the integration of Addison Lee's booking system, call centre and control room. As a result, customers, drivers and dispatchers are all linked in the system, allowing knowledge to be pooled and shared both between the people and the technology involved.
The call centre itself is permanently manned by workers on eight-hour shifts. The volume of calls is enormous, with workers taking up to 2,000 calls an hour at peak times such as 3am, when clubs and other late-night establishments want to send their staff home safely.
As a result, Addison Lee also employs 80 home workers to help cover the busier hours, all of whom are also linked into the system. Thanks to the Cognito solution, these call centre workers' systems are all integrated with dispatchers and drivers. Job information taken from the call centre can be swiftly disseminated throughout the network and passed on to the correct driver with the minimum of human input, greatly accelerating the booking and allocation process.
98% of these jobs are now allocated automatically, with no need for human involvement, while the average time for a booking has been reduced from 150 to 90 seconds. Customers can check on the progress of vehicles either by text message, online or by contacting the driver directly.
Peter Ingram explains "Thanks to our integrated back-office and mobile systems, our customer service has progressed in leaps and bounds. When a customer books one of our drivers, we can tell them exactly where their appointed vehicle is and give them an approximate time when the driver will arrive. If the driver is delayed for any reason, we can then give the customer an updated arrival time based on the driver's progress. The scheduler can also optimise the vehicle's efficiency to prioritise pick-up speed, driver earnings or general efficiency, as required. The benefits in time alone are clear - our booking times have been reduced from 2.5 to 1.5 minutes, while customer response times have been cut by a whole 7 minutes".
The integrated system provides a number of extra benefits beyond improved customer service and the potential for a much larger fleet. The information entered into and transmitted across Cognito's system allows Addison Lee's experienced drivers and dispatchers to pool their knowledge of London's roads, as well as customer suggestions, into one large base, from which the GPS navigation systems take their data.
Naturally, the system has also seen a great increase in efficiency, dead mileage has been reduced by 17.4%. Drivers can now take 'Going Home' or 'First Thing' jobs, allocating pre-booked jobs according to the driver's route home and location and allowing them to keep working all day without wasting non-work mileage travelling at the start and end of a shift. Just this 'Going Home' function saves the company around 3,000 miles of travelling a day, while in a year the fleet itself does three million miles less than would be expected under the previous systems. The system has also provided great benefits for Addison Lee's drivers themselves.
As well as making their job a great deal easier, the system has helped increase their earning potential. Average jobs per driver have increased by two per week, while average driver earnings are up by 10%. "The Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act of 1998 did a lot to change the perception of our industry", says Peter Ingram. "As drivers become more aware of the benefits of working for an established operator, the added incentives provided by our system are proving invaluable in attracting the brightest new talent".
"As well as this, it has freed up the IT department to spend time working on ever-more innovative ways of improving our service. We were happy with our Cognito system when it was first implemented in 2004; since the 2006 upgrade, the integration into our back-end systems has provided massive benefits both to the company and to our drivers".