MapMechanics provides a market-leading suite of innovative solutions in logistics planning, sales and marketing, digital mapping and geographic analysis, designed to enhance any business process with a geographic component.
In the warehouse and logistics sector MapMechanics’ offering includes solutions for routing and scheduling, drive time and speed analysis and territory optimisation. Among these products, it supplies and supports TruckStops, the world’s most widely deployed routing and scheduling optimisation solution.
MapMechanics’ recent successes include network planning for TNT Express, drive time speeds for Ocado, an automated loading system for Solaglas and mapping data for Robert Wiseman Dairies, a major customer. It’s a rapidly developing business, as Mary Short, MapMechanics’ Chairman and Business Development Director, told Warehouse & Logistics News.
Mary set up MapMechanics in 1987, after working for a Dutch company selling routing and scheduling software, where she helped develop markets outside the UK and Netherlands. A mathematician turned programmer, Mary gravitated through customer support and marketing into sales, which inspired her to establish her own business in this field.
Mary’s new company Kingswood Ltd’s first solution was a journey time and distance calculation application for Shell. This initial project followed the collapse of the Dutch company that previously provided bureau times for the oil giant’s tanker drivers. Mary and colleagues produced software to fill the breach, and MapMechanics took off. They soon established an enviable reputation for expertise in map-related technologies: “Increasingly customers referred to us as ‘the map mechanics’,” Mary explains, “and so we changed our trading name to this in 2000, to reflect our acknowledged area of competence.”
These days Mary’s role involves developing MapMechanics’ longer term strategies, which sits well with her other focus, business development. MapMechanics provides solutions or components direct to customers as part of their supply chain requirements, or to integrators providing broader mobile logistics solutions. Mary is instrumental in forging MapMechanics’ relations with third parties and customers, and looks after a number of clients personally. These relationships help provide the feedback vital for development of the company’s new solutions.
An independent view
Based in Brentford, West London, MapMechanics has a £3.5m turnover and some 30 staff. Mary Short’s senior management colleagues include Chris Greenwood, MD and Technical Director and Theresa Barlow, who acts as general manager of the business day to day and leads implementation of the marketing strategy.
“Being independent means we are free to look at the opportunities for collaboration and synergies with other companies regarding their products and solutions, and also at possible acquisitions. It’s an enjoyable position.”
MapMechanics do substantial business overseas, generally remotely, supplying digital mapping data for clients’ Office or web-based applications. As a typical example, MapMechanics recently supplied a Bulgarian logistics property company with the geographical data and relevant training to carry out sophisticated logistics site analysis.
However, the bulk of their work is UK-based. Mary observes, “Compared to other countries, the UK is more receptive to optimisation solutions based on mapping, and understands what they can do. Our TruckStops software for example is staggeringly flexible and works equally well for different sectors. Although TruckStops originated in the US, logistics people here often seem to have more complex requirements than their American counterparts in using these systems in vehicle routing and scheduling, and have high expectations of the products, which in turn inspires us to develop them further.”
MapMechanics’ customer relationships begin with Mary and colleagues asking what the client is currently doing in their logistics planning, and where they want to go from there. This includes looking at the performance tangibles the eventual solution needs to measure.
“There are different approaches and benefits to different situations,” Mary concedes. “A company may have appointed logistics consultants to address their challenges and as part of the action plan are now ready to invest in our technology, or we can act as their logistics analysts and help them identify the right way forward: we’re equally happy either way.”
MapMechanics stands out through this combination of listening to the customer and delivering software that meets their requirements, either an off the shelf solution or something more specialised.
MapMechanics offer a mix of their own software and other suppliers’ applications, where they work closely with the originator to bring to market the ideal solutions for their customers. “It’s a good springboard for the future,” says Mary. “Brits take their obligations to customer service very seriously, and these solutions help companies deliver this service by mapping and optimisation.”
A powerful portfolio
Looking at the current product offering, TruckStops, MapMechanics’ market leading logistics application, is suitable for both fixed route scheduling and ad hoc scheduling, for such markets as parcels and home delivery, where every day’s workload is different.
MapMechanics is also UK distributor of the OptiSite network modelling software and GeoConcept geographic information systems for desktop, mobile and web use.
MapMechanics provide a number of other products for this sector, including point solutions for activities such as door-drop deliveries, full-load scheduling optimisation and catchment area analysis, and turnkey solutions developed in-house, such as the MapMechanics Mobile suite for planning and managing the movements of mobile workers in real time.
MapMechanics’ solutions often cross the boundaries between routing and scheduling, drive time and speed analysis and territory optimisation: “On many occasions companies approach us about one need and we then end up solving lots of others. We began as routing and scheduling specialists and moved across with our customers. We’re unique in providing a mix of functionalities.”
Similarly, MapMechanics’ client relationships have led to work in other countries. This has followed economic or security developments in those areas, be it the Middle East, Southern Africa, Eastern Europe or China. Each time the introduction has been a previous customer carrying out supply chain modeling in a new part of the world, and needing the operational advantage MapMechanics’ solutions can bring. “We are place-agnostic,” says Mary, “and can supply whatever’s appropriate as the customer’s operations develop.”
Customer needs driving new solutions
Responding to customers’ requirements is instrumental in the development of MapMechanics’s solutions, as with the new version of TruckStops, for Pallet Network members. Mary Short explains: “Pallet Network TruckStops came into being after various members and users of pallet networks approached us wanting a solution to ensure their respective companies operated as profitably as possible, taking rate tables into account. We are helping them bring efficiencies to the supply chain and exploit their strengths.” There is a MapMechanics specialist heading the marketing of Pallet Network TruckStops, who has a background in pallet networks and parcels.
Another MapMechanics mainstay, the MM Full Loads application also originated in response to a customer requirement: “We started with a home delivery project in this area for a client collecting and delivering parcels and documents. The available conventional radial distribution software wasn’t designed to handle this, so we came up with a solution. We moved on from there into the milk industry, where again they have a mix of vehicles with a trunking and tramping requirement, but still collect in one place and deliver somewhere else. A key characteristic of MM Full Loads is that vehicles can be based anywhere.”
Many UK organisations have invested heavily in logistics IT, which MapMechanics design their solutions to compliment: “We often end up supplying these clients with components such as mapping data or fast routing engines. Optimisation solutions are a highly specialist area: we’re happy to supply specific products to anybody who needs them. We’re also involved with community transport services, where we supply journey planning components to go into the back of the routing application to third party software providers or in-house teams.”
Another MapMechanics success story, GeoXploit is a powerful mapping tool that comes ready to use at a cost effective price, ideal for people who want to get started with a mapping application that works out of the box and provides drive time data.
Flexibility is key
MapMechanics’ solutions are modular and can be tailored with different mapping data. For example, clients moving into a new part of the world can combine an off the peg solution with local business data, plus specific software modifications or specialist optimisation engines. The results are immediate: “In any application, the customer often looks for quick wins: people want to get going quickly and we enable them to take the first step to deliver an immediate benefit, then look at their longer term concerns.”
MapMechanics’ target customers are typically companies with fleets of 20 or more vehicles, or smaller companies who have some level of complexity in the way in which their business operates, for example tight time windows, collections and deliveries: “We help companies as they undergo change, to cope with the new realities more effectively and make better informed decisions, faster.”
With a MapMechanics solution in place to do daily scheduling, staff are free for other duties, particularly looking after customers. TruckStops and other applications also extend cut off times for last orders, another important customer service improvement. “Because the software does the hard part, customers can put more work through the fleet or contract work out more effectively, all of which makes people more confident in these uncertain times. In the milk industry, as an example, journey planning has gone from a major exercise taking a fortnight to one taking days or even hours.”
MapMechanics’ applications use data from clients’ existing systems and are scalable as fleets grow. MapMechanics’ development team in Brentford works with external software partners as required. These partners include NAVTEQ, the provider of Satnav mapping information, whose data MapMechanics provide in manageable form to the business market to support clients’ needs in different sectors.
Each MapMechanics customer is assigned an account manager. The sales team members each have different sector specialisations: this means good cross-fertilisation, helpful when customers have broad requirements. Other business areas that benefit from MapMechanics’ solutions include sales and marketing, reviewing franchise business areas and sales territories – anything where profitability can be improved by looking at geographic factors combined with business data. Hence, a client solution may start in response to a logistics need in the logistics area, and from there the customer may look at the customer service and sales benefits it will bring.
Change – the constant factor
Mary Short is quite clear about the factors that continue to underpin MapMechanics’ growth: “The most important driver in our development is change – whether it’s the changing structure within particular industries and companies responding to it, or companies changing their strategy or contemplating doing so, in the face of acquisitions, mergers and business restructuring, we can help them capitalise on it.
“The other factor in our growth is the development of mapping and optimisation technology and customers’ growing appreciation of its benefits. Since I set up the business over twenty years ago, the technology has moved on and we can offer much more now. Many people we talk to these days have either considered or adopted this technology in the past, but now are looking afresh at what they can do with these applications and how we can help.
“We offer a distinctly different approach to potential customers’ previous or regular suppliers. We’ve succeeded primarily through the quality of our technology, the breadth of our experience and our friendly, understanding and flexible style. Being independent helps us move quickly and stay ahead: for instance, we can now incorporate aerial photography within our mapping solutions and overlay specialist mapping data on other mapping applications that clients use day to day, including those available free on the web.”
The recession has had its effects on some aspects of MapMechanics’ business, but recession means businesses have to change and change generates a need for MapMechanics’ products and services: “We had seen various projects being temporarily mothballed, but work can’t stop forever so many projects are now continuing, and these days everyone’s looking at ways of operating more efficiently, a further reason to look at mapping and optimisation.”
Mary cites MapMechanics’ recent work for Sud-Ouest, the French newspaper company, as an example of a project driven by a combination of recession and a green agenda, the necessity to merge regional and national newspaper deliveries to achieve economies and reduce overall carbon footprint.
The last word
Mary Short remains confident about the future: “We see the technology continuing to advance, and MapMechanics going on providing practical solutions for the logistics sector which make good use of the technologies available, as computer power increases.
Meanwhile here and now in the logistics industry, people have to keep their businesses running. They want reliable mapping and optimisation solutions; that won’t change. We’re very interested in blue sky thinking and forward looking projects too, but ultimately customers still need to deliver and do the job day to day, and we will help them do it.”
MapMechanics Tel: 020 8568 7000 www.mapmechanics.com