It broke all the 'rules' -- it was bespoke, it had a big bang launch, and it involved a project team located in three countries.
But Mainfreight's $3.5 million, two-year project to build a system to monitor freight across 40 branches in the US went live without a hitch last month.
Mainfreight CIO Kevin Drinkwater says the system, called Mainstreet, was "built completely from scratch, combining completely new concepts with frameworks proven in New Zealand."
An agile approach was used and the system developed in ASP.NET and Microsoft SQL server 2012. Around 10 Mainfreight staff in New Zealand, Australia and the US were involved in specification, testing and user training.
Drinkwater says the system is built on dashboards that allow branches to monitor all aspects of freight from pick up to invoice. "We have also added intelligence to many screens, where users (there are 250) automatically see important ancillary information in many functions," he says.
"One example being the ability to see the current weather at the pickup location and the forecast weather at the delivery location. In a country as large as the US and with the extreme weather conditions it has, this can be vital as it allows us to inform the customer on the spot that there may be a weather factor that could affect the movement of their freight."
The system was developed by Sandfield Associates in Auckland, who have been building systems for Mainfreight since 1989. There was a core team of around six developers and project managers, increasing to 20 as the project neared completion.
Building a global footprint
Mainfreight CIO Kevin Drinkwater espouses management by 'walking around', proving that working with teams across the world is no deterrent to applying this philosophy.
Mainfreight is number 27 in CIO100, the top ICT-using organisations in New Zealand.
"I think the real story here, is how Mainfreight for over 25 years has had systems that execute their business the way they want to do it -- not change their business to what a package vendor offers or to industry best practice or whatever is popular at the time," says Sandfield managing director Bruce Copeland.
"Mainfreight have had the balls to commission large, bespoke systems," he says. "Most would say this is high risk. That IT projects, particularly software development, typically fails.
"This is against the conventional wisdom of buying a package or particularly one of the common ERP systems. That's seen to be low risk but almost never is."
Mainfreight's US business was acquired by Mainfreight in 2007 and has an annul revenue of $200 million, with branches in the US as well as Canada and Mexico. Mainfreight USA president John Hepworth praised the rollout in an email to the development team.
"This has put a lot of stress on our business and you as people, but to have such a major rollout and being able to do it with little or no interruption to the business is a major success and well worth acknowledging."
The Mainstreet system will be rolled out to Australia and New Zealand in the next 18 months.