You started your career in retail operations then moved the aviation sector before joining the DigiHaul team in February 2021. Tell us about your background.
I spent 15 years in retail working for a number of supermarkets in the north-east of England. Following my management training I worked my way up to Safeway’s leadership team in head office doing various roles in IT, retail operations and trading.
After that I moved to easyJet when it was a small company experiencing rapid growth – I think there were 48 aircraft when I joined and 350 by the time I left. I helped to put in structure around how they operated, then became Head of Ground Operations where I was responsible for the passengers and their bags, along with aircraft and crew in all of easyJet’s airports around the world.
You were in this role when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted and grounded around 100,000 flights, how did you manage such an enormous challenge?
Flights across Europe were grounded and we had around a million people who were displaced and who we had to look after until the ash cloud lifted then get them home. It took about three weeks to get everyone back to where they should be and following that there was a significant backlog of claims from customers. I was asked by the CEO to head up the Customer Services team and ramp up the call centres to work through this as quickly as possible.
I had to explain my plan for processing all the customer refunds and expenses to the European Commission and committed to resolve the situation within six weeks – this really galvanised everyone. It led me to look at transforming customer service from a transaction-driven process to one that was focused on the quality of outcome, which resulted in a real step change in customer satisfaction.
Where did you go from there?
My next role at easyJet was as Head of Terminal consolidation at Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal where I introduced the world’s largest automated bag drop, reducing passenger waiting times from 45 minutes to just four-and-a-half minutes at peak times, and less than a minute during quieter periods. This revolutionised passenger experience for easyJet. During this time I worked with the airport to completely rebuild the North Terminal experience, which meant significant rebuilding and refurbishment works alongside moving other airlines around to accommodate the size of the easyJet operation in the one terminal. By this time the easyJet fleet in Gatwick alone was much bigger than the entire fleet when I had joined the company 10 years earlier.
How did you first hear about DigiHaul?
While working at Gatwick I supported the ground handling team and introduced a ground handling strategy for easyJet to operate within the airport. It was a very complex operating environment and we brought DHL in to work in partnership with us – that’s where I first came into contact with Martin Willmor, DigiHaul’s CEO, and his team. It was very successful thanks to the way DHL had approached the transition by engaging staff.
After a break I spent a short time working for Gatwick Airport developing an integrated operations strategy and supporting Air Traffic Control. Martin then told me about DigiHaul which sounded like a great fit for my background in technical innovation, particularly as it’s a digital enabler trying to solve a problem that’s been around for a long time.
It amazes me that as consumers we have full visibility of where our online orders are but the transport sector isn’t able to give full traceability of goods when they’re on the road. DigiHaul is helping to resolve that.
How has your experience help drive DigiHaul’s operations strategy?
Aviation is ultimately about moving people and things in a time critical way so it’s not a dissimilar problem that we are trying to solve – we just need to use different techniques. Carriers are really important to us – we don’t have a business without them – so I put them on the same level as a customer in terms of what we offer them, how we treat them and how we grow their business as we grow ours.
What does a typical day look like in Operations?
Every morning we have a performance stand-up meeting to talk about any issues over the past 24 hours, the forecast for the next few days and any potential hotspots that we can resolve in advance. It’s also an opportunity for us to discuss any problems and work out how other teams might be able to help.
The Service Delivery and Admin teams work hard every day to make sure all orders that are in the system are assigned to carriers and are moving. They track the order through to completion and once a valid proof of delivery is received process the payment to the carrier.
The Brokerage team manages ad-hoc requests from shippers, they will then pass over any longer-term commitments to the Transport Planning and Service Delivery teams.
And the Carrier Management team works directly with our carriers to look after their requirements and growth aspirations and give them work that’s meaningful for them.
We also support our Sales and Transition teams to make sure that we’re aligned with any onboarding and new projects that are coming in.
Can you outline the key benefits of DigiHaul’s technology for both shippers and carriers?
As the portal grows, we have the ability to have a one-stop-shop for both shippers and carriers to put work through and take work off the portal and streamline the process.
At the moment, shippers have perhaps 10 or 15 preferred carriers but they might have to ring around them and there’s not always a guarantee that they will have the volume to take on the work.
What we’re doing is giving shippers access to hundreds of carriers that could take the work for you, so you’re getting better value, more opportunities and a wider pool of carriers to work with.
From a carrier’s perspective, they may have work booked in from A to B but are looking to make revenue on the return leg, B to A. The more volume that’s on the portal, the more opportunities there are for them to find that work and reduce the empty running of their vehicles. They’re not having to phone around to try and find work in a particular area.
We can also pair shipments together – if you’ve got an empty truck, we can look for loads that will give you a round trip.
Another key benefit is that once a delivery is complete, all they need to do is upload the proof of delivery on the app and they’ll get paid – it’s as simple as that. We do all the admin in the background.
The technology is backed up by DigiHaul’s team of transport and customer service professionals. How important is it for shippers and carriers to have this support in place?
DigiHaul is a freight business – not a platform – which means we’re responsible for managing the whole process for both our shippers and our carriers. Having experienced people available to support that and get things moving is important.
We have people with backgrounds in transport planning and customer service as well as former drivers, so having that experience lets us manage shipments in a smooth and effective way and have an understanding at all levels of the problems that our customers might face.
This isn’t a tech platform where you have no one to talk to or ask questions – there’s a human at the end of the phone or email who can deal with challenges as they crop up.
How easy is it for both shippers and carriers to integrate their existing systems?
Very easy! For shippers there’s already an integration layer available and three ways of getting orders onto the system: fully integrated for customers that have over 50 shipments per day; customers with up to 50 shipments per day can upload everything in one go from a spreadsheet; and for individual loads you can log onto the portal and input the details easily.
Carriers can integrate through their own transport management system (TMS) with us: we also recognise that some TMSs also act as freight forwarders in a competitive environment, so we use an integration layer to protect their data outside of the scope of our activity with them. For companies that don’t have a TMS they can use our app which allows them to manage their loads and our dedicated carrier portal where they can do things such as take loads and confirm positioning of their vehicles and time of arrival.
How successful has the app been with drivers?
Many of our hauliers have embraced the technology and do a fantastic job using the app. The more a carrier uses our app and is integrated with our systems, the more efficient their business is with us because the moment they complete a shipment with a proof of delivery, the clock starts ticking for payment so their cashflow improves significantly.
We’ve worked hard to make the app simple and intuitive so that people understand it and don’t feel overwhelmed by it.
Given the problems that the UK is experiencing with driver shortages, how critical do you think digital freight solutions are now, particularly as we enter peak season, and in the future?
Right now, digital freight is really needed for what is going to be a difficult time in the UK over the next year to 18 months – we can all see that shops and supermarkets are really feeling the pinch. It’s criminal that we could have vehicles driving empty in the UK when we’re 100,000 drivers short, stock missing from shelves and prices going up. A digital freight solution stops that because there’s visibility for activity to be undertaken.
There’s never a reason for a haulier to have nothing in their truck because we’ve got the volume and the loads available for them to fill the truck and earn revenue from it.
What’s the one thing that motivates you when you go to work?
I love what I do – at the moment it’s brilliant because the business is growing and changing every day with the lessons we’ve learnt, and I find that really motivates me. I also love the end product and the benefit that people are getting from it.
I talk to carriers regularly and they’re increasingly engaged with what we do and they want to be a part of it despite it being a carrier’s market at the moment. Perhaps it’s because they’re looking to the future – once the market normalises, we’ll still be here on the other side of it to support them.