Workplace services provider PHS has spent £5 million on customer-facing IT products to keep it ahead of competition this year, its CIO told ComputerworldUK.
The IT team currently has 74 projects in its portfolio, which CIO Ian Featherstone hopes will keep PHS ahead of its rivals. With stiff competition in the workplace services market, prices have hit breaking point and the only differentiator is customer service, he said.
“We believe IT can keep us ahead of the competition,” he said.
The IT team is currently working on a customer-focused group portal that will merge PHS’ separate divisions, including washroom products and services, hand dryers and drinking water dispensers.
“We have eight different divisions but we want customers to be able to go to one place and buy consumables, look at their service history, get their invoices, sign up to new contracts or change direct debit details, all in one place,” Featherstone said.
The business is also embracing the shift from telephone communication to social media.
“We want them [customers] to control how we communicate with them,” Featherstone said. “We do a lot through Facebook and Twitter and we think that is how it is going to go, so our customers can self-serve.”
Alongside upcoming customer-facing products, PHS’ internal IT infrastructure is in a state of flux, according to Featherstone.
PHS has just rolled out IFS mobile workforce management software to 150 IBM-supplied Motorola smartphones to improve route scheduling and to track drivers in real time, improving productivity and customer satisfaction. It hopes to connect its entire fleet of 1,800 drivers by October.
Plasma screens have been fitted in depots so that administrators can track driver’s routes on screen in real time and adjust routes when necessary, something PHS was unable to do previously.
Driver tracking and route planning is crucial for PHS’ service level agreements (SLAs) with public sector customers, as deliveries like those to schools and prisons cannot be delayed if a driver cannot fit them in because their routing was not effectively planned.
Each van will also be fitted with O2 Drive telematics technology.
“Our objectives around the system are to achieve a 10 percent increase in productivity and a seven percent reduction in fuel consumption. Just three months in, we are on track with a six percent increase in productivity, and are making good headway on reducing fuel usage,” Featherstone added.
The IFS software transfers information like on-site signatures to PHS’ ERP system and tracks part replacements for stock orders in real time. As it was rolled out, Featherstone’s team found PHS’ data centre in Caerphilly, near Cardiff, could not scale and began hosting IFS software in Microsoft Azure six weeks ago.
“With the first few depots our internal servers were coping fine but as we got further, five or six servers started to struggle and we thought it was a better commercial model to ramp up and down rather than buy more servers,” Featherstone said.
PHS will move its critical applications, like its in-house ERP system, into the cloud in the next six to nine months, he added.