In this issue of In Touch, we interview Karl Wills, Managing Director, Pelipod, the innovative solution simplifying the supply chain
What is your background/career?
My career in information technology (IT) has centred round introducing new technology and handling major projects, mainly dealing with warehousing and logistics. By the 1990s I was IT director at EMI music moving on to international supply chain director and I spent time in Europe, latterly The Netherlands, France and Spain. On my return to the UK I realised I was bored with working in the corporate world and during the 80s having run my own small consultancy business at an earlier time in my career, I decided I wanted to do that again. I set up a business in the logistics area and after that took over another couple of businesses which I turned around and sold on. I was then appointed Chief Operating Officer at a company called MetaPack – if you buy online you will have used the software – it provides a gateway between retailers and carriers.
How did you come up with the idea for Pelipod?
It was whilst I was at MetaPack that I came up with the idea of Pelipod. A major challenge in the industry is to deliver right first time - about one hundred million parcels a year are not delivered as expected and this is a recognised problem. I thought about how you could create something that could allow unattended deliveries and make people’s lives easier, from both a consumer and business perspective. So I went part time at MetaPack whilst I built up the Pelipod business.
It was in 2013 that I first came up with the idea and within 2 years had been through a number of prototypes, built the system and launched the product nationwide.
Tell us a bit about Pelipod?
The product is an internet connected, centrally monitored, secure delivery locker which provides proof-of-delivery and collection. The concept focusses on businesses with field based engineers – similar to consumers they are not in during the day but need parts and products to be delivered early in the morning or evening. A lot of engineers spend time as drivers and this is not an efficient use of their time. For example a current proposal we put to a business concluded that the time their 170 engineers spent time driving was the equivalent of six full time engineers – Pelipod could save them four and half FTE across a year. In essence Pelipod shortens and simplifies the supply chain enabling staff to be more productive and efficient.
How does it work?
The key thing about Pelipod is we don’t sell it as a locker – it’s an Internet of Things (IoT) device – which uses a one-time use code or a recurring user code, which get assigned and transmitted to the box. Every time the box is opened and closed we get a message and we can generate reports advising whether the item has been picked up – this allows us to reassign if necessary therefore speeding up the process. We can also track if something hasn’t been collected and we actually photograph the contents of the box providing photographic proof if needed. On a BT site we know every time something has been taken in and out and by using the BT site the engineer can choose which site he wants delivery to either near their home or en route. So although we still need the secure locker it’s much more about a data system and the information flow and what you can do with that information flow can change the way you work.
What about the benefits of being part of BT?
BT has the largest field based engineering community and I initially approached them as a customer. They were very interested in what we were doing and after a couple of months they approached me to acquire the company. It wasn’t actually on my agenda but BT brought two significant things – the BT site footprint and investment. BT has around seven thousand sites and whilst we can place Pelipods on engineers property – the size of the vast BT estate means that at any one time one of those sites is probably only within fifteen minutes away from most engineers across the country. This makes it an amazing proposition - to have a secure trackable delivery on an estate site. And of course BT brought the development capital and without that it would have taken me a lot longer to do some of the things I wanted to do.
What future developments do you expect to see?
One future development is where we can start to identify individual assets in the box so that we can track them and identify them – so whilst we wouldn’t be able to stop people taking the wrong item we could track the individual asset and tell the engineers that they’ve taken the wrong thing.
Why did you choose Birmingham as your office base?
Historically we first set up business in small office in Kings Cross London, with SETSquared a world leading university business incubator. As well as London we had people based in Wales, Scotland and Oxford, with parts of the product been made in Bridgend and assembly in Aylesbury. And a lot of what we do is outsourced such as accounting and software writing, however when we were acquired by BT we wanted to create an office in terms of being able to recruit and train people etc. The West Midlands was really one of the best places for us, it has a large body of supply chain logistics, good transport, and access to the right sort of people with is why we ended up with the head office in the Midlands.
What are the key challenges you see for the company in next few years?
Our biggest challenge is customer inertia. Every business at the moment has some sort of solution so we have to make a compelling enough case for people to change. I believe that we could do something for most companies so it’s all about education and convincing them that there are other more efficient ways of working and that they don’t have to use a manned depot.
And a final question….
What happens if a Pelipod gets stolen?
For added physical security, Pelipods located within the grounds of BT’s sites are securely fastened to the wall or ground using industrial strength cables or bolts. However interestingly we did have one out on trial which went missing. It was lost within the company’s courier distribution network and we were able to tell them which depot it was at!