When youre No. 2 in any business, as the saying goes, you must try harder. In the shipping and delivery business, Watkins Motor Lines Inc. isnt even close to No. 1 FedEx Corp.s $25 billion in revenue, but Watkins does try harder.
And with revenues closer to $1 billion, the Lakeland, Fla., company isnt really worried about the giants of the industry, not when it is a leader in a specialized delivery niche.
Watkins specialty is known in the business as an LTL (less than truckload) delivery. As opposed to large shipping companies that fly every package to a central location and route packages from there, LTL enables delivery companies to consolidate many loads on each truck, and as they move through various delivery hubs, the loads get further consolidated or get routed for local delivery.
LTL delivery companies can purchase shipments that are less than one full load, right down to single-pallet size, said Ben Carr, senior production control analyst for Watkins.
The company picks up packages in one region and transports them to regional “break bulks” and combines loads there.
Local drivers then take packages to each person or individual pallets to their destination.
New pallets are then picked up and taken to the next regional stop.
“So we load 10 or 11 customers freight on that one truck,” Carr said. “They each paid for their load, and we combine into one load. Add it all up, and we get paid more … if we ship one load in one truck than if we shipped them in 11 separate loads.”
The business model requires sophistication, coordination and good timing so that packages due to be dropped off at a break bulk are there when the next truck is ready to go. In a word, the process requires teamwork.
Thats the philosophy of the company and of the developer team that keeps the delivery management system up-to-date and as flexible as possible, enabling Watkins to get the right packages to the right customers right on time.
“Were not the cheapest shipper in the world, but we try to be the best,” said Carr. “Lately that has meant rolling out things to our customers that others arent willing to offer or is a premium product.
“Were services-driven,” said Carr. “We have to improve service to our customers and increase overall efficiencies across the U.S. because shipping is a very time-schedule overhead business. If we are late [our systems] share information as fast as [they] can, recalculate as soon as possible what freight gets on that truck to meet the deadlines.”
Constant updates are needed
Watkins main distribution system uses an IBM CICS transaction system and DB2 database, and applications and data need to be made available to front-end systems running Windows and Microsoft Corp.s .Net applications for transfer to delivery hubs and drivers and their bar-code scanners.
To keep the systems talking to one another and data flowing seamlessly, the applications must be updated constantly.
“The real reason to update is because the individual user in the field may require enhancements, or we may have to change something to maintain a competitive edge, as in right now, today,” said Carr.
“We implement multiple changes every day to our programs, both on open systems and mainframes. Some are small tweaks, or some are a bunch of modules in one large change from the collaboration of several programmers.”
Keeping all the changes in order are developer change management and team development products from Serena Software Inc.—Serena ChangeMan ZMF (for IBM zSeries mainframes) and Serena TeamTrack.
Team development and collaboration tools and methods are as numerous as some of Watkins routes are long.
All the major software providers, including Microsoft, with its Visual Studio Team System; IBM Rational, with its ClearCase line and other tools; Borland Software Corp., with its new Borland Core SDP (Software Delivery Platform); and CollabNet Inc., with its namesake Enterprise Edition, have some form of team developer management.
All of these products help developers manage the application life cycle, from creation to patch management.
Also in the mix are team or collaborative development methodologies such as the “agile,” “lean” and “extreme” programming methods that were spawned from TQM (Total Quality Management) concepts in which developers code in teams and practice refactoring, or constantly testing, correcting and updating code before it enters a production system.
Overall, change management in a team setting means that every developer knows what code is being changed, when and by whom; what change is being made; and that the change can be rolled back if it doesnt work.
Watkins also considered Computer Associates International Inc. solutions.
But for its needs, Watkins went with Serena because of its ability to manage development and change for multiple platforms at once, at the mainframe level and the open-system level, Carr said.
“We went with Serena because [their products] do several things, and they were making the most effort to improve their products,” Carr said.
“That turned out to be true. In the new releases, they listen to their customers. Suggestions appear in [software] two or three releases down the road.”
Serena has its roots in change management, but the San Mateo, Calif., company bolstered its team development strategy when it acquired TeamShare Inc. in mid-2003.
Products from that deal became Serena TeamTrack and enabled Serena to complete its PLM (product lifecycle management) lineup.
“ChangeMan ZMF has supported team-based development for a while, enabling concurrent development with multiple developers working on the same piece of code,” said Pradeep Bhanot, product marketing manager for mainframe application lifecycle management at Serena.
“You check out [code], make changes and let others know. We extended that approach by adding TeamTrack into [the] mix. TeamTrack is really the glue that brings together all the software change management solutions.”
Serena TeamTrack 6.2, released last fall, is slated for a refresh later this year.
The earlier release concentrated on workflow connectivity and making TeamTrack more “mainframe aware,” said Bhanot.
He said he is hoping to get another TeamTrack release out by the end of the year that will tighten up some of the software delivery mechanisms and add more functionality for the programmer, with impact analysis reports available through a Web browser.
Serena shows off
In addition to Watkins, Serena also likes to show off Dell Inc. as its largest customer of TeamTrack.
“Dell uses it to automate just about every process they can, around manufacturing, responding to RFPs [request for proposals]. TeamTrack is the second-most-used application at Dell behind Microsoft Office,” Bhanot said.
While not nearly as large but just as important, Watkins has been a Serena customer since 2001, around the time he arrived, Carr said.
Serena ChangeMan was installed originally just for mainframe process control, Carr said, and was maintained by seven people, including three developers, one project planner, an analyst and database administrators.
But as the company grew and started to convert to .Net application servers, coordination became paramount. And, even though Carr cant put a number on return on investment, he does know that time is money.
“As we got to be a larger and larger company, communication becomes important, and the great thing about Serena is that it can minimize downtime and rapidly back out any changes we implement.
Any downtime in any system can literally cost our company money,” Carr said. “The mission in IT is to have 100 percent availability all week long, with a few minutes down every night for recycles.”
Down the road Watkins plans to further streamline its development operation and bring more applications to the open-system side.
Carr said he will try to further eliminate change management that is now done manually, automate more, and be able to handle most of the load with just two developers and fewer scripted functions.
Also in the works is the ability to track all delivery trucks by a GPS (Global Positioning System), according to Carr.
In a world where time is money and change is constant, making deliveries on time requires adapting to and managing change.
“The IT role here is to keep us in the shipping business, to continue to deliver technological edges over the other shippers,” said Carr.
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