By Arvin Stefanus

Shippit has been in business for five years, and while what most businesses struggle with is the initial idea, we’re currently in a period of hyper-growth. So we know what we’re doing has value, and that the business idea is a huge tick. Now it’s about trying to scale new heights with what we can do for our customers and carriers, and this is where we come to technology as an enabler.

As a start-up you often incur a lot of tech debt, which means that the platform that’s taken you this far will potentially not take you to the next step. That’s when you need to scale the technology platform so it becomes an enabler and no longer a constraint. 

Striking the balance

You want to scale your platform so it allows for easy experimentation with new initiatives without adding an element of risk for your existing customer base. It’s a balance between moving faster towards the future and holding the line in terms of the quality of service you are currently delivering. We have quite a few large merchants that rely on our platform to move their product, but at the same time we need to be able to build out new things and experiment. 

Changing the engine mid-flight

Think of it as changing one of the engines of an aeroplane mid-fight. We can’t stop what we’re doing – it has to be mid-flight – so the question becomes ‘how do we continue to grow the business while adding new features and building a technology platform we can scale for the future?’ 

Technology as an enabler 

This is a broad term that applies to all of our stakeholders.  It could mean enabling a merchant to get onto the platform quickly and ship within minutes of signing up, or allowing a courier to offer their services seamlessly and swiftly. Whether it’s Shippit or one of the organisations we work with, it means enabling a business to launch new and improved features that make getting the job done easier and faster. To use technology as an enabler you need to first identify your core proposition, and then really lean in on your core capabilities to build it out. 

Data is a powerful tool

For example, data is a core capability for us as we’ve collected it right since we started, so we can lean in on that data to improve our allocations engine. When an order comes into our system we can match it with the correct carrier using booking and tracking data we’ve collected over that time to get the best result for the merchant and for the end customer receiving the goods. We can identify which warehouse a package was picked up from, what time it was on board for delivery and when it was scheduled to arrive. If the package arrived late, we can then look at whether a specific route was the problem or a carrier was the problem, which allows us to adjust our algorithm to provide a better outcome. For example, during peak periods like Christmas the delivery rate of some couriers starts dropping, so we can use data to see which couriers are better suited for that situation and re-route deliveries to those couriers, even though they might not usually be the number one choice.

Identify the bloat

Identifying the bloat in your system is the first step in eradicating it in favour of a more cost effective and streamlined alternative.

At Shippit we’ve built a lot of features that are specific to particular merchants, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they work for all. Some of those features have made it onto our core platform, so we are now in the process of identifying the features that apply only to the majority, so we can improve the core work flow and reduce the bloat.

Once we’ve narrowed down the remit of our core platform, we can then customise it by topping it off with additional features for specific merchants. This process has allowed us to zero in on what our core function is, so when a request comes from a merchant for additional feature, we can decide whether it sits on the top as a customisation or goes into the core offering. When we’ve identified what our core offerings are, we can also choose to ask one of our technology partners to build an extension for a merchant instead of building it ourselves. That way, we are focusing on our core capabilities while still extending our platform and offering customisations for greater flexibility and performance.

In the tech world, that means pinpointing a really strong set of API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) that we can then build on top of. 

A tree is only as strong as its roots, so if you want it to grow, getting that foundation right is really important.