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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Tech Chasm Series: 1. The Delivery Window

Over the last 20 years technology has changed so many aspects of life it's now hard to imagine a time when flights had to be booked in person at a travel agent and a vandalised phone box was a good enough reason for not letting your parents/partner/butler know you were going to be a bit late home.

But in some areas a technological overhaul is well overdue, leading to a widening chasm between the theoretical capabilities and the practical application of technology.

1. The Delivery Window

The list of items that can't be [legally] ordered online for home delivery can be written on the back of a Royal Mail "I'm sorry we missed you" delivery card, yet few delivery firms provide a delivery window smaller than ten hours.

In fact you're lucky to get word of a delivery before you've missed it, with many firms relying on drivers themselves to give notice of delivery by buzzing your doorbell, before deploying a missed delivery card worded to make you feel like a naughty schoolchild late with a homework assignment:  'You have one more chance to receive these goods'...

I'm sorry for putting your driver out by not waiting by my door for the entire estimated delivery window of 1st May-7th May.   Next time I will help your driver by driving myself to PC World, running the gauntlet of credit offers at 26.3% APR and over-priced extended warranties costing nearly as much as a replacement laptop, only to find what I want is out of stock - but can be dispatched immediately for home delivery...

Now where was I...

Oh yes, once upon a time the avid mail-orderer needed to know the location of just 2 buildings: the nearest "main" Post Office and the local Parcel Force warehouse.

Today, each expedition is a veritable adventure; a 60-mile round trip to the "local" depot for Generic Delivery Services Ltd whose postcode, at least according to any satnav on the market, is just far enough away from the actual building to render your chance of getting to the collection office after work before it closes about as good as getting the full delivery charge refunded from the vendor if the delivery ends up boomeranging back because you failed to collect the package within a week.

That's assuming your package made it back to the depot, unlike the soggy books inside the soggy cardboard box left on my doorstep last October...

Or the pillow thrown over the gate - of the wrong house! Eventually finding its way to its intended recipient a week after the replacement had been delivered - and returned.

Are we to believe that tracking a parcel within these delivery operations is computationally impossible?  At least given the computing power of a ZX Spectrum (with 48k Ram Pack and ZX Microdrive)..

Granted, we have an extremely complex problem: a parcel at location A needs to get to location B, and the recipient R needs to be notified somehow.

You'd have to request their email address and everything...

Plus you'd need to know how long it takes for a parcel to reach the trunk network, travel the trunk network; I mean, it would take some effort to plan shipping routes and schedules (rather than leave them to the driver's discretion, as I assume they  must do now), collect actual data - maybe even build a database if it doesn't all fit on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet...

And provision delivery vehicles with the latest state-of-the-art satellite technology - or at least ask delivery drivers to keep their phones switched on whilst working.

Maybe NASA could help? After all they seemed to predict the landing time of Curiosity on Mars to a better accuracy than Rural Link Express can track a parcel from Manchester to Woking.

Is it really that hard for a company the size of a small country to divert some of the money it saves avoiding tax in to technology that lets its customers know with reasonably accuracy:

  • What day, at the time of ordering, a parcel will arrive; and, 
  • At some point the day before the time, to within a couple of hours, the parcel will be delivered?
And, instead of marketing this service as an optional extra, provide it to all customers, as it will surely save everyone time and money if a higher proportion of parcels are delivered on first attempt.


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