CIO50 2021 #26-50 Ben Waterhouse, Coates
Since before the pandemic, Australian equipment leasing company Coates has demonstrated just how powerful the internet of things can be when properly applied to solving real business problems.
The company boasts a growing fleet of more than 12,500 vehicles and pieces of machinery, each of which generates large pools of data relating to things to location, maintenance and safety; critical information which unlocked has the potential to dramatically improve operations.
In his submission for the 2020 CIO50, Coates chief information officer Ben Waterhouse detailed how he and his team designed and developed their own IoT device and application, which demonstrated productivity savings of around 30%.
“This could have been treated as a one-off project, but thanks to our digital product model, we treat myFleet as a platform with the capacity for ongoing growth and development," he tells CIO Australia.
Much of the story since 2020 since has been about retrofitting the myFleet IoT device to Coates’ ever growing fleet. And Waterhouse admits he and the team had their work cut out for them.
“Unfortunately, retrofitting that many assets in the field can be a very complex and costly exercise due to the installation component and labour required to build custom wiring harnesses for the variety of make/models in the fleet.”
They gave themselves a deadline of just 12 months to deploy the device across the entire fleet, a feat which meant they also needed to work very closely with large numbers of OEM partners to ensure all new equipment came factory fitted with IoT capability.
Waterhouse recalls that the first pilot run averaged installation times of 2-3 hours per asset, making this the most expensive part of the process.
But he and his team really wanted to get installation down to under 30 minutes, which meant no complex wiring harnesses. Devices also need to last two years. And most importantly, they needed to report location and equipment utilisation.
After partnering with an engineering company in Tasmania, the first batch was delivered mid this year, with the job of connecting devices to Coates’ assets now being done for 20% the cost of other solutions.
Waterhouse says robotic process automation played an important role in helping to eliminate time consuming manual processes, while allowing business leaders to nominate and work through process optimisation and automation within their area or function.
“In leveraging the tried and trusted Coates business-led IT model, the technology team was able to address this issue and setup a digital product off the back of RPA.”
For example, by automating Coates’ accounts payable invoice creation and matching process, the IT team was able to save almost 3.2 FTE of work in the 10 months to September 2021. Meanwhile, several bots have been developed with many more identified.
Turing back to Coates’ core business - maximising the financial return from leasing of vast numbers of complex physical assets in the field – Waterhouse relates a powerful example of why the journey is never over.
Immensely satisfied with their ability to track and monitor their fleet, another potential application for Coates’ myFleet IoT solution was recently brought to their attention.
“One of our customers came to us and wanted to find a way to better understand the utilisation of tools and equipment and also understand and track staff movements across an industrial job site to see if they could make movements more efficient,” Waterhouse recalls.
“We identified this as an area our IoT solution could assist with so agreed to pilot some solutions with the customer.”
But because of the geographical location and complexity of the sites, traditional LTE based tracking technology was not suitable, leading Waterhouse and the team look at options for low-power WAN, eventually choosing point-to-multipoint solution LoRaWan (long range wide area network).
Now he says Coates can now deploy a ‘smart job site’ to any facility, providing detailed productivity reporting on people and tool movements.
“We now see a significant future in the smart job site concept”.