Article From the Irish Trucker
It's written in the stars
It pays to keep up with technological advances, and innovative Irish company Transpoco, which specialises in the development and installation of Global Positioning Systems for the haulage sector, is leading the way. Managing Director Andrew Fleury spoke to Irish Trucker.
Many of the column inches which appear in our national press every day seem to be besotted with bad news. The worst recession in the history of the state has given us a banking system teetering on the brink of collapse, a massive public finance deficit, spiraling unemployment and the vista of another lost Irish generation spreading out around the globe in search of work.
It may be difficult to avoid all those negatives but positive stories are out there if you look hard enough. The stark reality is that nobody is going to get us out of this predicament. Nobody but ourselves, making the efforts of three young Dublin businessmen all the more laudable.
Andrew Fleury, Barry Cronin and John Harrington established Transpoco, or the innovative concepts behind it at least, while studying computer applications in Dublin City University in 2003. The company, which specialises in GPS tracking and fleet management software, started trading a couple of years later and as it closes in on the fifth anniversary of its debut in business (the first system was installed in December 2005) it is on the cusp of a new recruitment drive and a relocation from its Portmarnock base to a larger premises at the Drinan Enterprise Centre in Swords.
So how exactly did Transpoco come about? Managing Director Adam Fleury takes up the story. "The initial idea was to try and sell a GPS tracking system to Dublin Bus, which would allow passengers to know when the next bus was going to arrive. We thought it was a great idea, we had a working prototype, and it wasn't far away from being a working product. We met Dublin Bus and they were quite interested, but it just wasn't on their agenda at the time. Eventually we went back to the drawing board, decided to move it around a bit and were able to sell it on to private companies with vehicles on the road. There seemed to be a bit of a gap in the market at the time anyway, so looking back it was probably a better way to go."
As three lads in their earl 20's just out of DCU, what was the initial response from potential customers? "It was reasonably positive right from the start," says Andrew. "We were such a new company, starting from scratch, we had no customers or contacts or anything like that. All of us would have only been 23 years old or so, so I supposed anyone that started off with us could have been taking a bit of a chance. The first customers we had were very good to us, though. They took a chance on us, and that was what we needed. once we had a couple of reference customers we could say, 'Look, go and give these guys a call and they can vouch for us.'"
With the pace of technological advancement, presumably the products offered by Transpoco have changed demonstrably over the past five years or so? "It's come on a bit. When we started out with it there were still a few systems out there which worked off text messages, which was an old and quit slow technology. We probably picked it up at the right time. Data bundles were beginning to take off, so you could send a lot of information back from the unit every 30 seconds or so. The basics of GPS tracking has always been where the vehicle is and where it's been. Where it's come on a lot is the information you can take out of the system, such as driver analysis - harsh braking, rapid acceleration. Another area where there has been progress is in the analysis of locations. When we started off it was just seeing where the vehicle is, but now you can check how frequently you've visited a specific customer."
"The basics of the system are still effectively the same. We put the hardware in and the customer logs in to their system on the internet. Both sides of that have progressed - the hardware is better and we've done a lot of work on the software to try to make it as easy to use as possible and get the most out of it. How we run the business has changed fairly dramatically, too. We were just out of college and it was a fairly steep learning curve, so running the business has been as much of a progression as the actual system itself."
Is there a danger that the speed of technological advances renders items obsolete in double-quick time? "Not at all to be honest," insists Andrew. "It's not that fast, really. We still have a lot of customers using pieces of kit that are three or four years old, and they're still getting great value out of it. A new customer might get a piece of hardware that has one or two additions but it's not like the older hardware leaves you at a major disadvantage. The hardware we provide has a shelf life of around five ears, so once you have a decent piece of kit and the software is up to date, you should be okay. And because the software is web-based, it's simple to update. We're constantly developing the software but even customers who might have signed up a few years ago will have the latest version of the software because it's updated online."
Transpoco's top-of-the-range system brings a tie-in with satellite navigation giant Garmin, allowing two- way messaging between a SatNav and the company headquarters via the Transpoco-installed system. So how did that come about?
"We approached Garmin to signal our interest in working with them. It probably took about six months for everything to be ironed out. It's a fairly big deal for us. They've around 18 partners throughout Europe and it's a very good one for us to have. We got a good bit of business out of it, particularly in the UK and France."
"Not everyone will require all the benefits of the integrated SatNav system but it's a pretty good tool for companies who might be doing a lot of stops in one day. You can send a list of jobs through to the driver, they'd be on the driver's SatNav in the correct order, and all he's got to do is press 'Go' on the job. It removes the need to be giving guys directions over the phone."
"That system just isn't required for all our customers, so we can tailor the service to whatever the customer needs. We would sit down with the customer, see exactly what they do, check out their requirements and see what works best. There are a number of variations we would use in terms of the actual hardware or the software specifications required."
Mention of the UK or France brings us to one of the real beauties of Transpoco - the fact that it is much more than an Irish company. "We sell into the UK from here, do it over the phone and go and visit the customers for a couple of days," says Andrew. "For our French operation, we have a French national, Christophe Guegan, working here in Dublin as our French Business Development Manager, and on top of that we have three sales agents, a couple for dealers and a distributor in France."
Given that their horizons are extended well beyond the 32 counties, the future would appear to be bright for all involved in Transpoco. "There are eight of us here now, and we're hoping to hire again before the end of the year. We've been in Portmarnock since we started but we'll be moving to a new unit in the Drinan Enterprise Centre in Swords soon too. It's a much bigger unit so we'll be hoping to expand a bit over the next few months. The aim is to recruit a developer before Christmas, and Irish sales executive early in the New Year and a French sales person by February or March. It's going quite well, and we've been lucky to have had good customers over he last five years or so."
In that time, Transpoco's client list has grown steadily, with numerous link-ups with City Councils around the country, including Fingal, Dublin City, Roscommon and Limerick, while a notable recent project has involved tracking new electrical cars for the ESB. "ESB are engaging in trials at the moment, giving electrical cars out to staff and the public to figure out how people would use them. They're pretty much like normal vehicles, but a part of what we do is to track all the batteries, so you get up-to-date info on the state of charge of the battery. Are people charging them when the battery runs out or when it's already 90 percent full? Is it changing people's habits, as opposed to petrol or diesel? Do people travel differently when they're using an electric car?"
While Transpoco's day to day operations are busy, it's not all work and no play. "We've done a couple of charity things which have been good craic," says Andrew. "If you've ever seen rallies like Cannonball Rally, they take a Ferrari or something like that and go from London to, say, the Czech Republic. We also did one of the complete opposite end of that, the Race to Timbuktu, which was basically about getting the cheapest car you can find - 4-wheel drives are not allowed - and you've got to get it to Timbuktu. We tracked an Irish team that did that, and that was a bit of craic."
For more on the products and services offered by Transpoco, visit www.transpoco.ie.