Prior to Joshua Bovell’s arrival as CIO at ASX200 hazardous waste management company, Toxfree, in October 2013, the organisation had not truly invested in IT due to its perception as a non-essential cost burden.
Upon his arrival, Bovell initiated a digital transformation program – dubbed ‘customersfirst’ – an IT-driven concept that has created change at Toxfree and ensured the organisation better tailors its services to customers’ needs and provides significant cost savings.
“I looked at the landscape; there was very low ICT literacy in the organisation,” says Bovell. “The IT department was basically a cost centre and the organisation needed a complete overhaul. We had 36 legal entities of companies, 18 financial packages and no data collection system anywhere in the business.”
Under the first phase of the project, Bovell mapped out a one, three and five year roadmap getting an ERP platform in place – one financial system that supports critical data around vehicle systems management and optimisation of routes.
A key component of this transformation has been the introduction of a standardised internet of things (IoT) platform, which enables the organisation to collect data to monitor the behaviour of truck drivers and optimise fleet output through machine learning and in-house data analysis. This provides drivers and fleet controllers with information about the safest routes to take; as well as preventative maintenance and early warning alerting to potential faults with the truck, which can help to prevent road accidents.
“Further benefits enable us to reduce vehicle emissions based on the optimisation of running weights, tyre pressures, and braking – which all assists in reducing carbon emissions,” he says.
Bovell says the gap Toxfree is still trying to close is tying this back to narrowband communications standards that are still yet to be ratified but will be rolled out by Telstra next year. Assets in the field, such as waste bins, have RFID tags and volume sensors that, for example, will soon indicate how much waste is in each bin. This will prevent drivers wasting time lifting bins that are empty.
“We will soon move into a world where we go to a bin, we know how full it is, so why would we send a vehicle to that asset unless we know there’s a reason to go there? That’s the future part but everything we have been doing is towards that model.
“We are the largest hazardous waste material collection company in the country – so not only do we have the standard things that a fleet has such as safety, and asset maintenance, we also have hazardous material that we are collecting.
“Also, our customers can be audited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They might want to know where that half a tonne of mercury is or where that contaminated oil is being stored, what state it is in and who is handling it? It reflects very well for our customers when they can show the EPA when they get audited where their waste is right now so we are getting a lot of buy-in from organisations such as Chevron, Rio Tinto and BHP.”
Driving change a difficult task
The waste management industry is notably a difficult industry to drive change, particularly within remote areas where there is limited connectivity and technology understanding.
“To circumvent connectivity issues, we implemented cost effective data collection mechanisms with long range low power, which deployed with shared assets, helped disperse IoT capabilities,” he says. “Reporting mechanisms were also adopted to send data only when sensors became active or were within range.”
As an educational stepping stone, Toxfree’s ‘operational user base’ was then presented with a fully working concept of the product, which demonstrated the end-to-end systems and process, he says.
“This enabled IT to demonstrate a proven working concept with real data and demonstrate outcomes that provide real value back to the business.”
Another key challenge Bovell had to overcome when implementing ‘customersfirst’ was dealing with a divide between the ICT and operations teams.
“ICT has traditionally been seen as a non-essential cost but in an increasingly difficult market, precipitated by the downturn in resources in WA, we were being seen as a viable option to differentiate our services over and above those of our competitors,” says Bovell.
“But to get there, we had to shed our previous image and build trust with operations. This has been a long-term goal of mine as CIO and something we’ve been working on for some time. A foundation of this journey was the secondment of a key operational business process owner into the IT team.
“She brought a wealth of operational experience to the team which assisted in managing acquisitions and importantly, giving ICT a credible seat at the table with operations.”