Wm Tracey CIO Paul Leonard interview - Internet of waste things

Interest in the Internet of Things (IoT) tends to focus on glamorous opportunities to make everyday life easier, such as refrigerators that do the online shopping. As always with technology, the real value comes from something that some might regard as more mundane.

Paul Leonard heads technology at the William Tracey Group, one of the UK's largest recycling and resource management companies, and headquartered in Scotland. His strategy has put RFID tags on commercial wheelie bins, connected weigh arms on collection trucks to the onboard PCs and introduced an at-base data management strategy. Connected together via the internet, these tools produce a wealth of data that doesn't go to waste, creating new business opportunities, enabling a city and its enterprises to meet new regulatory demands, and most importantly, protecting the Scottish environment.

"The William Tracey Group was started by the grandparents of the current chairman, but is owned by DCC," explains Paul Leonard, Head of IT and Business Change.

DCC is a distribution and services company that is involved in healthcare and gas road transport, as well as other markets. It acquired 50% of William Tracey back in 2006 and now owns the remaining stake.

We met Leonard at the organisation's Linwood headquarters on the edge of Glasgow. Outside the office, green and white collection trucks shuttle in and out, while 40-tonne articulated lorries take reclaimed materials to the next stage of the cycle to reduce, reuse and recycle waste in Scotland. The William Tracey Group now handles approximately between 1.2 million tonnes of waste a year. Leonard explains that the company has been working to improve the reuse and recycling of its customers' resources to minimise those ultimately disposed of as waste, focusing on driving material away from landfill. In doing this, the William Tracey Group has played a role in helping Scottish business comply with new Waste (Scotland) Regulations, which came into effect on January 1, 2014.

The waste management business in Scotland is a great example of how a government, in this case the Scottish Parliament, can create a legislative position that improves the long-term needs of society and create a platform for business opportunities. The regulator aims to make Scotland a zero waste society: "Where all waste is seen as a resource, waste is minimised, valuable resources are disposed of in landfill and most waste is sorted, leaving only limited amounts to be treated," the Parliament states.

"Waste management used to be about tipping it, now it is about separation, so different paper and card types are separated, as are all materials, that then creates a commodity for us," Leonard reveals. He takes CIO UK on a tour showing us cubes of crushed cans that are a sought-after source of metals, bales of paper and a complex production line that doesn't start with raw materials from the ground and create something desirable, it takes something formerly desirable and breaks them down to their constituent parts of papers, plastics and metals, which will be sold to raw material producers for use in new desirable products.

"Refuse derived waste that has a high calorific value at present goes to Holland for use in power stations," Leonard says. For Scottish businesses, the change has had a significant financial impact. In April 2013, the Landfill tax rose to £72 per tonne and then up to £80 per tonne a year later.

"The regulations and campaign by the government was also an opportunity to communicate to customers that we can help, and that created a spring board for our business to come in and help people," he explains.

New regulations weren't just a launchpad for the William Tracey Group to offer new services to its customers. They were also a starting point for the organisation to change its processes to benefit from the new platform that the Scottish Parliament was offering waste management businesses.

"We didn't want to keep doing what we were doing. So I got the sign-off for a £1.5 million programme for the onboard weight technology, cloud services and QlikView BI, as well as putting our core financials on Navision and a new ERP," Leonard explains.

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