Creating an consignment management system for international end-customers

Not all of the logistics company’s clients are global brands with big delivery requirements. A significant proportion of its business is generated by a large number of companies with relatively low logistics flows.

Black Pepper’s client was aware that businesses in this situation have lots of options when it comes to choosing a delivery partner.

The Beginning

XPO operates one of the world’s largest logistics companies, working with over 50,000 customers to transport various consignments across the world.

Challenges and Objectives

Price is important for these companies but, because their computer systems aren’t linked to their chosen logistics firm’s systems, all delivery details have to be manually entered. This means user-empathy is another major factor when choosing a delivery partner.

The logistics company’s existing web app was ten years old and virtually obsolete – it was slow, didn’t work with modern browsers, only supported their UK business and the general user experience was very poor. The challenge was to design an alternative that was both slick and easy to use.

The legacy app was also designed before responsiveness was a requirement and it could not be made responsive because its tech stack was too old to create a good mobile experience.

All text in the application also had to be available in five languages, with the language shown dependent on various configurations of the back-end and user preferences.

One of the big challenges was to design a front-end that made the best use of screen real estate across all of these languages.

The technical bit

Black Pepper was enlisted to rebuild the system from the ground up, with a robust modern technology stack.

First Black Pepper designed a large REST API, on top of which they built the logistics firm’s bespoke application. The API had to be generic enough to support various back-end transport management systems (TMS) across the logistics firm’s European acquisitions. The different TMS all had differently-shaped data and different rules on what was required to be collected.

In all, the API had 28 operations, ranging from authentication and consignment retrieval to complex validation workflows and document conversion. Black Pepper used the OpenAPI specification language to define the API and built detailed documentation to communicate proposed API changes to the product owner and their European colleagues as the requirements evolved.

Ultimately, the system needed to engage users and so user experience underpinned every element of the design so that it could equally serve a wide variety of user types.

Black Pepper’s system could query existing consignments, including tracking status and proof of delivery and enter new consignment details, including special requirements such as hazardous goods information. It could also edit and upload multiple consignments using a csv file and print dangerous goods notes, loading sheets and returns labels. Customers could either integrate to the API or access via the web application.

Black Pepper used the InVision digital design, workflow and collaboration software to create and share ideas at the very start of the project. This helped to define the look and feel of the end solution based on the logistics company’s brand and design guidelines. The designs were then turned into templates and components for the development team to work from and UX design continued as stories and requirements were elaborated.

Black Pepper also delivered an enhanced track and trace experience, which featured a new mapping integration.

Results

In stark contrast to its obsolete predecessor, Black Pepper’s solution proved to be mission-critical for most of the logistics company’s clients with over 8,000 using it regularly with 2,800 logins daily. Live updates sent to the end-customer, once the delivery time is scheduled, have proved to be very popular and have guaranteed a far superior customer experience.

Black Pepper has done a fantastic job working with the IT team to deliver a functionally rich product that has a very dynamic look and feel. By working so closely together we have created a very effective customer service tool.


Director of IT, Projects and Procurement, XPO