INTERVIEW: CTO Gary O’Connor explains how a network infrastructure transformation has fuelled the rapid growth of UK-based click & collect service Doddle
It has been an interesting couple of years for Doddle. The UK-based click-and-collect service has grown rapidly and now boasts more than 80 stores in train stations, universities and shopping centres.
Even if you’ve never used Doddle before, you no doubt recognise the name, as the company is now integrated with several of the UK’s leading retailers such as New Look, House of Fraser and M&S, as well as e-commerce giant Amazon.
The company had unusual beginnings, starting life as a pilot service within Network Rail. However, this soon came to an end and Doddle was required to spin out into its own company, which presented some interesting challenges for chief technology officer Gary O’Connor, especially from a network infrastructure perspective.
“Because Network Rail decided they couldn’t incubate it internally for lots of very good reasons, we were suddenly a company with a bank account, we had to go and get a payroll system, an HR system and roll out the stores pretty quickly,” said O’Connor, speaking to Silicon. “So we built the infrastructure of the company as we were rolling out the stores.
“From a store operations perspective there was a system there that did the core things we needed initially. So we had bits that were there and bits we had to bolt on the side as we worked out the other things we needed.”
Doddle expanded its footprint by around 50 percent in 2016, helped by partnerships with Morrison’s supermarkets and Cancer Research, which would be a serious test for any enterprise network, let alone one that was built in something of an ad hoc fashion.
With many sites in confined or restricted spaces, it needs to operate an efficient and reliable network without cumbersome and space-intensive hardware. And, with equally as aggressive growth plans in line for 2017, it needs the flexibility to be able to set up new stores quickly and efficiently.
Enter cloud-based networks provider Cradlepoint, which has been working with Doddle to re-engineer its enterprise network ahead of this continued expansion.
Doddle’s original system was entirely web driven, so required redundant data connections in order to provide always-on availability. Although this was relatively strong from a resilience point of view, it was time consuming to deploy and involved high CapEx and OpEx costs because it always involved two lots of connections,
“One of the core imperatives for us was to get ourselves to a place where we had agility in how we could operate to make sure we could deploy into different shapes of environments,” explained O’Connor, as well as looking to reduce both the operating costs and the initial capital outlay.
Connectivity was, of course, also a key factor: “Ideally we were looking for a unit that we could run with a fixed connection, a wireless connection or even a 4G connection and that was really what brought us to Cradlepoint; a device that could operate on those different modes of connectivity and could also be remotely managed.
“In the last six months or so we’ve gone into some environments where there’s been no data connection but we’ve been able to run on 4G. In other areas we’ve been able to plug into an existing connection but then also flip to 4G if we lost that connection for whatever reason.”
With the new capabilities, not only has Doddle been able to accelerate its store rollout thanks to an increased level of deployment flexibility, but also reduce its business CapEx and technology OpEx by nearly 50 per cent.
Maintenance has also been positively affected, as the remote management capabilities mean an engineer doesn’t have to be sent out for every little thing that goes wrong. “We’ve reduced the burden of having to send someone out to a store and clearly, as we spread geographically, it gets more expensive to have to send people out to fix thing,s so the more things we can remotely manage the better,” said O’Connor.
A further benefit that isn’t quite as obvious is the reduction in the size of the equipment required in each store. By freeing up extra room in stores where space is at a premium, Doddle is able to cycle more parcels through the unit each day, which ultimately drives revenue.
When combined together, the benefits make for quite a dramatic transformation. And, with “ambitious growth plans” for the year ahead, Doddle will be looking to take advantage of its new found capabilities.