Developing the next generation Last Mile Delivery solution
A case study of streamlining a Legacy system for a Major Logistics Provider.
SHIPA is the online Logistics arm of Agility, one of the world’s premier supply chain providers and developers of logistics parks, whose global network spans in excess of 100 countries. With a strong business presence in the Middle East, the company leverages the strength and sophistication of their parent company’s delivery infrastructure to provide digitally-enabled Logistics, Last-Mile Delivery, Air & Ocean freight, and Shipment-Tracking solutions to various businesses. The company’s service offering also includes Courier Delivery and International Shopping, geared primarily toward individual consumers.
Faced with the need to support a rapid increase in the company’s business, SHIPA started looking to replace their legacy core system. The need for the change arose when the company realized that the current system was having difficulties supporting the interactions between the applications that made up the company’s Logistics solution. We became the provider of choice for the project as a result of a thorough vendor selection procedure. Our team and the Backendless Platform were selected to rebuild the system, streamline the information flow, and optimize the business process to establish the foundation for future growth and expansion.
The client’s system is an online Logistics platform for personal and business shipments. It is used to provide Ecommerce Logistics and industry-tailored Shipping, Warehousing, and Delivery solutions. By using the platform, ecommerce businesses can take full control of their supply chains, including rates, shipping, tracking, pickups, and live data. Users can track their shipments online and benefit from on-demand, same-day, and next-day delivery options. The Freight forwarding functionality of the client’s platform allows one to book, manage, and track international shipments.
The original solution of the customer was composed of the following components:A customer mobile app, which allowed the client to place an order and track its delivery in real time.A driver mobile app providing orders and routing information to the drivers and delivery couriers.A web app for business clients (the Business Dashboard application), which allowed them to place and manage orders as well as track them in real-time.
A web app for the company’s operational staff (the OpDashboard application), which allowed checking a driver’s availability, assign or re-assign an order, change the status of an order, and more. A web app for international customers (the International Shopping Web application), which allowed a customer to have a purchase they’ve made overseas sent to a SHIPA-provided address in that location and then delivered to the customer’s actual address in their country. Oracle Netsuite ERP, which was used for business logic data storage purposes. A Firebase database, which was used for data storage and real-time delivery purposes.Apigee API Management from Google, responsible for integration between SHIPA’s ecommerce clients’ and SHIPA’s core system.
With the number of individual components making up the solution being quite high, the company realized it needed to streamline the system. As the company’s business grew, the deficiencies of the decentralized approach started becoming more evident, while the operating cost continued to rise. These shortcomings and limitations were severe enough to cause operational disruptions and prevent business expansion.
More specifically, any order-related data had to be added to, stored in, and updated across three different applications: Oracle Netsuite ERP (as the principal data storage), the Firebase DB (for SHIPA’s support staff), and a separate database cluster (for the company’s data analysts). In other words, making a code addition in one app entailed adding the same amount of code to the two other apps. This created a vast amount of duplicated and excessive data, unnecessarily replicated code, and operational complexities related to data/order management.
The Backendless Consulting team was tasked with the following goals:
- Consolidate and optimize SHIPA’s numerous business IT processes.
- Establish an architecture to provide infinite system scalability and elasticity.
- Create a solution enabling real-time data delivery spanning the entire system.
- Achieve tangible operational cost-savings for the client by removing unnecessary duplication of data and supporting code.
- Ensure data integrity by removing redundancies in data storage and processing.
Finally and most importantly, the goals had to be achieved without causing any interruptions to any part of the client’s operation.
To implement the project, Backendless put together a project team that consisted of one Business Analyst/System Architect/PM and 1-4 software engineers. The number of software developers we assigned to the project varied during the different stages of its implementation. Both Backendless Consulting and the customer allocated project managers for day-to-day team coordination. At the present time (Q4 2021), we have been working with the customer for two years. Upon commencement of the project, our team started with in-depth research into the client’s solution and needs. Most of the time, the business analysis and requirements gathering stage ran in parallel with the development process. Our project team has been using Agile methodologies to implement the project. In order to elicit and collect the project requirements, our team communicated with approximately two a dozen of the client’s various technical and business stakeholders (IT Managers, System Architects, and software engineers). This posed a significant additional challenge, aggravated even further by onsite visitation restrictions due to the Covid-related travel restrictions.
Another challenge we had to overcome was implementing the project parallel to some of the client’s apps being expanded by their in-house team. To enable smooth migration to the new system, our team migrated a vast amount of data from the client’s legacy application to the Backendless solution without causing any disruption to their normal operation. The initial process of replacing the functionality with Backendless and reaching functional parity with the new system took approximately one year. Presently, all the client’s applications interact with the Netsuite ERP solely via the Backendless solution, licensed by SHIPA. To efficiently support SHIPA’s business processes, our solution provides the following services:
- Users –Multiple user roles and User Authentication types.
- API Services –Multiple API services, each of which processes the average of around 50 000 requests per hour.
- Data –Data storage, containing a total of up to 200 000 000 records and capable of supporting the average of around 400 000 requests per hour.
- Real-Time Messaging –Multiple channels and event types.
- A protected selector which allows the system to provide information, requested by the user based on whether they meet certain specified criteria. The functionality processes the average of 8000 messages per hour.
- File Storage
- Backendless Logging – the average volume of up to around 3 GB of logs per day. We have completely eliminated the need for SHIPA to use their legacy software, while fully achieving both the operational efficiency and cost-efficiency they were aiming for. Additionally, at the client’s request, we have integrated the newly implemented custom Backendless solution with Magento, Shopify, BlueCommerce, and several other ecommerce apps. This has allowed SHIPA to better gear their service offering to the needs of their ecommerce target audience, and created a solid foundation for SHIPA to become a Logistics partner of choice for these companies.
We opted for Node.js as the main development technology for the system’s custom functionality. This choice was due to our mastery of and long-standing experience with the technology. Two additional factors that influenced our choice were the technology’s ease of integration with the Backendless Pro solution and our ability to easily integrate our Node.js code with most external systems.
Our technical solution for the project included the following technologies and tools:
- Frontend: React
- Testing: Mocha
- Integrations: ElasticSearch, SQS, S3, Cloudwatch, Nexmo, Papertrail
- Platform: The Backendless Pro platform
All goals set for our project team by SHIPA were met on the timeline laid out by the client. As a result of the success of the initial engagement, new elements have been added and the engagement is ongoing. The solution we delivered is in full compliance with the client’s requirements. It provides the robustness, processing power, and unlimited scalability the client needs to support the exponential growth of their business.
Considering the complexity of the solution SHIPA needed, implementing Backendless platform has removed scalability limitations and opened opportunities for future growth. Having appreciated the true value of our BA and software development skills and expertise, SHIPA has turned to us for assistance with expanding their mobile and web applications. Our project team is currently working on the development of SHIPA’s new mobile and web Customer apps, their new Operational Dashboard, and the Tour-Planning functionality of the company’s Logistics solution. We are also engaged in developing a Dev Portal, and in creating continuous integrations with DHL, iHerb, and Fodel.