And while PostNL has been ensuring that everyone in the Netherlands can get mail and parcels for more than two centuries, the company is evolving. Year after year, its mail division has seen letter volume fall steadily because people now can connect digitally. By contrast, e-commerce is booming, which means that volumes handled by its parcel division will keep growing. In 2021, PostNL delivered a record number of 384 million parcels.
And this is why PostNL asked Schuberg Philis to help its logistics event data (LED) team build a warehouse in the cloud.
A warehouse to record it all
At all times, PostNL wants to know exactly where in the logistics process a letter or a parcel is. That's why the company constantly maps out what happens to a shipment.
"The vast majority of the packages we process are sent by companies," explains Dennis van Steijn, PostNL’s LED Warehouse Platform Owner. "Our first awareness of a shipment is when a customer creates a label for their package. At that point, we get information about the sender, the recipient, and the corresponding barcode. We also know whether, for example, a signature is required upon delivery. Once in transit, the parcel gets scanned multiple times over the course of sorting, distribution, or if put on a truck. Each time the parcel is scanned is seen as a logistics event. We collect all that information and attach it to the shipment. On average, 15 logistics events are generated and processed per package. We record it all."
Agile and DevOps
Not only did Schuberg Philis enable PostNL to overhaul its applications, but we helped the company change work methods for the better. PostNL completely transitioned from its traditional linear way of working to Agile. This meant that the LED team started working in short cycles, thus abandoning habits ingrained after nearly a decade. And it worked. Gradually, the LED team could work more and more smoothly, adhering to Agile principles.
The LED team also started adopting DevOps. This brought together developers and administrators, experts who traditionally seldom sat at the same table, much less worked together. Applying DevOps, PostNL empowered a single team for platform development and management. The LED platform was successfully released in production.
Van Steijn looks back on the past period with great satisfaction. "Within the team, PostNL and Schuberg Philis share responsibility. This means that you constantly have to seek out dialogue and include everyone in the developments. For example, after we decided not only to take on the migration, but also to meet business goals, you have to discuss and debate that with each other. What that means for the project? A good project not only benefits from good internal communication, but also from keeping all the stakeholders on board and informed. You also have to be in constant dialogue with them," he says.
Fewer disruptions, lower costs
The rebuild to public cloud-native applications has benefited PostNL greatly. Management costs have dropped significantly. Because the new environment is much more robust, disruptions are fewer and there is less need for repairs. Furthermore, the new platform is fast, scalable, and has more features. In addition, speed of development is much higher. This is a result of the use of some AWS native services, like e.g. DynamoDB. While new functionality development and rollout once took at least a month, now that be done in half the time, in part because many steps – testing, for example – have become largely automated. Software improvements can also go live immediately.
"We created a data warehouse and a platform that functions well. Now that the solution is live, everyone is reaping the benefits,” says Van Steijn.
Schuberg Philis is responsible for keeping all of PostNL's mission-critical IT systems up and running. In addition to its LED team, Schuberg Philis has others currently working on innovative software projects at the heart of PostNL operations. Examples include Last Mile, a user-friendly digital support solution for mail carrier, and an IoT solution providing insight and control throughout the digital chain.
“We guarantee 100% uptime of the logistics process," says Gert de Jong, Customer Director at Schuberg Philis. "We only have one KPI, and that is customer satisfaction,” he emphasizes. “At an average IT company, you call the help desk if you have a problem. But only when things get really tense do you maybe get a specialist on the line. We only work with specialists who keep in contact directly with the customer. In our partnership with PostNL, we know that satisfying this company means helping them satisfy millions of letter writers and package senders across the Netherlands and all their recipients around the world.”
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