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Doddle, a provider of click-and-collect parcel delivery services, has implemented a cloud-managed network in support of a rapid ongoing expansion into new host locations, and to make sure it plays nice with its partners.
As previously explored by Computer Weekly, Doddle recently implemented a Couchbase NoSQL database to help its staff more easily process information such as parcel status, customer details and specific instructions for the delivery or return of parcels back to retailers.
At the same time, the company, which was founded in 2014 as a joint venture between Network Rail and Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman, is rapidly expanding its business.
It went into 2016 with around 40 locations, mostly at major train stations, and ended it with just over 80. Chief technology officer Gary O’Connor plans to close out 2017 with nearly 1,000 locations thanks to new partnerships with retail chains such as B&Q, Morrisons and Cancer Research UK.
However, during the course of the past 12 months, he found that Doddle’s standard model of operating small concessions within larger transport hub or retail environments was starting to cause it problems from a networking perspective.
“The system we started out with was a web-based system; it always had to be online in each store,” he says.
“We needed resilient broadband because we pride ourselves on customer experience, so we had ethernet and digital subscriber line (DSL) connections in each store, with two routers and switches to guarantee connectivity, but it was bulky and expensive.
“When we looked to grow the network, we had to do the same thing more cheaply and using less space. This was important because we were going into locations that were smaller and needed to maximise space,” says O’Connor.
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Many of its stores, particularly those in railway stations, were in Victorian buildings that had never been upgraded for fibre connectivity. This threw another spanner in the works because it meant having to go through BT Openreach’s often lengthy processes to establish broadband.
O’Connor turned to Cradlepoint to help design and build a more cost-effective, robust and easy-to-deploy solution that, critically, would not require fixed cable infrastructure, or a hardware cabinet.
Doddle chose the AER1600 all-in-one, cloud-managed solution, which uses a single connection support DSL, ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity with dual-modem, multi-carrier mobile support over a 4G long term evolution (LTE) network.
To date, Doddle has replaced legacy networking equipment in 50 existing stores, and will be using Cradlepoint going forward at all new locations.
Doddle can now eliminate bulky equipment from its standalone units, freeing up more storage space for parcels, and save around 50% on both capital and operational expenditure by enabling greater flexibility for deployment and maintenance through the cloud.
The organisation claims that having made the switch, it can have a new store up and running within hours, including setting up handhelds, label printers, tablets and payment devices alongside the network hub running off a single connection.
Meanwhile, for Doddle’s new retail partners, Cradlepoint’s technology has made it a better neighbour.
“Cancer Research, for example, didn’t have Wi-Fi in all its stores, so turning up with a plug-and-play appliance that makes no demands on their core network was a real bonus for us, and helped sell it to the partner as well,” says O’Connor.
Day-to-day, little has changed for Doddle’s in-store staff as they go about their work. However, O’Connor believes the remote management and diagnostics features of the Cradlepoint solution will enable it to put more focus on customer service.
“One of our pressure points is that we get very busy with transactions at certain times during the day. During the evening rush hour for example, the last thing staff want is to be in the back room on the phone to me,” he says.
This is also reflected in Doddle’s small internal IT team, which can now isolate and address issues without having to go out into the field. “For example, if we have to validate and switch a connection from wired to mobile, it’s easily done,” says O’Connor.