Founded in 1996, M&S Logistics is a global provider of bulk liquid transport and logistics services, specialising in ISO intermodal tank container operations. Headquartered in Sandbach, UK, the company has seen rapid international growth in recent years and today operates a fleet of over 8,500 tank containers, with regional offices in Asia, Brazil, China, France, Netherlands, South Africa, the UAE and the USA, plus a worldwide network of agents.
While the COVID-19 pandemic required M&S to make various changes to business operations, not least to support staff to work from home around the world, demand remained strong and international growth continued. In 2020, the company opened its second US office, in New Jersey, and was named in the London Stock Exchange “1000 Companies to Inspire Britain”, celebrating some of the fastest-growing and most dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK and Europe. Another new office followed at the start of 2021, in Thailand. M&S is now actively pursuing further growth across Europe and beyond and plans to add around 400 new tank containers to its fleet during 2021.
The Data Challenge
M&S has been using specialist tank container operating and rental software from MRI Intermodal (formerly RAM Intermodal) for many years, hosted in the UK on servers run by a 3rd party. Rapid business growth had put pressure on this hosting structure and in 2018/19 the company faced the decision whether to upgrade to new servers or move to the cloud, explains Rob Hughes, Global IT Manager at M&S.
Key drivers for the decision were how best to ensure robust business continuity and the ability to scale up quickly to support future growth. “Hosting the MRI software on an older server was also slowing down software updates and enhancements and we knew that we needed to address all of these issues,” adds Hughes.
Taking to the Cloud
The company turned to MRI as its long-term software partner to discuss cloud hosting and explore the benefits of migrating to the MRI SaaS platform. Designed ‘from the ground up’ and continuously enhanced over many years, MRI’s SaaS solution is dedicated exclusively to clients using MRI software. The platform is powered by data centres in the UK, Singapore and USA and all infrastructure is configured for industry best practice and specifically for the software solutions that it hosts. All hardware is owned, managed and maintained directly by MRI engineers, which allows for close continual control over network infrastructure and data security, delivering a secure, scalable, high-performance hosting environment.
A major consideration in deciding whether to move to the cloud was cost, notes Hughes. “The MRI SaaS platform is more expensive than our previous server infrastructure. There’s always a hesitancy with a big investment being in the cloud, but our senior team decided that the benefits outweighed the extra cost.”
“Having worked for many years with MRI, we had faith in their people and technology,” continues Hughes. “The MRI team was with us all the way. They gave us a project timeline that they stuck to and were on hand throughout to make the migration process as smooth as possible.” Cloud hosting for the M&S tank container operating software went live in February 2020.
Results & Next Steps
Having operated in the cloud for over a year now, M&S has seen clear improvements in the speed, performance, and security of its operating software, says Hughes. With the new cloud set-up, MRI engineers can resolve issues much more quickly in the background. The new web apps also look good and are easy to work with, says Hughes. “We have been impressed with the results. Having successfully migrated our MRI Monitor4000 tank operating system onto the SaaS platform, we are now also planning to do the same with our MRI Rental4000 tank leasing software.”
Data and cyber security are of course major areas of attention, even more so during the pandemic with staff working from home and relying on their own internet connections. The MRI SaaS platform has very robust security at the data and hardware levels and Hughes admits that managing the higher level of password security required has been challenging at times. With the help of MRI, M&S has now implemented Single-Sign-On (SSO) for its global team to alleviate this.
Having settled in with the new cloud model, M&S is now looking at adding further value to its data with business intelligence tools, advanced analytics and interfaces to other systems. In the future, this could well include interfaces to customer portals and other 3rd party platforms as the tank container industry accelerates the pace of digitalisation, like so many other sectors of supply chain, logistics and shipping.
“MRI SaaS provides us with a stable and scalable hosting environment for other apps to be bolted on,” says Hughes. M&S is now testing out API interfaces and has already gone live in-house with a link between its tank operating and financial systems to generate new insights on job profitability and other key business metrics.
Open systems and interoperability are very much the direction of travel for MRI across its software and cloud platform, says Marketing Manager Nicola Byers. “We aim to support customers like M&S on their digitalisation journey with a ‘plug and play’ approach that makes it as easy as possible to interface with other systems. At MRI we remain focused on our speciality area of asset management software for intermodal logistics and other industries. As digitalisation advances, our ethos is to allow everyone to play to their strengths with APIs and other tools that enable connectivity across different systems and platforms.”
“Moving to the MRI SaaS cloud platform has helped us future proof our business. We have the infrastructure we need to ride the next wave of digitalisation both inside our business and with clients, suppliers, and partners,” concludes Hughes.
To find out more about moving to the Cloud with MRI Intermodal, please visit our mini site here