Fastlane Looks Back to the Future

As Fastlane International™ celebrates its 30th year, we look over some of the highlights of the past three decades. A lot has happened in the last thirty years from globalisation to the rise of eCommerce and ease of global shipping opportunities. It’s been a while since the cult 1985 film, Back to the Future was released, but we thought it was a great opportunity to do a “Marty” and revisit the 80s to see how the business has changed…

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Why 1985 Was a Great Year

As the first few personal computers hit the market, Fastlane was busy opening its doors for business on the 14th of October. First incorporated in Maidenhead, the company was joining the ranks of courier companies expanding across both sides of the Atlantic.

DHL, who would later become one of our delivery partners, was having a bumper year. In 1985, DHL increased its presence in Europe opening hubs in Brussels, Belgium, the company’s largest sorting facilities outside the US. In the same year, DHL expanded services to Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mozambique, Nauru, Somalia and Swaziland. Similarly, UPS focused on expanding its European business wing. In the same year, UPS started international air service between US and six European countries.

TNT, another future delivery partner, was also experiencing exponential rates of growth. The managing director of TNT, Sir Peter Abeles was quoted in June of that year saying, ‘I do not see why TNT should not be able to continue its rate of growth through to the year 2000. The fast growing Australian international transport group was not one to limit their ‘horizons’. The figures released for the fiscal year 1985-1986 were record breaking, showing that TNT broke the $100 Australian dollar threshold profit barrier for the first time. The news did not come as a surprise to anyone who had been watching the company.

Without a doubt, 1985 was an auspicious year for the tech industry as well as the courier industry.  The first Internet domain name, ‘symbolics.com’ was registered by Symbolics, a Massachusetts computer company in March of 1985. Windows released its 1.0 operating system with mouse navigation to allow PC users to ‘point and click’ their way through screens or ‘windows’. This represented a major step forward in how PC users navigated their computers. The same year another tech company, Dell built and designed the first computer system: The Turbo PC with an Intel 8088 processor. The first mobile call was made in the UK in the same year.

All these of developments would change the course of the decade, giving rise to smart tracking technology.

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1985-2000

Until the early 2000s, there was very limited visibility, when it came to tracking packages. Customers didn’t know if their parcel was delivered until the end of the day when the POD (that’s proof of delivery) was entered manually in the warehouse. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that data entry would be replaced by automated processes. Really, eCommerce pushed the logistics industry to improve technology and keep customers in the loop in order to reduce delays and the volume of queries.

Back in the day, drivers made their rounds with what was referred to as a “Run Sheet”. The “Run Sheet” was little more than a piece of paper that served as Proof of Delivery. Drivers used the Run Sheet to plan their delivery. If they ran into traffic, it was difficult to plan around delays. They relied on radio traffic reports and yes, gasp, ‘News helicopters’. Not only did they lack GPS navigators to plan the most efficient route, they lacked Real-Time scan technology. In fact, many of Fastlane International’s customer service team entered PODs manually into the system at the end of the day to update the status of each shipment.

However, the technology was not far off from being developed. DHL first introduced ‘Easy Track’ in 1989, which allowed customers to prepare and track shipments all from their PC. However, this information was not communicated in ‘Real-Time’ in the same way it is today.

Around the 1990s Quick Response and Efficient Consumer Response technologies were being developed. These concepts would be applied to retail and wholesale businesses. Distribution centres moved focus from storing goods to efficiently moving goods. This had a big impact on the industry and allowed companies to respond quickly to market developments. This happened in tandem with the rise of eCommerce and globalisation.

At the end of the 90s courier companies were working hard to integrate the internet with tracking technology. In 1996, DHL introduced internet tracking of shipments. In 1999, it launched its innovative DHL WAP Track, what was hailed as the industry’s first tracking service designed for WAP enabled mobile phones and devices.

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2000-2015

In 2000 DHL launched the first global SMS tracking service, which allowed customers to track DHL shipments via text messages with their mobile phone. This came a year after the company’s wireless data scanner, the ‘CatsEye’. The mobile wireless computer allowed couriers to scan shipment airway bills and transmit the data in ‘real-time’ from the customers’ premise to the company’s global data network. With these changes, Fastlane International™ experienced some of its biggest growth with the addition of major accounts with British charities and energy companies.

In 2004, FedEx introduced the ‘power pad’ with Bluetooth radio which was used by couriers to send parcel information scanned during pickup. This innovative pad freed couriers from having to dock handhelds to transfer data. All in all, this shaved on average of 10 seconds per stop. Though 10 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot over the course of a working day. This equates to minutes and then hours each week. When it was first issued, experts estimated that the pad saved courier companies millions of dollars. UPS quickly matched FedEx‘s capabilities.

Just after celebrating its 25th birthday, Fastlane International™ was acquired by one of the UK’s premier parcel delivery groups, increasing its numbers significantly from a customer service team of four to nearly 20. The company went on to introduce the highly successful iShipper app to customers to give greater flexibility when making bookings from handheld devices in line with our courier partners.

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What’s Next?

Join the celebrations all week and share your best memories of Fastlane. We will be giving a handful of loyal customers a commemorative mug and a special gift to mark the occasion. See our Facebook page for details.

What will the next 30 years hold?

Time will only tell, but we are keeping our eyes on drone technology. Amazon has made great leaps forward with its 1 hour delivery slots and drone testing in the US. Technology gives customers greater choice where, how and when they have their goods delivered.  Customers will have their goods delivered to their car boot or garden table. While you aren’t likely to see a drone near you anytime soon, you will probably spot one of our couriers DHL, UPS or TNT near your street, which is just as well. We think they look a lot friendlier…

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