Logistical Efficiency is Key for Newspaper Distribution

Wholesale newspaper and magazine distributors have to reduce their costs to a bare minimum. Surridge Dawson Ltd saw a strategic opportunity to beat their competitors by investing in new logistics systems to dramatically improve efficiencies at every point in the distribution process. This decision would prove instrumental in their dramatic growth and the formation of Dawson News PLC.

Surridge Dawson commissioned a software house to develop a bespoke distribution system to manage the daily collection and distribution of millions of publications to 13,000 retailers via 30 regional depots. This new system would help them drive costs down, provide a superior service, secure existing publisher contracts, and win contracts for new publishers and additional territories.

Business Crisis as New Logistics System is a “Disaster”

Surridge Dawson’s high hopes were soon dashed. The rollout started with smaller depots, but the new system could not even cope with these. System crashes, lockouts, and slowdowns meant that depot managers were resorting to manual processes and overtime to get deliveries out. They were very frustrated as they the information they needed was in the system but could not be accessed in time.

The new logistics system was such a “disaster” that the rollout had to be suspended. Surridge Dawson realized they were facing a crisis and brought in experienced IT Director, Roger Havell from Harrods. Late deliveries, excessive overtime, and loss of publishers’ confidence meant immediate action was required.

Establishing Stability

Roger Havell saw that the new system comprised machine-generated COBOL programs running against a CA-DB database on VAX servers in every depot. The COBOL had to be ‘hacked’ to make it run faster or to even work at all, in some cases. Surridge Dawson had lost faith in the technical architecture and the software house.

Havell quickly replaced the 32-bit VAX servers with the more powerful 64-bit Alpha servers running OpenVMS, but knew it would be much harder to change the application as all the logic and data were held in a proprietary “locked-in” CA environment. At Harrods, Havell had been impressed by RapidGen’s expert legacy systems consultants and their ability to integrate data between the most complex systems. So, he turned to RapidGen for their urgent, practical help in finding solutions.

The RapidGen team were able to quickly implement read/write interfaces directly to update and access the proprietary relational database. This enabled Havell and his team to keep the first branches operational. While the business processes were now stable, having IT teams working through the night was unsustainable.

Rebuilding the System

Roger Havell next addressed the application architecture. The systems problems were caused by the underlying technology failures. The machine-generated COBOL code and CA-DB database were very inefficient and technically flawed. First, CA-DB was replaced with the Digital RDB relational database to support large numbers of simultaneous users. Then the most heavily used parts of the application were re-written using RapidGen’s application language tools, the Genius Suite which were an order of magnitude more efficient.

These changes enabled the rollout to resume with confidence. RapidGen trained the Surridge Dawson team so that they could simultaneously complete rebuilding the system, finish the rollout and add extensive reporting capabilities.

Rapid Growth from 8% to 24% Market Share

When the rollout was complete, the entire business was delighted. The credibility of the IT team had been transformed. From being “a disaster” the new system was now helping Surridge Dawson operate more efficiently. It had become a strategic asset and competitive advantage.

Surridge Dawson won so much new business, that they acquired several other distributors and became Dawson News PLC – growing from an 8% market share in UK to 24%.

“The RapidGen legacy systems consultants were vital for us. Without their expertise in integrating legacy data, we could never have stabilized our logistics systems and turned them into a strategic asset.”
Roger Havell, IT Director, Dawson News PLC

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