Think you've got integration problems? Toll Holdings transport group has acquired at least one new company every year since 1986.
Determined to "own" transportation in Australia - including ports and boats, containers and trucks, planes and warehouses - Toll Holdings Limited has had a seemingly insatiable appetite for acquisitions since 1986. That was the year CEO Paul Little bought a run-down trucking business for $1.5 million and began the task of turning it into Australia's only true "integrated total logistics provider".
There's been at least one takeover every year since.
But under Toll's metamorphosis into the $2.25 billion global transport giant that is now Australia's largest road transport group, presenting a single face for the highly diverse group is a major challenge. So a company that has always spent enough on IT without ever going over the top looks to strong IT governance and standards to ensure all the newly acquired companies can be integrated into a relatively uniform IT architecture with minimum fuss. Solutions development manager Andrew Rossington says with new companies being added to the group at least annually, Toll's acquisition strategy could have led to disaster without an architecture specifically designed to allow rapid integration of new companies.
"I think in a company like this you can put forward your preferred platforms and set up arrangements for procurement and set up your support and maintenance services to ensure that you can provide the best level of service for those platforms of choice. But at the end of the day, being an acquisition company, we will end up inheriting things," he says. "We have a multitude of different hardware and software platforms out there and one of the jobs as part of this whole integration is to start to bring them all together, to get rid of what we don't want and merge it into what we do want. That's going to be ongoing. To be honest, I can't see it ever ending and that's why we need to have a standardised architecture for developing software, which allows us to integrate things quickly, because otherwise we will end up with 101 different systems around the company."
Rossington says with a business strategy to own transportation from door to door, and a determination to provide maximum transaction visibility so customers can track their goods all along the way, perhaps the biggest challenge facing Toll is to bring together all the systems and services - including business processes - of the diverse companies in the group. The alignment of all the various business units to ensure that happens is difficult, particularly where the supply chain is not always owned wholly and solely by Toll. "For example," he says, "in auto the PDI or the pre-delivery contract might be held by someone like Patrick Autocare. We have to interact with Patrick Autocare as part of that supply chain, and still be able to provide that level of visibility across part of the transactions which we don't necessarily own. It's incredibly difficult, and we're working our way through that now."
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