In 1956 Malcolm McLean conceived one of the world’s greatest innovations. It’s his innovation, not sliced bread, that should be the benchmark for disruptive thinking, because McLean didn’t just revolutionise an industry, he changed the world.
The owner of the fifth-largest trucking fleet in the USA, McLean came up with the standardised shipping container. Thanks to him, instead of slowly shifting loose cargo from ships into trucks, dockers craned containers straight off the ships and onto trucks that left immediately. McLean slashed shipping costs by 97% per tonne.
The next innovation in shipping was a long time coming.
Those standardised containers do need unloading eventually. Until 2009 in
Australia—53 years after the invention of the container—that was a financially uncertain process for importers because it unloading was charged per hour. Costs could vary widely, so shippers couldn’t be certain how much it would cost until after the job was done. They also complained about unreliable contractors who were difficult to reach and arrange to be where they needed to be.
Running a paper-based system was an incredible headache. We had to get the physical paper in from all the sites and do everything manually. So we approached Innovent.
3rd Party Containers had the vision to disrupt that by charging a flat fee per container.Like the standardised container itself, it was an idea that sounds simple but isn’t easy to implement. It was, however, an idea that customers embraced quickly.
“We doubled in size every year for the first five years,” says Mike Law, one of 3rd Party Container's founders. “But running a paper-based system was an incredible headache. We had to get the physical paper in from all the sites and do everything manually. Of course, some of the paperwork would be lost and other parts were illegible.”
They were open to anything, which was brilliant. I had lots of crazy ideas and they managed to make all of them happen, sometimes with a tweak or an adjustment. They were accommodating and realistic, and they’re incredibly reasonably priced for what they accomplish.
— Mike Law
Director - 3rd Party Containers
What used to take two people four days is now done at the touch of abutton
But that’s not all the software does. Now, 3rd Party Containers can:
Be flexible about pricing jobs according to the service offered.
Schedule all the day’s jobs in just 90 minutes despite the complex variables considered with every job, such as grouping staff for jobs by factors like whether they’ve been inducted in the right skills, whether they’ve been drug tested and even whether they like travelling to jobs together.
Offer employees shifts by SMS. Employees can simply text back to accept or decline a shift.
Automate invoicing to clients, showing clients exactly how long it’s taken to unload their container.
Photograph any shipping damage they find when opening a container so clients have immediate photographic proof for their insurers.
Run compliance and risk assessments, including documenting attendance at the company’s frequent safety briefings.
3rd Party Containers has added continuously to its software since launching it to solve payroll and invoicing problems. In that time, the company has grown from around 30 to more than 300 employees.
We couldn’t be this size in this business without the software. We’d need twice as many operations staff, so we’d be losing all our money on operational overhead. The software Innovent built for us allows us to charge fairly and still make a margin because our software makes us so efficient. That has indirect benefits.
Having changed the way containers are unpacked in Australia and New Zealand, 3rd Party Containers is now looking to expand into the USA, something else made possible by vision and software.