Avail is a unique mobile software agency with an equally unique mission statement that they work towards: “We are here for the industry; we do things the right way. We are Avail.” They provide two specially designed applications that works on smartphones, tablets and web browsers to enable HGV drivers to locate and accept work, and for hauliers to find the right drivers for their contracts. Avail offers an empowering alternative to expensive traditional agencies and a way of reducing costs for hauliers and increasing wages for drivers.
HGV driving is an intrinsic part of British industry. Today, 89% of all goods transported by land in Britain are moved directly by road, and there are currently around 300,000 heavy Goods Vehicle driving licence holders. However, since the zero-hour contract was introduced in 2011, the use of costly agencies has risen by 65% for Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers. This puts haulier companies and drivers in financially damaging positions because of agencies’ high costs, monthly fees and traditional way of working using telephones. Hauliers are paying too much and waiting too long for contracts to be filled, and drivers aren’t receiving the full value of their worth.
Erin Short had worked in the military as an HGV driver and then as a temporary driver back in the UK. Erin says, “I realised I could earn a lot more money if I could find my own jobs without an agency. One day in 2016 I spent 10 hours in a lorry driving around the country, thinking about how I could improve the process. In the olden days, you’d get jobs by telephone or if you knew a guy. But that doesn’t work anymore when we’ve got mobile technology that connects us all. I started working from there.”
Erin began planning a mobile application that would enable drivers and hauliers to find each other.
Of those using the app already, the average saving for hauliers will be £5,000 per year and drivers will take home an extra £2,500. For drivers, being paid no longer requires them to submit a timesheet – the process is automated for them by the app, with some manual work from Avail behind the scenes. Erin says, “This is the best part about it – £2,500 extra a year and the driver doesn’t have to change a thing. That’s food on the table, that’s school uniforms, rent, a family holiday. You have to remember these are working-class people. I know myself; they need all they can get but no one seems to help them. That’s why we created Avail. Our name literally means to better yourself or a situation. It’s a really exciting time.”
The Avail team came with their business idea and business model and, together with Perfect Image, undertook a full day of scoping for their vision of an application. Erin explains his company chose Perfect Image as their technology partner because: “We intend to be around for a long time, and Perfect Image has been around for a long time. They’ve dealt with big clients, and they’re methodical in their work. I have my wild idea with lots of different streams coming off it, and Perfect Image has the brain power and manpower to help shape this in to where you want to be, what you want to do, what you want to be working towards.”
Through a series of meetings, Perfect Image helped challenge Avail’s business model and cement their business processes for the app. Every step closer to a finished product was analysed and assessed to ensure it was properly thought out. We build the app iteratively to keep Avail as close to the project as possible. Erin says of working with Perfect Image, “Sometimes it was challenging because Perfect Image don’t just roll over, but it’s a very good, professional, clean cut service. You can talk through multiple ideas and come up with different methodologies. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but we just go back and take another look together.”
To build the User Experience (UX) into the app, Perfect Image used proper app design principals, an iterative process with Avail to keep them in the loop, a consultative approach and lots of communication. Erin says, “There were a lot of iterations and conversations about little tiny bits that an individual looking at it wouldn’t even notice. But the devil is in the detail and that’s where Perfect Image is most comfortable with. Then when you look at the project you know it’s thorough. That was good. It was challenging at times but that’s what it’s meant to be, you’re meant to work out the finer details and we definitely did.”
Differently to traditional app developers, Perfect Image took the long-term, end-to-end approach to bringing Erin’s idea to life. We built the app then hosted it on a Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure. We also set up Microsoft Dynamics CRM alongside the app. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is to manage the business opportunities that arise because of the app. Erin says of working with end-to-end IT solution provider, Perfect Image, “It was the one stop shop I needed to get everything done. I needed CRM, and I needed the app to be hosted. Talking to Perfect Image is like talking to a huge, very intelligent computer. You tell it what you need to do, and it works out how to do it in the best way. They certainly helped me to build a strong foundation of project managing some operations of the business.”
The app went live in the app stores and in just a few months they already have hundreds of registered users. Erin says of seeing the app live for the first time, “The only way I can describe it is like having a child. It’s such a weird, euphoric feeling, knowing that was my idea and seeing that’s exactly what it’s come out looking like, if not better. It’s an amazing feeling to see something me and my team came up with now actually alive and working.”
The app is set to become transformative within the driving industry. Drivers will soon be empowered to actively find work when they need it with instant notifications of relevant job listings, so they don’t have to wait for an agency to call them. Avail, unlike other agencies, doesn’t deduct breaks from drivers’ wages. Erin says this user-first mindset is vital: “We could double our costs and we’d still have the lowest prices in the market. But we don’t. We want to put hauliers back in the position where they’re paying reasonable rates to hire a driver, and put drivers back into the position where they don’t have to work 50-60 hours a week to survive. We want to look after our community.”
Without exception, everyone who has used the app thinks it’s brilliant. The UI and UX has been professionally planned, designed and implemented to ensure a smooth, natural experience for customers. The average demographic of a driver is 47 years old and technology-averse, so the drivers’ mobile app had to be intuitive. The haulier web app had to be easy for companies to begin using straight away. Erin explains, “I love the UX. I gave the app to a few big hauliers and literally within that meeting they were posting and deleting jobs, doing everything they needed to – without training. In my marketplace, that’s perfect. Each app works exactly right for our customers; hauliers and drivers.”
An incredible discovery for Avail, that Perfect Image made them aware of, was that as a Microsoft start-up customer they qualified for ten free users for their first year of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Not only that, but they also received $25,000 of free Azure cloud hosting. Erin says of the help from Microsoft: “We didn’t even realise we could get it, but it took a lot of pressure off our business plan. We had prepared for those costs but as a start-up, things sometimes don’t go as planned, so to not have to worry about that cost is incredibly helpful to us. It’s absolutely phenomenal.”
We built the architecture to host the app now and in the future. By building the application in the cloud, Avail now has the ability to more easily flex the storage and compute resource when there is an upsurge of users, so there will be no frustrating downtime. The cloud platform also offers fantastic security and compliance. Perfect Image also involved their in-house Data Security Consultant to ensure the data is secure, as the app comes into contact with people’s personal and financial details.
A roadmap is in place to further develop the app using feedback from drivers and hauliers. The next phase includes the following improvements:
Callum Clark, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of Avail, concludes: “We’re now fully up and running, and in the marketplace doing business. Our customers are benefitting from these applications; hauliers are saving and drivers are being paid more. Phase one was setting out how we wanted to do things and laying the foundation. Phase two is enhancing that. It’s the part where after you’ve bought a car, you start putting in heated seats and park assist. We’re putting in rating systems, more brain behind what’s going on, and automating more. This is the part that makes the app stand out more and we’re really excited about that, it’s powerful.”
Erin worked for many years in the military and was deployed to Afghanistan where he controlled the movement and logistic planning of a fleet of HGVs. Back in the UK, he completed his Business Management degree while driving HGVs. In 2016 he came up with an idea to completely transform the way temporary workers in the haulage industry are hired, and in 2018 work began with Perfect Image to bring his idea to life with the revolutionary Avail app. He is now the CEO and Co-Founder of Avail, overseeing the company that seeks to revive the HGV driving industry by empowering drivers and hauliers.
Callum began his career as an apprentice transport planner for Howard Tenens, planning loads and routes for Tautliners, Fridges, Containers and Low Loaders. Upon completion of the apprenticeship he worked at WMBL Ltd as Transport Planner, where he was quickly promoted to Logistics Manager. This included duties such as planning routes, organising staff, costing and budgeting of all logistics costs, global imports/exports, shipping container managing, and driving to keep efficiency up and costs down. In January 2017, Callum co-founded Avail and became Chief Operating Officer. He oversees all of the company’s internal operations, marketing and branding.