If there is anything COVID-19 has taught businesses from around the world, it is the power of technology. Over the past year, many businesses have turned to technology to help their business survive. As such, digital services and technology providers saw a boom in the number of new customers. Sri Lanka’s very own transport and logistics service, PickMe, steals the spotlight as the prime example of surviving the global pandemic. In the words of the organisation’s CEO, Jiffry Zulfer, the company has pioneered in “connecting the online world with the offline”
PickMe’s strategies for survival during the lockdown
To PickMe, customer satisfaction is everything – “The service we strive to provide, should be as reliable as the sunrise” says Chief Technical Officer of PickMe, Mithila Somasiri. During the first lockdown, we were not allowed to leave their house for essentials. In order to help out their customers and drivers in this time of need, the leadership team of PickMe swiftly responded with a range of new services.
The first of which was a strategic partnership formed with Litro Gas for the household delivery of LP Gas cylinders. Institutions in both private and government sectors witnessed PickMe’s success in the execution of this service and were eager to get onboard. Building upon this, the company quickly expanded to offer the delivery of essential groceries with Sathosa. After onboarding more retailers, the initiative has now come to be known as the “Market” section on the PickMe app. Since launch, over 300 merchants have registered and made 250,000+ deliveries with PickMe.
Last year, the company also introduced PickMe Flash, Sri Lanka’s first on-demand delivery service. It facilitated the transfer of goods, instead of people, from one point to the other. During the lockdown, several home businesses utilized PickMe Flash to reach customers. Even Sampath Bank utilized it to deliver cash to the doorsteps of its account holders.
The challenging logistics of a pandemic
Much like any company adapting to COVID-19, the team at Pickme had to overcome multiple obstacles in their journey. One would assume given the range of services the company launched, it’d have to constantly rework it’s tech infrastructure. In reality, this wasn’t the case.
Since long before the pandemic, PickMe has been constantly investing in its tech infrastructure. As Mithila explains, “We’ve built our architecture in such a way that we can enable new features to be easily rolled out with minimal code changes and lead time.” Thanks to its investments in technology, the company was able to fine-tune it’s supply chain. Ensuring that deliveries were on time via the quickest route while being affordable.
Yet, the logistics of ‘last-mile’ delivery, which delivery of goods to the customer was the biggest hurdle in the early days. Elaborating on this, Chief Operating Officer of PickMe, Isira Perera shared, “The early days of the first lockdown were challenging. Primarily because we were among the first to request for curfew passes. Afterwards, we had to put practices in place, in line with health regulations for the safety of our drivers and customers. We’re grateful the authorities supported us in offering a much-needed service to the nation.”
Behind the Scenes – Innovation delivered by PickMe
So what exactly gave PickMe their edge? Breaking down their business into simple terms, Mithila stated that “Much of the platform is just moving messages. But deciding what to send and when is the challenge.” Much of this challenge is attributed to human behaviour. Hence, PickMe has invested heavily in data science and AI to anticipate daily usage patterns. With this, the company identified peak times were during mornings and evenings with the greatest activity in residential areas like Battaramulla, Maharagama and Dehiwala.
Complementing PickMe’s exceptional use of Data Analytics, Google Cloud Services has identified the company as one of their key clients in South Asia. The use of such advanced tools has helped the company instantly locate their customers, connect them to the nearest driver, whose rankings and credentials are analysed, together with a display of the quickest route and an ETA – all within a matter of milliseconds. Mithilia shared that their algorithm processes around 80 million such data points on an average day.
Through partnerships with Google and others, paired with its previous investments, PickMe was able to experiment with new technologies. All the while ensuring greater levels of reliability for its users. When the pandemic struck, it also enabled the company to swiftly launch a range of services that became essential during the lockdown. Moving forward, the company is planning to open-source many of these technologies it has built.
Lockdown II – Applying hard learned lessons
Starting with the lockdowns imposed on Gampaha and Kalutara in October, Sri Lanka soon realized the much-feared second wave had begun. Having learned from the previous lockdown, this time PickMe was ready. Speaking to ReadMe, Isiria shared, “Right at the offset of the second lockdown, PickMe received permission from the respective police divisions. We instantly experienced high demand for our services, requiring an operating capacity of 1000 drivers in these areas.”
Isira also emphasized PickMe’s close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other authorities towards ensuring strict hygiene guidelines were followed. Sharing the steps the company has taken for the safety of its customers and drivers, Isira said, “All drivers have participated in training programmes at our branch offices to brief our drivers of the actions they must take to ensure their safety and of our customers. We’ve also introduced in-app training programmes to ensure no room for complacency. This is made complete with daily temperature checks carried out on drivers.”
Beyond offering essential services to those who can’t leave their homes, PickMe has also utilized its technology to support the authorities with contact tracing. A crucial part of the response towards containing the spread of the virus. “We helped with contact tracing successfully the first time the pandemic hit the country and this time too we will do our utmost in supporting the authorities in this manner,” stated CEO of PickMe, Jiffry Zulfer.
Mobility in a post-COVID world
Recent news of vaccines offering strong protection against COVID-19 has been met with a joy across the world. Yet, it’s increasingly unlikely that life will return to exactly as it was before the pandemic. With an year spent indoors, working and socializing from home, technology has reshaped certain aspects of our lives. So what does that mean for mobility?
For PickMe, the answer to that question is to offer greater flexibility and value through technology. Not just to customers but drivers, merchants, and other stakeholders in its ecosystem. Isiria explained, “Our business is all about leveraging technology to create scale and maximising value. This is the essence of modern digitalization. With deliveries, we have our drivers collect and then deliver products to one customer and then to a second customer, without having to return to merchants. This applies to our ride-hailing business as well, where the moment a driver ends a hire, they’re connected with another customer.
He continued, “While seemingly simple on the surface, these efficiencies generate tremendous value for all of our stakeholders. Yet, behind the scenes, there’s a lot of effort PickMe has put into generating this value for our stakeholders.” Adding to this, Mithila said, “Even after the pandemic comes to an end, people will want more flexibility with mobility. This can take different forms, like an office shuttle service that drops you right at your doorstep. It could even be self-driving cars where you are the only occupant. PickMe is in a unique position where we can leverage technology to offer that flexibility to Sri Lankans.”