Sometimes you spot a process that is crying out to be automated. If you’ve had the misfortune to go through a mortgage or re-mortgage process, you’ll understand that the painful nature of form filling and “wet signatures” despite the advent of open banking and trusted e-signatures. It took me five months for a simple re-mortgage because of Leeds Building Society’s apparently pre-Civil War processes. We’ve recently won the brokership of LendInvest (LINV), a company which has introduced automation to the property finance world, with extraordinary results of which the benefits are snowballing – and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on their prospects. Results will be at the end of June, they are expected to be well worth a look, currently being viewed as a financials stock - when we can see underneath that it’s their scalable tech platform which can set the industry on fire and render the on balance sheet/off balance sheet risk debate immaterial to the commission they can generate from their platform throughput.
The Darwin Award for inviting automation into your industry this week must go to the RMT though. The RMT General Manager, unfortunately another Michael Lynch therefore presumably drawn to being outspoken as a moth is to a flame, is inviting us to see what can be removed to stop the paralysis of our rail services – and the answer is people. Remove the people, the RMT is inadvertently suggesting, or else they can, and provably will, strike. Turkeys voting for Christmas should be rephrased as train drivers voting to strike.
What galls me most is that we are all used to working from home, so who is this affecting negatively? Well, there’s the rub: it is the likes of those who need or work in hospitals; and the stressed kids needing to get to school to do their GCSEs and A Levels. Thomas the Tank Engine would be distraught at this logistical chaos. I had a psychopathic friend at school who used to torture harmless daddy long-legs – I don’t think the RMT’s actions are far off torturing those who in a similar way, cannot possibly respond. Train guards on automated trains can fill a customer service role, which surely implies a deep pool of potential staff willing to do the job. Ushers in a theatre are trained to look after customers and also respond to emergency situations, but they can’t hold the general public to ransom in the same way.
Bringing this round to consider how this influences investment cases, we would re-iterate Checkit (CKT), CrimsonTide (TIDE), Vianet (VNET) and Tracsis (TRCS). The former CEO of Tracsis (TRCS) used to point out that in rail, the train operators were privatised but the staff were not. The centrepiece software, TRACS Enterprise, delivers an ERP for the passenger and freight operating companies, enabling the most efficient operating environment and asset allocation, which includes satisfying regulatory and working time regulations and enabling operators to meet complex operational challenges (both as challenges arise on any given day, and in the long term). From a network/infrastructure side, they deliver RailHub, a digital platform helping the industry improve health and safety outcomes; and Remote Condition Monitoring which is all about monitoring and improving asset performance and minimising the time workers need to spend on the line. Although regulations currently prevent the benefit of the combination of the information within the Tracsis environment, it comprises real time data on where trains and members of staff are at any one time, and where rail engineers are on any track – the perfect view to prevent accidents or mitigate their consequences (driver or no driver). Tracsis enables the railways to operate despite the unions, when they decide they want to work .
Checkit(CKT)provides real-time management of the activities of deskless workers, providing automated monitoring and insight to management. These activities, called “dark operations” and ranging from train driving to warehouse operation, are harder than office work for managers to monitor. Adoption by some very large organisations like BP and the NHS highlights the quality of offering. Although it is relatively small and at an early stage, this is a scalable platform business rolling out in a huge, underserved global market in need of digital transformation.
In a similar vein, Crimson Tide (TIDE) offers its leading-edge mpro5 mobile workflow and job management software, enabling management with full visibility on what work is completed (including evidence of completion/compliance) and when. It includes functionality such as GPS tracking, digital signatures and time/date stamping. Used by Tesco, Interserve, Network Rail, the NHS (again) and Morrisons, this is again exactly the type of automation of the mundane which we will see more of in the future.
Vianet (VNET) are also reporting next week – in addition to their pubs and bars business which gives insight into draught beer flows and monitoring, one of their products enables smart vending machines, allowing you to purchase an extraordinary range of goods, from freshly made coffee to pizzas, not just the cokes and twixs we all yearn for at the railway station. Without the cost of setting up new retail outlets, a properly monitored smart vending machine (known as “unattended business”), with card payments to prevent theft, can deliver enhanced sales and inventory management for convenience purchases just about anywhere.
As we all work from home on the 21st and 23rd, pity the kids trudging to their final few exams, unable even to go out afterwards and celebrate, if there’s no way to get home. The law of unforeseen consequences doesn’t really apply here as we can surely see what’s coming. Automation - and amazingly that hasn’t yet touched the process of taking the exams themselves. That can’t be long either, surely.