Pascal Lalonde is a Web Architect who leads the software development team at Damotech, a company dedicated to creating safer warehouses by protecting and repairing storage systems across North America. We spoke with him about his most important professional project: the development of the only rack inspection and asset management software in the industry!
Pascal, how would you describe Damotech’s platform and application in one sentence?
The Damotech platform is an online program that tracks warehouse pallet rack system issues, including inspection cycles, anomalies and damages, load capacity display, and repository for inspection reports and LARC drawing files.
Why was the platform created?
In general, to meet a critical need in the industry, which is to help warehouse managers maintain a safe working environment for their employees. When analyzing day-to-day operations in the warehouse environment, we realized that the fast-paced nature of the industry made it difficult to document rack damage, track repairs over time and retrieve important documentation when needed. People sometimes use paper or Excel files because they don't have a more complete tool, which makes tracking and sharing information difficult and time-consuming.
So we developed a software platform to make it easier to manage warehouse racks. It's a turnkey solution that allows operators to remotely monitor the state of their racking systems in real-time, across facilities, so that they can share information with their teams. We're providing an interactive, user-friendly tool that empowers operations leaders, warehouse managers, and health & safety professionals to understand and analyze their racking conformity. Instead of relying on documents and lists, the platform's visuals and illustrations communicate information more clearly - and foster proactivity!
For example, our platform clearly shows, in plan or elevation views, the context of a warehouse including the pallet racks within it, the details of storage systems and their components - the racking, the uprights, the bracing, etc.
Can you give us a quick tour of the platform and its various features and options?
Let's look at anomalies and damage on pallet racks. First, we want to be able to identify issues.
The platform will therefore be used to assess pallet rack systems and collect information about issues on-site while a user walks the facility and documents damage with their mobile device using the Damotech app. The platform will guide the user on how to collect data and take pictures in an optimal way and, thereafter, ease its analysis.
Once anomalies are reported, and information and pictures are in the platform, teams within the company can access it all in real-time, from any region. The current condition of pallet rack systems and the platform's analysis features allow users to compare the number of new anomalies vs. repairs, validate the load capacities of each rack, and organize information by component and priority level.
This analysis helps operators plan for repairs or other required actions. The platform will then measure and monitor progress, in addition to sharing information with team members. We know how little time there is in a day — we want to make our customers' jobs easier, faster and help them manage data more accurately.
A very complete tool, I see! And when we say "complete tool", it probably means several years of development to achieve this result?
We started it 7 years ago - time flies at Damotech! Understanding how our customers work, in all warehouse sizes, has helped create better software. The development involved several phases:
Prototyping, which is where we worked on converting a simple idea into concrete models - this phase included several research and development initiatives. Then there was the adjustment period. We had initially thought of a mobile-only application model. When we thought about the various ways and reasons our clients would use it, we finally decided to include a web mode as well, which would allow managers to view the information on their computer.
The next phase had a major impact on the usability of the platform; this is when we converted the information from lists to visuals, which also includes pictures, to make it easier to understand. Last but not least, we determined which technologies would be used to deploy the platform. We opted for a "serverless" approach, which allows us to rely entirely on the web. This avoids having to continually worry about maintaining a server that could jeopardize the accessibility of the software, in case a problem occurs.
It is also in this step that we addressed the security aspect. We chose an encrypted system, which effectively protects user data. The software also allows, within an organization, to assign certain types of access to different users according to their professional role, for a more secure internal management.
A little birdie told me that there was a close link between the "agile" mode and the platform. Could you tell us a little more?
Agility is the notion of doing your work in a way that optimizes all your actions, streamlining processes to eliminate inefficiencies and deliver the best possible value. This approach implies that the team is constantly working towards continuous improvement. In our case, this translates into our work method, which takes the form of refined planning of development phases and involves breaking the project down into small steps that are constantly re-evaluated to ensure that our high level of quality is maintained. This allows us to keep a fresh perspective on projects and to be even more proactive in our decisions - both when we choose to eliminate an option and when we create a new one!
Does the mobile application offer the same options as the platform, or are they complementary?
The platform is in fact a "web tool" that is accessible from two mediums; the browser, which is used from a computer, and the mobile application, which is downloaded to a cell phone or tablet. The main difference between the two options is that the mobile or tablet application includes an "offline" mode that allows users to assess their pallet systems directly in the warehouse. This feature is particularly valuable, as many warehouses do not have full-floor-to-ceiling internet access. Users will be able to collect photos and information directly through the application, and then synchronize them into the platform when a connection is available.
Given the format of the information presented in the platform, a computer browser is ideal to facilitate the consultation and analysis of the information.
What does the platform bring to warehouse owners, managers and employees?
First, real-time access to data. In other words, users have access to data about their warehouse(s) from anywhere in the world, at any time. Secondly, there is the disappearance of paper formats and Excel files, which means that data is centralized on the cloud, easily accessible, and well organized. The next benefit is time optimization. They will no longer need to bother a colleague to access the information, they can simply consult the data in the platform. In the end, I would add peace of mind: the tool is comprehensive and supports warehouse safety management.
What are the features of the platform and app that you and your team are most proud of?
There are many! The fact that we have converted information traditionally presented in lists to graphics is probably the most important feature. We managed to make the information more vivid and easier to understand for the user. There is also the fact that the platform is very, very easy to use. Even though the tool is powerful and brings together many options and data, it is still intuitive and easy to master from the start. The last point is that in the industrial sector, we are the first - and so far the only - to develop a tool of this kind. We are therefore acting as pioneers in our industry!
Are there any new projects coming up in connection with the platform?
Unfortunately, that's all the time we had for this interview... All kidding aside, we will be making several important announcements in the near future. So we'll keep you in suspense until then. 😉
I want to know more, where can I find more information?