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Moving the Military

Sep 12, 2013
Agility won the MOD contract in 2010. At that time the company was still somewhat unknown in the UK and the industry held its breath. The contract comes up for renewal next year so Steve Jordan took a look at how Agility has performed and talks the agents who have operated the world’s biggest single-source household goods moving contract.

In a trade press interview in 2010 Anne Bradley, Project Director for Agility in Reading, confirmed that only BAR members were selected for the contract and said that it was quality not price that drove their selection.   “We have to continually show a competitive process, however we have not selected any supplier based on rates alone,” she said.


In the same interview Simon Kirby, Senior Project Manager for Agility, said that all the movers were working from a common tariff so price had no bearing on the selection of a company for a particular move.  “The only factor that counts is performance,” he said.  “All direct agents have signed up to our Statement of Work, Service Level Agreements and Terms and Conditions. They all have taken on the same Key Performance Indicators as we have taken on from the MOD. They are all inspected at very regular intervals on actual moves and to have their offices, systems and warehouses checked. We have everything in place to ensure that quality continues.”


So, three years on, and with the contract renewal looming, how did Agility get on.  It’s all very well to talk a good service, but providing and maintaining it throughout a long-term contract can be a completely different thing especially one of such complexity.


So how does Agility feel it has performed?  They think they have done pretty well.  Simon Kirby said that they have agreed strict KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) for the suppliers and a robust Statement of Work (designed by Agility for the specific use of this contract)  that out-perform any other contractor.  KPI’s include ID cards for the crews, strict timeliness, and volume accuracy.  “We are proud to say that our supplier KPI statistics are exceptional (90 to 98% from 2010 to 2012). This is directly related to the excellent job Agility does in monitoring movers and helping them to identify potentially weak areas within their organisations and working together to correct issues that benefit all sides of the business.”  It seems that the relationship between Agility and its suppliers is as much carrot as stick, with the contract holder preferring to work with suppliers to overcome difficulties rather than making demands and imposing penalties.  This has resulted in an impressive claims record.  Out of around 35,000 moves in 2012, there were only 45 claims on the All Risks policy.


“Since 2010, Reason Global has monitored and reported certain claim levels in respect of the contract with the MOD,” said Malcolm Pearson from Reason Global.  We understand the importance of this contract to the UK moving industry and as a company work with many of the movers involved. As part of that process we have been impressed with the low level of claims we have seen, with approximately 90,000 moves performed by the moving companies involved, over a two year period, with a claim to move ratio of less than 0.1%. This is testament to the quality of systems implemented and movers involved in the contract."

A key factor in the success has been Agility’s willingness to talk to suppliers and to allow them to voice their concerns and come up with ideas.  “We spend a lot of time talking to suppliers pre-bid,” said Simon.  “We wanted to generate a team spirit and to help our suppliers plan for continuous improvement. We feel that all suppliers have bettered their own businesses by implementing our standards across the board.”  Simon and his team also spend a great deal of time travelling the UK and visiting overseas suppliers to maintain quality control.  “We regularly visit 36 branches in the UK to inform them of what we expect and try to push quality even closer to 100%.”


Agility said that, compared with the old contract, everything has changed and is now very much in the twenty-first century. The company recognises that suppliers have made significant investment in their businesses to operate the contract and believes that the improvement in their performance has been worthwhile for them.  Agility constantly reviews every aspect of the contract, invests in changes and expects their partners to do the same. 


What the customer thinks

Agility operates the MOD contract with just eight principle suppliers and a small dedicated team in Reading.  There are six full-time members of the quality control team who focus exclusively on non-stop, unannounced inspections.  Yet despite, or perhaps because of, this small but beautifully formed nucleus, they handle what the MOD acknowledges as one of its top performing contracts.  A statement from the MOD reads as follows:   “Since 01 Oct 2010 Agility have been the MOD appointed contractor responsible for managing the global movement of service personnel’s personal effects, to date they have successfully managed the movement of approximately 100,000 consignments, from the movement of single boxes through to full house moves. They regularly exceed monthly performance targets and have introduced a significant number of innovative solutions, ranging from the electronic application process to their management of more complex bulk move activity.”


The supplier’s view

There are eight principle movers serving the MOD contract: Armishaws, Bishops, Britannia, Doree Bonner, EuroUSA, Fox, Pickfords and Whites.  All of those questioned by The Mover, said that they were very pleased with the way the contract had gone. Even making allowances for the ‘they would say that wouldn’t they’ factor, the comments were remarkably positive. 


Al Bingle from Bishops, for example, said that “Agility has done an exceptional job”, referring to their management of the contract. “Their attention to detail is very impressive particularly when it comes to control.  They know exactly what’s going on with every movement all of the time,” he said.  For Bishops too the contract has been good news on two counts: 1) it has provided a good financial return and 2) it has been a valuable learning exercise. “We are a national company so we have been able to handle the jobs wherever they come up.  That is the benefit of being a truly national carrier. We have also reviewed and enhanced some our own group processes in light of Agility’s contract requirements."

Tony Tickner, Managing Director of EuroUSA was equally effusive.  I can say that in all my 26 years in the industry and working with major corporate clients, major contracts and the largest van lines and relocation companies in the world, I have never seen the level of service and management control Agility have. They have help and guided our company to another level, working with us as a team to maximize our strengths and identify our weakness and help us correct them.  We have introduced and aligned our software systems to work along the Agility systems."


Ian Palmer, Chief Executive of White & Co, commented that no matter how good they thought they were, the MOD contract has forced them to improve.  It has also required significant investment in training and capital equipment.  “I now think that the skill base of our staff is higher than ever thanks to the constant and relentless striving for perfection of the management team at Agility,” he said, adding that improved performance has helped to achieve a significant reduction in the company’s insurance premiums.  Ian added that he believed that Agility has done the right thing making savings for the public purse and improving service too.  “They have built quality to an unmatchable level,” he said, “while expecting and pushing us to do the same.  Agility has turned around a service from being mediocre to the best I have ever seen. I know the MOD feel the same way.”


Pat Carter, Manager of Armishaws admitted that when Agility took over the contract, he was a bit worried.  “The Armishaws Removals Group has been involved with the movement of military personnel for many years working on behalf of three different contract providers plus the MOD direct contract,” he explained.  “It was with some trepidation that we commenced work with to us, the unknown new service provider Agility, however to our delight and gratification we have found Agility to be far more professional, efficient and service minded than previous providers. The ethos of quality and service suits Armishaws very well as we have built our business on these standards. We are delighted to be working with Agility, a business which recognises and rewards on performances given. We look forward to further long term growth and trust they will hold the contract for many years to come.”


Gordon Lyall, joint MD Doree Bonner, was also pleased with the way the contract had turned out.  “We were delighted when Agility accepted my company as a contractor nearly three years ago,” he said. “Nowadays the MOD demands a high quality removal service worldwide and it’s incredibly reassuring when we achieve the demanding KPIs and high quality removal services on a regular basis. The Agility innovative web-based system has revolutionised the way in which the MOD, Agility and contractor interface with each other.”


Stephen Denning from Fox said that it has been a learning curve for everyone.  “It’s a large and demanding contract and Agility has managed it strictly, but together with the suppliers, has proved that it can manage it successfully,” he said.  “We have strived to maintain and improve the quality of the service that is expected by the MOD and its users.  It’s hard work and you have to work hard at it.  Jobs are allocated fairly without any favouritism but the volume of work we receive allows us to make it work.”

Mark Tresler is Managing Director of Britannia.  "When Britannia first started working with Agility we wondered what we had got ourselves involved in,” he said. “Performance levels consistently in the high 90s were just not good enough for Agility. It had to be 100%. Nearly three years on Britannia is now one of Agility’s top performers. A lot of hard work has been put in by both Agility and Britannia to achieve this, but it's now paying off for us on this contract and many others. Agility are very demanding and hard task masters, but Britannia are definitely better for the experience.”


Steve Boyd is the International Director for Pickfords, recently commended for its ability to handle the short notice moves through its extended network.  He said that it’s been a very interesting, dynamic and valuable contract characterised by the intensity and discipline of the management by Agility both up and down the supply chain.  “We have regular, rigorous feedback sessions to tell us exactly how we are performing,” he said.  “It’s all very transparent.”  Steve added that it was a bit of a rollercoaster at the start.  “But we are all in a pretty good place now.  It’s also very good for cash flow.  You get your invoices in on time and you get paid on time.”  



An overseas perspective

Sergio Thoukis, Managing Director of Columbia Worldwide Movers in Cyprus has worked with the MOD since 1980, first as a direct supplier to British Forces Cyprus and later with M&S, the previous contract holder.  Cyprus is the second biggest overseas destination for the UK military after Germany.  Sergio’s company handles around 800 family moves into Cyprus every year and a similar number outbound.  It also handles a large number of single soldier moves.  As a Lane Supplier it has full responsibility for MOD moves from Cyprus to the UK door to door.

He said that the software Agility uses is very sophisticated which, he believes, has improved the service compared with the past.  The system also requires all documents to be uploaded within 24 hours of a service being completed.  “This means that everyone knows everything at the time it is happening,” he explained.  “There is also a very strict system of inspections by Agility direct to the Authorised Users (AU) every day by phone and by ourselves.  Agility also visits for onsite inspections every month.”


“There is no stress in our work with Agility. It took us a bit of time to understand their expectations but now we know our work is appreciated. There are no compromises from Agility.  They want everything done perfectly and give us the facilities and the tools to do it right.”


So, there you have it.  Agility might have been a new kid on the block in 2010 as far as the UK moving business was concerned but it seems to have done pretty well.  The company is clearly proud of its own achievements, the suppliers like working with Agility (even though it is a tough taskmaster), the MOD is full of praise and the service men are delighted too.


Over the years we have heard many stories of trials and tribulations with the MOD contract with companies under quoting and then struggling to provide an acceptable service. It looks like Agility, this time, has cracked it and pulled off the remarkable trick of pleasing all the people all the time – or at least most of them.  It sounds suspiciously like a British success story, and they don’t come along very often.  The contract is up for renewal in 2014 and, once again, the removals industry’s breath will be held.  This time there will be new challenges as over 90% of the movements will be UK based after the German drawdown.  Let us all hope that the result next time is as positive as, clearly, this contract has been.


Photos, top to bottom: Anne Bradley and Simon Kirby of Agility.  Euro Group moving a 1,800 pound gun.  White & Co are one of the eight principal movers working on the MOD contract. Right: The Agility staff.


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