CIO Review >> Magazine >> December  2013  Logistics Special issue

Technology Decisions-Selecting A Logistics Provider


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Joe Johnson Two of the most common concerns we hear from new clients and prospective customers are “loss of visibility” and the cost associated with technology solutions by outsourcing logistics. Many 3PLs offer a wide variety of technology tools to enhance visibility, but they often come loaded with a fairly steep price tag and long lead times to implementation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Just what do we mean by visibility? When companies outsource warehousing, packaging, fulfillment and/or transportation, they want assurance that they will be able to virtually monitor their product after it leaves their facilities.

While there are many factors to consider from the operational and service delivery perspective, there are just as many from the technology perspective, especially when it comes to visibility and cost. Here are a few examples:

• Project management
• Speed to market (quick startup)
• Tier 1 warehouse management solution (WMS)
• RF/bar-coding technology
• Tier 1 transportation management solution (TMS)
• Appointment scheduling and document/photo visibility
• Integration with customer systems
• IT group with deeplogistics knowledge
• Business continuity

There are certainly other facets of technology that need to be considered as well, but these core items should be reviewed, as they will have a direct impact on visibility and overall cost.

All software solutions should offer anywhere, anytime, any-device visibility to products, process and status. Innovative providers offer Web-based portals that allow customers constant, right-time access to their products. From the very beginning of a project or contract, customers should start off with online access to a suite of tools and solutions. We use cloud-based project management software that allows us to plan out the project and implementation with complete visibility and access, no matter how large or small the project team. All documents and discussions are stored in the project management tool so they arereadily available.

It is critical at project startup for the IT team to understand the overall urgency to get the operation up and running. We’ve developed a series of proprietary “IT-in-a-box” solutions, which allow us to customize programs for each customer’s needs within days or weeks versus months. The “box” might include a wireless solution that would allow for quick setup and use until a more permanent solution can be installed.

Wireless technology using RF/bar-coding technology throughout a warehouse allows real-time updates to a WMS. This allows customers visibility to products in all warehouses, with information like product status, quantities, aging, orders, and shipment details. When it comes to scheduling appointments for the orders with carriers, one solution allows the customer to view reservation by date with loading statuses, in addition to copies of key documents like the bill of lading, packing lists, and pictures of their product on trucks. Likewise,the TMS provides customers the ability to see shipment and load details along with tracking information all the way to the destination, including dates and time of arrivals and departures.

You also want to consider experience. Our IT team averages 12 years of logistics-specific experience, allowing us to understand customer needs and to develop tailored solutions when needed. Experts in electronic data interchange (EDI) can provide complex solutions with formal EDI formats(such as 856s, 204s, etc.) to more basic items like advanced shipping notifications and purchase orders in Excel formats pushed and pulled from a secure FTP site. Offering template solutions helps clients control the cost of integrating.

Business continuity should be an integral part of any logistics provider’s strategy. After all, what good are all the tools if you cannot get to them? Look for a partner that performs regular and incremental backups – both onsite and offsite – of all data, all the time. Check for fail over capability in the event of power or network loss, with battery and generator backup to a data center, along with redundant network connections through multiple service providers into the facility.

As mentioned previously, these are only some of the technology decisions that should be considered when selecting a logistics provider. Depending on your specific needs there will be additional factors to consider, however, these are key areas that can affect your overall visibility and costs. We are continually evaluating new technology to provide our customers with best and most cost-effective logistics experience possible.