Transport Visibility in B2B Challenges and Solutions

There are plenty of good reasons why a company would want to automate its transportation functions.

These include:

  • To maintain visibility of the supply chain process from end-to-end, including shipment status and delivery confirmation;
  • To increase collaboration with customers and carriers;
  • To track costs associated with fulfilling orders and invoicing customers;
  • To access information that can be used to calculate accurate transportation spend; and,
  • To reduce manual entry, thereby reducing errors. 

“If you’re doing it manually today, then automating is going to save you time.” – Charles Fabry 

With all these factors in mind, companies simply cannot afford not to automate their transport processes.

  • However, when it comes to automating transport, there is one big problem: many carriers do not accept order information in the same electronic format that retailers and distributors use for procurement and inventory management. Retailers and distributors typically receive and track shipment and delivery data in EDI or XML files generated by carriers. These files can be either 2-D barcodes (e.g. PDF417) or data formatted according to a schema specification such as ebXML/RosettaNet/Commerce One’s UPOS standard used for B2B applications such as supply chain management (SCM), product configuration management (PCM), online catalogs, electronic invoicing, eProcurement systems, etc.;
  • If retailers and distributors are not already receiving shipment and delivery data in the electronic format they are accustomed to working with, then there will be no way for them to automate their transport visibility processes.
  • However, one very promising development is that retailers and distributors who do not yet have access to carriers’ shipment information in formats required by automation systems still have an alternative if they want to integrate their order management systems with carrier partners. 

The solution is called “one-time mapping.” One-time mappings allow buyers using 3rd party applications (such as transportation management systems or enterprise resource planning [ERP]) that work with barcode data (such as 2D barcodes) and data formatted according to UPOS standards used for B2B applications such as SCM, PCM, etc., to gain access to carrier information for which they do not have a direct EDI link.

 

“If we ever had impenetrable walls within the supply chain it’s because of manual processes.” – Charles Fabry 

  • The solution is called “one-time mapping.” One-time mappings allow buyers using 3rd party applications such as transportation management systems or ERP that work with barcodes and data formatted according to UPOS standards used for B2B company applications such as SCM, PCM, etc., to gain access to desired carrier data for which they do not have a direct EDI link. 
  • A one-time mapping allows a company that has no current EDI link to a carrier (or carriers) to receive shipment and delivery data electronically in its preferred format for processing in the automation system. 

However, it should be noted that one-time mapping suffers from some limitations: 

1) One-time mappings are expensive; 

2) Carriers tend to charge more for shipments made using one-time mappings; 

3) A one-time mapping request requires manual intervention by both the buyer and the carrier, which increases the likelihood of errors. Despite this, one-time mapping will likely grow in popularity if EDI links between retailers/distributors and their transport providers remain elusive. For example, UPS says that over 70% of its business is done without a direct EDI link.

 

“Integration between carriers and 3rd party systems is going to be the biggest challenge in 2008 at least from the customer side.” – Charles Fabry 

  • In 2008, successful B2B integration will be driven by commitment from both sides. Carriers must make data available for use by retailers and distributors through their preferred formats, which could include XML or barcodes such as PDF417 or UPOS formatted data (note: one-time mapping requires a buyer’s chosen automation system to support a particular carrier’s one-time mapping format). Integration can only truly succeed once there is parity between what the end user wants and what the transport provider delivers. 
  • On their part, retailers and distributors must be willing to take transport visibility into their own hands by investing in B2B integration. While many retailers view carrier data as a free commodity, it is becoming increasingly clear that integrating systems without accurate and timely information costs more than it saves in the long run due to lost sales, frayed relationships with suppliers and carriers, and operational problems.
  • Presently, the big drawback to all of this progress is that many retailers still do not have access to their carriers’ shipment information in formats required by automation systems. 

The solution is called “one-time mapping.” One-time mappings allow buyers using 3rd party applications (such as transportation management systems or ERP) that work with barcode data (such as 2D

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