By Jean V. Murphy, March 2002
New internet-based technologies are illuminating the “black hole” of international logistics and enabling global companies to move toward true command-and-control capability.
Global freight management is an oxymoron in the minds of many logistics practitioners. With an estimated 17 partiestouching a typical international shipment in one way or another as it moves between carriers, across borders and through customs, the information that enables door-to-door visibility and control has been woefully lacking. Inland moves in many parts of the world are considered a “black hole” of information since small, technology-deficient carriers often handle them. And while major carriers andforwarders provide reliable tracking, this information until recently has been static and isolated from execution.
Service fragmentation, information gaps and the complexity of global shipping are reasons why the intelligent tools used to manage and optimize domestic transportation have been slow to spread to the global arena. Specialists in international shipping departments remain separate fromdomestic shipping in most companies. They still are largely working off spreadsheets and Post-it notes and communicating via phone, fax and a little EDI messaging, says Beth Enslow, vice president of strategy at Descartes, a software company providing transportation applications and a communications hub for global shippers and carriers.
This situation is beginning to change as shippersincreasingly look for the same visibility and shortened cycle times from their global providers that they have come to expect on the domestic front. Software vendors like Descartes, G-Log, GT Nexus and Bridgepoint — along with traditional supply-chain and transportation management system providers such as Manugistics, i2 Technologies and PitneyBowes/Vertex Interactive — are leveraging the web to create a newgeneration of global freight solutions that enable management by exception across multiple enterprises, modes, carriers and geographies.
A confluence of events has made this development possible. As with so many aspects of business-to-business technology, the biggest factor is the use of the internet and recent increases in available bandwidth. The net not only enables easier integrationbetween companies that want to share electronic data directly, it also provides an inexpensive means for little players to participate in the network, so that 100 percent visibility is attainable.
“The question has been, if I get 80 percent of the data I need via integration, how do I get the rest?” says Peter Weis, director of products for GT Nexus, a provider of global e-logistics solutions. “Howdo I capture information from the small forwarder down in Costa Rica without spending a lot of money?” The GT Nexus platform allows anyone with access to the internet to key in necessary information on a web form or to upload information from an Excel spreadsheet.
“Companies in the Pacific Rim and Latin America may not have 24/7 super-fast connections, but they have some degree of up-time onthe internet every day,” says David Landau, director of product management at Manhattan Associates, a logistics execution vendor. And it is “quite common” for manufacturers in places like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to fax documents to a central location such as Singapore to have them keyed into the web, adds Weis.
Many companies are exchanging information through a messaging andconnectivity hub. Descartes’ Global Logistics Services, for example, has preconnected more than 5,000 carriers and forwarders around the world. “Companies don’t have to start from square one hooking up electronically; it is like hooking into a telephone network,” says Enslow. GLS also addresses the spectrum of technology capabilities within a global supply chain, handling anything from direct XML...