How an Integrated Supply Chain Interface Saves Time, Effort and Money

By accessing different interfaces, freight forwarders and transportation companies can complete tasks such as exchange orders, sync prices with a market, send invoices and check inventory.

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What’s the main reason customers are blind to the status of their packages during delivery? The answer is, because freight forwarders and logistics providers cannot track those packages during delivery either. In fact, 62% of logistics providers define the visibility of their supply chains as “limited.”

Even when we see a truck moving on the map, we have no clue why it stops for several hours after reaching the city. That’s due to a lack of context across supply chains. For example, the truck could be standing a few hours just waiting for a warehouse to open. How is that possible? Inconsistency and poor integration between transportation management systems (TMS) and warehouse management systems (WMS) is a likely answer.

What types of interfaces exist and why are they so different?

Supply chain interfaces include various apps and platforms that track, automate and organize logistics services for all stakeholders and customers. Freight forwarders typically rely on separate interfaces with their own standards and data formats to achieve supply chain visibility, process data generated throughout their organizations and collect insights about the market and customers. No wonder 60% of logistics companies describe visibility as their top priority for the next 12-36 months.

By accessing different interfaces, freight forwarders and transportation companies can complete tasks such as exchange orders, sync prices with a market, send invoices and check inventory. To accomplish these tasks, they can use integrated platforms, custom applications, APIs of third-party technology providers and commonly used enterprise resource planning (ERP), TMS and WMS solutions. But, at the end of the day, these apps must all interact with each other.

Integrated supply chain interfaces -- problems to solve, benefits to receive

The most annoying problem caused by poor integration between supply chain interfaces is slow data exchange and the necessity to do a lot of manual work. A WMS can orchestrate inventory within a large warehouse, but if it doesn’t know when a truck with new inventory will arrive, the efficiency of the supply chain is drastically reduced.

In addition, customers demand to know exact product origins and want to verify those origins at each step of the delivery process. To provide definitive proof of origins, logistics providers have to implement QR codes on packaging, RFID chips, NFC markings and distributed ledger technology. Integrating these technologies can bring benefits that are much bigger than the challenges on the way to integrated supply chains.

Organization of scattered data. Integrating supply chain interfaces can eliminate data fragmentation and help establish self-sufficient data pipelines that saturate your organization with valuable insights and contribute to overall supply chain visibility.

Optimization and transparency. When supply chain interfaces communicate with each other, warehouse workers can prepare items for delivery right on time, bring everything to the correct dock, and ensure other trucks can use other docks while this is happening.

Customer satisfaction and supply chain efficiency. Integrated supply chains help to avoid surprises and keep everyone calm. With an integrated supply chain, mistakes become exceptions, while customer feedback is visible to all supply chain participants.

Logistics companies and freight forwarders can unite their WMS and TMS in two ways -- by integrating an existing WMS with an existing TMS, or by adopting a new unified WMS/TMS solution. Integrating separate systems leads to additional challenges, as one system could be older, less sophisticated and offer limited scalability. Such integration often leads to complete refactoring of existing systems.

On the other hand, adopting a new system can be difficult and time-consuming without any guarantees that will perfectly suit your needs. There’s always a third way, however, to develop your own integrated interface to cover your exact needs.

Where to start the integration of supply chain interfaces

Integrating supply chain interfaces require some preparation. A logistics company should first assess the current state of their supply chain and recognize the exact problems they want to solve. The first step is to evaluate data that’s already in place and systems that already satisfy needs. Then it’s time to look for ways to strengthen weak links, which often means automating manual processes and excluding superfluous operations.

Only after knowing what doesn’t work today can you get a clear view of how it should work tomorrow. Building a strategy for integrating services ensures you move further without a bump. If you have strategy in place, integration itself will become much easier and will be a natural process for all stakeholders. Whatever path to integration you take, integrating supply chain interfaces will boost your business’s performance and increase customer satisfaction.

Who wants their trucks honking around closed docks at 4 a.m.? Better to align operations with integrated interfaces and sleep tight while software works for you, not against.