WT100 Blog

Eliminating Complexity in Increasingly Complex Supply Chains

The Case for Standardization

February 25, 2014

My previous blogs described the need for data that is not only accurate, timely and consistent, but also delivered in an automated fashion via an e-commerce platform—which is essential when considering your supply chain visibility strategy. This approach can deliver cost-savings and efficiency, and through more accessible and reliable information, one can improve collaboration and customer service experiences. In this post, I’d like to discuss one crucial piece in the supply chain visibility data puzzle we haven’t touched on yet, one that can improve your ability to achieve data access goals—standardization.

Standardization is a critical component in removing complexity from the supply chain visibility equation. For a company to improve overall quality and achieve automation, data from disparate sources, formats and transmission methods stands as a barrier to delivering data consistency and can contribute to access delays. The lack of a common format for exchanging data means that companies are forced to manually review or create programs to match disparate data with their internal systems. And there’s no sign that supply chains will become less complex. This means that the number of sources, types and geographic distribution of data sources to be incorporated will continue to grow. 

Fortunately, the number of companies that can benefit from standardization also continues to grow. Collaboration on the creation of a common industry standard is underway, and technology leaders in global trade are working with standards organizations such as GS1 to accelerate standardization for supply chain data with the ultimate goal of enabling greater visibility into quality data. In fact, according to Aberdeen, 100 percent of those companies defined as supply chain leaders—organizations rated within the top 20 percent of performers—are compliant with the GS1 standard and are able to track shipments at the item level, further validating that a standards-based approach delivers results.

Standardization is not just about improving the integration of data; it’s also about systematically improving data quality in the supply chain. Most shippers work with many carriers, and vice versa, making the use of standards valuable to data suppliers and recipients. When both parties work from the same standard, adaptations from the standard can be made by those closest to the information, using translation tables for example. This enables the integrity of the standard to be maintained, and eliminates a ‘my’ vs. ‘your’ systems approach, offering cost savings and improved quality to all parties. 

The best way to drive clarity in the shipment supply chain is for shippers of all sizes to speak with a unified voice—which can mean streamlining hundreds of container events into a set of common critical milestones, and delivering them in a single, standardized fashion. This is critical if the shipping industry is going to have access to accurate, timely information in the supply chain. But while the biggest shippers have the clout to mandate the methods in which they expect to receive data—as well as the fines they want to impose for lack of accuracy, timeliness and completeness—their smaller partners do not. Surely, regardless of size, the same need exists for ensuring all parties can access high-quality shipment data, enabling a more efficient customer service-driven industry. 

One example of standardization’s time-saving effect: An international freight forwarder’s current process is to receive manual and automated data streams from various carriers. Once data is received, each one is uploaded through separate conversion routines and then matched to internal systems in order to provide visibility to customers and employees. By employing a standardized process in the ocean supply chain, forwarders can trust that all necessary fields match and anticipate what information will be populated. This reduces time between when information is received and provided to a customer, accelerating the overall process.

In an industry where supply chain visibility and access to quality information accelerates business, there is a real value to reducing the number of unique interfaces required to access data. Standardization enables the shipping industry to make the most of this access, and expedite business by offering one, consistent version of the information.

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