Automation options for parcel shippers

Oct 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Direct merchants have myriad options for processing parcels shipped via FedEx, UPS and other carriers. There are many third-party systems in the marketplace as well as carrier-provided software that includes web-based, application programming interfaces (API), standalone and integrated client solutions.

While carrier-provided automation might be adequate for some shippers, third-party options offer many additional features and benefits. You should evaluate these periodically to make sure your distribution is as productive and efficient as it can be.

Here’s a quick overview of the carrier-provided automation options, and some alternatives for those shippers exploring third-party solutions.

PARCEL CARRIER SYSTEMS

FedEx and UPS offer automation solutions for shippers of all sizes

Infrequent shippers can take advantage of online solutions at the respective carriers’ websites.

While each of these web-based solutions offers some unique features, the common functions include shipment rating, label generation for domestic and international shipments, and shipment tracking.

For volume shippers, FedEx offers FedEx Ship Manager, while UPS provides WorldShip. These can be used to compare rates between services, enter weight and package dimensions, combine multiple items in one shipping transaction, process international shipments and print customs documentation, validate recipient addresses, schedule a pick up, order supplies and generate reports.

FedEx Ship Manager and UPS WorldShip process Express, Ground, Hundredweight, their own less-than-truckload (LTL) services and deferred residential delivery options like FedEx Smartpost and UPS Basic. These systems offer varying levels of tracking/billing options and database integration.

UPS’s ConnectShip automation system offers multicarrier functionality. While not automatically a free system, UPS offers qualifying shippers automation stipends through its Technology Partner Program. Many volume customers are able to negotiate the cost of ConnectShip systems and integration as part of contract discussions.

FedEx offers a similar program in which shippers can negotiate technology credits to support automation solutions outside of FedEx. The “tech credits” can be used to pay integration costs, or even go toward laptops or other computer purchases unrelated to shipping.

Both of the carriers offer client software as well as web-based systems that enable users spread across multiple campuses, large office buildings or other distances to process shipments. These solutions provide administrator controls to access and ensure compliance with business rules and cost coding requirements.

Finally, both FedEx and UPS offer APIs to easily integrate shipping, tracking and rating functionality into applications, ecommerce sites and business systems.

THIRD-PARTY SOFTWARE

Third-party options to carrier-provided systems offer varying levels of benefit and cost

Providers include Agile Network, Best Way Technologies, ExactShip, Harvey Software, Kewill, Malvern, Pitney Bowes, ADSI, ShipRush and TrueShip, among others.

Since carriers provide free shipping systems, why would anyone consider one that costs money? Third-party shipping software can offer several benefits. Here are just a few.

Integration: Many carrier-provided solutions are made up of a collection of standalone PCs that have limited or no connectivity to a host system. They are not designed to share vital shipment/order information between ERP/WMS systems and warehouses.

As shipment volumes and supply-chain complexities increase, companies that integrate mission-critical enterprise data and business processes into a centralized platform realize significant performance improvements, efficiencies and other benefits.

Savings: A third-party system can generate rapid ROI and savings of 10% or more. Some of the functions include least-cost routing across multiple carriers and/or service classes; validation of accessorial charges; accurate capture of dimension and weight; and upfront capture of total costs for accurate charge backs.

Leverage: The free systems from the carriers help customers more efficiently to use a provider’s services — and help lock customers into exclusive use of that carrier. The ability to ship with any carrier on a minute’s notice offers significant leverage in negotiations and provides critical backup.

Control: Third-party software lets you maintain control of shipping policies across a global enterprise and improve customer service with end-to-end visibility and decision automation. It also eliminates “blank checks” when employees make non-integrated, non-automated shipping decisions.

Multimodal: Software from a third party can replace multiple disparate systems and processes with a single solution that saves space, time and money. That also means you can integrate carrier networks, regional carriers, brokerage services, ocean and airfreight companies and third-party logistics services into one application.

Jim LeRose is principal of Agile Network NYC Metro; Rob Martinez is president/CEO of Shipware Systems Corp.