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Moving away from analog comms and legacy tech strengthens relationships with logistics partners and customers.
I have the privilege of speaking with well-known companies every day about improving their logistics operations. Retailers and vendors, 3PLs and shippers, manufacturers and distributors, hotels and commercial buildings, the list goes on.
While they are different types of businesses, they all share the same problem — the inability to share information about the items they receive, store, and ship. It’s a problem that stems from data silos created with pen and paper, email and phone, spreadsheets and logistics software.
Yes, even logistics software is vulnerable to becoming a data silo. Like a piece of paper in a dusty filing cabinet, a record in logistics software can be just as difficult to retrieve and share with customers and partners.
Many companies my team works with are pushing their logistics partners for a real-time view on inventory. Too often the partner will present a monthly or quarterly update by pulling data from various sources into a Powerpoint presentation. This is a meeting no one wants to sit through.
The day has come when logistics partners are becoming just as demanding as customers in retail. Office workers are tired of planning for inventory dispatch via phone, email, and excel while on-the-ground employees are tired of receiving paper bills of ladings. Not only are these tasks tedious and prone to error, but they create the data silos that stifle growth.
Break down data silos
If you’re using logistics software, there’s a good chance you still rely on analog communication due to gaps in data sharing. These gaps may result from disjointed point solutions or “monolithic” legacy platforms that trap data in a black box of outdated tech. To expose data, some companies add a “visibility” layer on top of outdated tech but this is a mistake. What they need to do is fix the underlying issue.
Step one: Identify data silos
Many companies use a combination of pen and paper, spreadsheets, and the following pieces of software to manage information related to logistics:
Point solutions like Bringg, Narvar, and Shippo solve for one or two use cases like shipping, warehouse management. or returns instead of offering a complete set of connected last mile use cases.
Legacy platforms like those from Manhattan Associates, Netsuite, and Pitney Bowes were first to market decades ago in offering a suite of logistics solutions but are now struggling to adapt to modern use cases.
Visibility layers like Aftership, FourKites, and Project44 are added on top of disjointed or monolithic tech stacks to create a makeshift data record instead of solving for data visibility issues at the core.
Step two: Integrate and upgrade
It would be easy for me to say to replace your disjointed point solutions and legacy tech with a modern logistics platform, but the reality is that your organization, culture, and processes revolve around what you’re already using.
With that in mind, here are some practical ways to share data between disparate or closed systems.
Explore OOTB integrations. Popular point solutions and logistics platforms often provide out-of-the-box (OOTB) integrations for data syncing between systems. These integrations may not be suitable for real-time applications like ecommerce but they can be a quick win for connecting something like a WMS with an ERP or CRM.
Explore API integrations. If OOTB integrations are not available or you need a real-time application, connecting disparate systems with an API integration might be worth the engineering effort. Of course, this requires each system to have robust APIs and documentation.
Upgrade with APIs. Even outdated logistics platforms have APIs. This makes it feasible to augment or gradually replace the platform with APIs from a modern platform. In 2023, the idea of replatforming is merely a scare tactic used by software vendors desperate for business.
Step three: Realize the benefits
When someone asks me about the benefits of moving toward connected logistics, these are some of the highlights I mention:
Improve employee productivity and retention. Remove pen and paper inefficiencies and save time triaging issues over emails and phone calls. Collaboration on a central platform facilitates technology adoption, engagement, hiring, and employee retention.
Scale and expand the business. Extend one platform to your logistics partners and enable the expansion of your footprint across the country. Also extend into adjacent logistics revenue streams through growing platform capabilities to help you scale.
Improve customer satisfaction. Provide real-time visibility and tracking to your customers. Reduce hidden liability costs for damaged items and wrong items/quantities.
The bottom line is that paper, emails, and spreadsheets no longer make the cut for managing logistics operations. And neither does legacy tech. If you’re a retailer, just look to Bed Bath & Beyond for the $250 million lesson learned.
Don’t get tricked into replacing legacy with legacy.