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By Ron Olster, Chief Information Officer, Econocaribe Consolidators.
Biggest challenge in technology to meet the challenges of logistics sector
Technology challenges in any business can certainly keep a CIO awake at night, and the transportation and logistics sector presents no exceptions to this circumstance. At Econocaribe Consolidators Inc, we face many of the same challenges you would find in any sector, and yet some unique challenges that exist in this particular service industry. Our company specializes in freight consolidation and export services, meaning we consolidate multiple customers’ cargo into one container (typically a 20 foot or 40 foot container), and export it to a foreign country, where it is then picked up by or delivered to the end customer. We also are licensed as an NVOCC (Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier), which is a term used frequently in the industry.
As businesses grow, and start to deal with more and more customers and trading partners, it becomes more essential to incorporate EDI in order to create/maintain efficiencies in your operation, and this has been an ongoing challenge for years. Everyone wants EDI, and often we encounter potential customers who refuse to do business without it. You may be familiar with this dilemma in your own business. For large companies involved in transportation and logistics, often you will find legacy/home-grown business applications that are either still running on large, possibly outdated servers, or have been modernized to run on newer technology. Now there does exist plenty of off-the-shelf software written specifically for this industry (with EDI features built in), but many companies like ourselves prefer to have the control and customizability that comes with writing our own software.
When it comes to EDI, many of our vendors (steamshiplines) and customers (freight forwarders) have incorporated the EDIFACT standards for transmitting EDI messages between themselves and their customers/vendors. This works fine in many cases, but we prefer to use a more modern method, such as XML rules/language, which to us seems easier to create and work with. In either of these cases, or other cases, there still has to be a lot of back and forth between us (the service provider) and either our customers or vendors. Up until recent years, in order to complete an EDI project, we had to make and maintain contact with the IT departments for any business we wanted to initiate EDI messages with. And we still continue to face this issue today, as a request for EDI comes up almost every week of the year.
In the internet era, there is a new and productive option that definitely helps ease the pain associated with the 1 to 1 (business to business) contact issues related to EDI projects. There are now a few website portal companies that are trying to bring it all together by having customers/NVOCCs/steamship lines all participate in a centralized fashion whereby the portal will receive and distribute EDI messages between the parties.