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No one said starting a business from scratch is easy, but it is liberating in a way. For one thing, a brand-new company should be free of legacy systems whose upgrades and patches over the years may have become burdensome and way too complicated or inefficient to deal with. The folks who launch the new enterprise will bring a knowledge base with them of course, based on their years of experience. But the encumbrance of the older technology they had to contend with - that's a thing of the past.
That was the enviable position that the creators of Crane Worldwide Logistics, a full-service air, ocean, trucking, customs brokerage and logistics company, found themselves in when, in 2008, they started afresh. Each one a logistics and forwarding industry veteran, they knew what they wanted to do with their new venture and how to go about it. And one of their goals was to acquire all-new systems, says Michele Carrier, Crane's director of administration. As she puts it, "To change a company that's already huge and established is crazy. To start a company from scratch with new software is not that big a deal."
Quite often in the forwarding business, growth comes though acquisition, and with that comes new systems. In fact, there were some small acquisitions for Crane in the initial stages, but by and large the company avoided that route, Carrier says, because it brings complexity and problems. Often the systems can't talk to each other, so you wind up throwing more people, time and money at them.
The management team at Crane spent the better part of a year looking at other companies and their systems before Crane got off the ground. And technology was a major part of that, Carrier says. "They knew a lot of what you could do right and what you could wrong, and they didn't want to repeat the same mistakes. One of our biggest issues, just in general, is systems. Always has been, always will be, especially in forwarding."
Systems, of course, are in large measure the lifeblood of forwarding operations, so Crane's concern with buying into the right technology was hardly academic. And given that the company wanted a truly global footprint, it needed a forwarding solution that could manage the flow of goods everywhere and give it truly comprehensive visibility. Of course, it also needed revenue and reporting functionality, as well as connectivity to carriers and government regulatory bodies. But the important thing is the solution has to work both locally and internationally.
"The big challenge," says Carrier, "is getting global and local together - to have something that let's one system work globally but still be able to localize for different languages, different customs, and different types of freight mixes and types of customers - to have that combination of global systems but which allows for local requirements, such as working in Chinese or in Latin America where you need Spanish or Portuguese, but you still have one system to see everything."
She stresses the importance of a single system, noting that the extra steps required in working with multiple systems simply creates more opportunities for errors. "You want to avoid those types of issues and use your resources to focus on the customer's needs."
As it turns out, that kind of single-system capability and reach isn't as readily available as one might think, Carrier says. Any number of forwarding solutions are on the market, she says, but quite often there is a global vs. local tradeoff involved.
The search ultimately led to Kewill, whose freight forwarding solution has provided a wide array of services that Crane needs. But the success of the relationship was hardly guaranteed at the outset, according to Carrier and Lee Mullett, senior account executive at Kewill. In fact, "rough" and "rocky" are the words they use to describe things in the beginning.
For one thing, once it got under way, Crane's growth was "astronomical," according to Crane. "Trying to keep up what what we wanted, and how we wanted it, there were some bumps along the way." For Kewill's part, it had purchased IPACS e-Solutions and its freight forwarding solution, Advanced Logistics System, in 2007 and had only recently brought the system to the U.S. Consequently, there was a learning curve for both Crane and Kewill.
"It was pretty rocky in the beginning," Mullett says. "They had a long-term view of where they wanted to be, and we were very excited to be working with them. But we were still crawling with the product from the U.S. perspective. So there was a learning curve for us and for Crane."
Crane management wanted to move forward quickly, and that was part of the implementation struggle. They wanted to be up and running in six weeks or so, Mullett says, but it typically takes five to seven months for companies with global ambitions, depending on the number of countries involved. As part of the initial implementation, Kewill performs workshops with the company they are partnering with to create a "blueprint" of what the global roll-out will involve. This first step typically takes 12 to 15 weeks for the discovery workshops and the creation of the functional requirements specification that becomes the blueprint of the roll-out.
Carrier acknowledges that it is vital to know precisely what you want to accomplish up front because customizing the software to accommodate the business rules can be daunting. It's also important to have the right people assigned to a project. For instance, it's not enough to involve employees knowledgeable about freight but not about software or systems.
Nevertheless, the partnership survived; indeed, it has flourished. "The first year was difficult and rough, but since then it's been much better; there's been a lot of progress," Carrier says. "That kind of balancing can be very challenging."
Mullett agrees, and they each see the relationship moving forward, possibly to include Crane using other Kewill solutions. In the meantime, there's no argument that the Kewill forwarding solution implemented has led to improved productivity and enhanced visibility for the logistics services provider and for its customers.
For any business, established or beginner, that's the right start for a long term partnership.
Crane Worldwide Logistics
Keywords: Third-Party Logistics, Global Logistics, Transportation & Distribution, Logistics, Global Trade Management, international freight forwarding, ability to forward freight domestically and internationally
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