Can you have too much of a good thing? If you are manufacturing, shipping, receiving and distributing a huge number of products, information is more than a good thing to have - it's vital. But it is possible to have data overload. That's the situation that Brother International Corp. found itself in. Information on shipments and their status simply began to overwhelm those who needed access to the data. Inefficiencies resulted; worse, errors creeped in.
Brother has a wide array of products that it makes in its Asian plants, including labeling systems, sewing and quilting machines, printers for T-shirts and other garments, typewriters, hand stamp creators and its all-in-one multifunctional machines that let users copy, scan and fax. It even has an industrial line of gear motors and machine tools.
All of that, of course, is containerized for shipment. In the case of the many SKUs destined for the United States, shipments are sent to warehouses in California and Tennessee, according to Cecile Brown, international traffic manager for Brother.
Staying on top of the deluge of information about the boxes coming in was a challenge, she says. Every morning, corporate headquarters in Japan would communicate via EDI about shipments for every destination. The information, based on bills of lading, had to be entered into spreadsheets. But that, she says, required calling every shipping line "to find where my container was."
The process was difficult to manage at best, and the hours spent on numerous phone calls could have been used elsewhere more profitably. "We had to focus on our international EDI management. This was something that just had to be updated."
In a manner of speaking, Google came to the rescue. Brown began searching for information on container tracking visibility. That led to a series of interviews with a number of providers to see if anybody could match Brother's needs. Some were simply too large, Brown says; others didn't seem to have the tools she needed. Enter CargoSmart. "They homed in on exactly what we needed," she says. "It was a perfect match."
CargoSmart's SaaS-based global shipping and logistics solutions issue supply chain visibility reports. They may include shipment performance reports, exception management reports, EDI performance reports, and spot-on reporting services. The reports are designed help users optimize shipment routes based on transit times. They should also help minimize transportation costs, improve data quality, and reduce supply chain risk. The EDI reports help integration customers measure their EDI data quality. The reports identify missing and out-of-sequence events by ports and carriers. CargoSmart says it works with customers and their carriers to resolve data quality gaps for important cargo routes and improve data sharing.
CargoSmart recognized that Brown and her team had access to a tremendous amount of data about their shipments - more than they could handle efficiently, to be honest. That meant it was difficult and time-consuming to know if cargo had been loaded, was sitting on a dock somewhere, or had simply missed the boat, according to Kim Le, director of CargoSmart North America. Her company's mission, once Brother partnered with it, was to make it easier for logistics managers to review cargo activity, identify exceptions, and measure on-time performance and data quality. That would enable better business decisions about Brother's supply chain.
"We've definitely streamlined their processes," Le says, "and streamlining their supply chain is a huge benefit for them. We just want to help them reach their internal goals."
As a practical matter, CargoSmart sends Brown automatic reports every two or three hours. That has obviated manual entries, of course, and it gives Brown the precise shipment status she and her colleagues need. "I know where my container is at all times now, and if it's early or late."
The benefit of that is far reaching because the entire company uses what Brown refers to as "our transit bible." Parties with access to the system include Brown's office, production, the sales force, operations, warehouse personnel and the outbound order management group.
"What it has done is to help us allocate manpower and to set up different schedules based on ETAs," Brown says. Having visibility to estimated times of arrival is useful to the outbound group, for instance, because it needs to make delivery commitments to customers. Sales needs to know not only when something is to arrive but about replenishment status. Clearly, the warehouse management personnel need to be on top of receiving schedules. And operations managers need to know that the contents of each container are secure and that they are exactly what was ordered.
As far as the logistics team goes, Brown estimates that the CargoSmart solution has freed up about six hours in the day, which can be used now for other endeavors. "Really, it's been useful for all parties."
Summing up, Brown says, "It is critical for us to have timely and accurate information about our import shipments so that we can give our internal and external customers the information they need. CargoSmart's EDI performance reports allow us to better manage our internal EDI events so that we can work with our carriers to improve the data quality of our shipment information."
Had she to do it all over again, Brown says she wouldn't proceed in such a piecemeal fashion. "I would have looked at it from beginning to end and presented our needs to CargoSmart differently and better. Right now, for instance, we're working on export visibility, and we could have addressed that before."
Going forward, Brother and CargoSmart are likely to work on visibility right down to the SKU level, says Brown. "Once our containers reach us and we turn them into outbound to our customers like Staples and OfficeMax, we would like visibility for that part of the transit. Then we will have full visibility for everything and for everybody involved."
Brother International Group
Keywords: international trade, transportation management systems, global logistics, logistics management, logistics & supply chain, logistics services, supply chain solutions, supply chain management IT
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