by Dean Gionis
Every hour of every day broker/forwarders burn money unnecessarily. How? By using multiple, non-integrated software applications to perform services on behalf of their customers.
It is not uncommon for a broker/forwarder firm to have three, four or even five different systems in use. For example, there might be one software application for customs brokerage, one for freight forwarding, one for accounting and perhaps others for exporting, filing AMS and tracking shipments.
While broker/forwarders may attempt to make these systems interoperable – get them to “talk” to each other – integration is often easier contemplated than accomplished. Integration in this environment is a custom project and expensive to undertake and maintain over time. Furthermore, both the quality and extent of the custom integration often become money-draining issues. Often, only a partial integration is possible, meaning that only bits of information can be carried over from one system to another – and only in a one-way manner. That is, one system may push data out to the next, but the reverse is typically not feasible.
Beyond the inability to perform day-to-day functions well, multiple applications strung together by a loose integration pose other unnecessary costs if an automation problem arises. What happens if a regulatory or version change occurs in one solution? Will it affect the others? Then there’s customer service. To whom do you look for customer service? How do you identify the specific application creating the issue? How many software companies will you need to pay before the problem is identified and corrected?
These are the more obvious sources of lost revenues and additional costs. Another clear loss is the staff time wasted when multiple systems are in use. Consider the expense of entering and updating duplicative information in each system, as well as the cost of inconsistent information or outright errors.
Here’s just one example. Every broker/forwarder application possesses a customer profile. And, every profile will request similar details such as name, address, tax ID, key staff, transaction parties (i.e., manufacturers, ship to, bill to, etc.) and commodity details or products. If you have five applications, staff must enter this data five separate times. And, what if employee A enters “Smith & Co.” but employee B inputs “Smith and Company, Inc.,” is it the same company? Or, if employee C elects to use the headquarters address while employee D enters the local branch office, how long will it take employees to research whether it is the same firm?
Then, ponder how often customers move, experience employee turnover or change transaction parties. Every time any one of these data elements changes, the broker/forwarder must update the profile in the customs clearance system (ABI), the freight forwarding system, the accounting system and potentially other systems depending on its suite of services.
Not convinced yet? Follow this illustrative example of the typical workflow of a broker/forwarder relying on multiple systems. To book a shipment, staff must first find the customer profile within the forwarding system. Once located, they must create the shipment documentation, typing in all of the required information. Next, the broker/forwarder must either print or transmit the information. Then, staff must transfer to the customs systems to create the customs entry. After finding the customer profile, all the data related to the shipment must be reentered and forms printed or transmitted. And so on.
Consolidated billing is cumbersome, too, due to the need for manual steps that use valuable staff time and effort. Billing profiles, like customer profiles, are unique to each system. So, for billing purposes, accounting would need to extract client service fees from each system, calculate them and manually consolidate them in a single statement.
The inefficiency of multiple systems is shocking when actually held up to analysis. In contrast, a single system delivers many cost-saving benefits. It simplifies the broker/forwarder’s IT environment because there is one set of hardware and software and one service provider. Integration costs are lower because there is no need to pay a third party to develop custom interfaces between solutions. Component functionality is integrated by design. Support is less complicated, too, as there is one vendor to contact if an issue arises. And, of course, implementing one solution is less costly, easier and faster than the multiple implementations associated with a variety of systems.
One system means there is a single client profile, one billing record and so forth. And, any information entered into the system to create a shipment, for example, is preserved within the system and flows through to its other functionality. Following from the previous example, the solution will automatically populate the customs entry, minimizing errors. And, beyond maintaining a complete audit trail of every action taken, the solution preserves documents, generates reports, transmits documentation electronically and automatically creates a consolidated bill for all the services performed within a specified time period.
A single system delivers complete automation, which maximizes productivity and operational efficiency. Instead of losing time and money every hour of every day, broker/forwarders operate at peak efficiency and can use the time and savings to exploit new business opportunities, expand service offerings and more.
Broker/forwarders, it’s time to transform your operational environment with a single solution that maximizes savings and productivity. If you’re tired of burning money, talk to QuestaWeb today.