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Collaboration Is Key

Of all the buzzwords you see, lookout for Collaborative Platforms.

Talk of “digitization” has flooded the global container shipping industry over the past year. Along with this we see other heavily saturated topics like “visibility,” “automation,” and “collaboration.” Of all these ideas, collaboration is the word to look out for. Collaboration will be the strongest driver behind digitization’s most significant gains. However, achieving the full potentials of collaboration will also require the greatest changes to both how the industry sees it now and to the structures behind the systems we use to facilitate it. Simply putting a Web front end on a legacy documentation-oriented system will not achieve collaboration.

The current definition the industry uses for collaboration is outdated. As defined by Meriam-Webster’s Dictionary, collaboration is two or more people working together to achieve a common outcome. When applied to the globally complex and hand-off laden supply chains we work with today, there is a vital component missing from this definition. Collaboration for global logistics should read as two or more people from different organizations working together to achieve a common outcome. There is nothing special about multiple people working together in the same organization on the same legacy system, unless miraculously a 3PL exists that can directly execute every freight event from origin to destination, including all the trucking, container loading, and vessel sailing events from a single office without using any vendors. (30 years of experience from all angles of the industry tell me this is impossible). No, where amazing things happen with collaboration is when information can flow seamlessly back and forth in real-time through transportation events and between all the numerous vendors required to execute global transportation – from factories to warehouses, truckers, ocean vessels, real shippers, forwarders, rail, consignees, etc., in a single, interactive environment.

Paradigms of Collaboration: Old and New

To get data flowing between all the various vendors and parties involved in the supply chain today, we have two models: EDI, (as is widely used and known), and Collaborative Platforms, (a revolutionary solution for the future).

The Problems of EDI. It goes without being said that EDI is the standard resource for corporations to exchange information electronically, albeit this is dissolving rapidly with the emergence of cloud computing. The issue is that while EDI is capable of transferring information electronically, different software systems process data differently. With EDI data, there is nothing formative about the data you are sending other than the fact it exists: there are no processes or quality control protocols imbedded in the data that help guide/regulate users in the process. This isn’t so much a problem with simple integers or yes / no commands within a small trading network, but through experience we know that using EDI to send the rich data sets required to achieve automation today quickly becomes an enormously expensive and labor-intensive challenge. There is just too much room for error.

Collaborative Platforms. A collaborative platform is a user interface that enables different parties from the entire supply chain to enter, view, and use data where it is most relevant to their actions in the logistics process. This sort of technology has only become viable with recent advances in cloud computing that allows users from anywhere in the world to access and work off the same databases from any mobile device. The huge advantage of a collaborative platform over EDI is that platforms allow for strict process controls throughout the entire supply chain when entering and using data – from warehouses to truckers to ocean carriers to forwarders, etc. These controls create data standards in an industry inundated with so many varying processes and vendors.

If we start to peel back the layers of collaborating in a global platform, we will find previously unforeseen benefits for the global supply chain. In our upcoming blogs, we will dive into each of these consequences individually to show how new technologies for collaboration are completely transforming the way we envision supply chains today through Global Workflow, Event Management, Automation, and Exception Management.

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