When to Exchange Data and When to Collaborate Together on the Same Platform

Posted on: November 3, 2021

Data exchange within the global supply chain has become a hot topic. We fully agree that when all parties have access to the shipment data, the supply chain will be more efficient, faster and less expensive. That said, exchanging data and collaborating on the same data set are two very different things, and they are appropriate in different situations.

Simply exchanging data can only get us so far. After doing so for more than 20 years, we have yet to produce a reliably satisfactory outcome. This is because shipment information is more than just data; shipments are processes that require controls and decisions if they are to work smoothly and effectively.

When we exchange data about a process from our system with another party that uses a different system, with different process controls, they can’t work efficiently and effectively with the data we send them, and vice-versa, unless the two separate software systems are interoperable. That is seldom the case.When decisions need to be made, sharing access to the same data and collaborating on the same shipment data process, within the same system, is the key!

The time for simply exchanging shipment data is at the beginning or end of overall processes, but not in the middle. For example, making an electronic booking with a carrier is a great way to initiate a shipment process because this data is pre-registered, well formatted and controlled. It should result in a reliable booking confirmation and reliable tracking from the ocean carrier during transport.

Exchanging data also works well for large data sets that do not trigger a decision-making process. Examples include Purchase Orders, Containers and Container details (inventory), and tracking dates and locations. However, this should not include any data that must be standardized or where a process would break down if the data is missing – a key source of the mediocre outcomes the industry has come to expect.

One example is when a carrier sets up a shipment within their own system without controls on who the user selects as the customer. Duplicate customer codes can result, which means tracking messages aren’t always received. Again, when systems will trigger decisions, the entire process should take place within the same system.

Moreover, global shipments involve many more parties than just the shipper and carrier. Thousands of small providers are also a critical part of the supply chain, and it is impractical to expect them all to run a system that connects electronically. This is the time and place for collaboration, where various parties come together on one system to enter and confirm the data that forms the command sets that move cargo.

This is especially critical in the multi-directional communications chains involved in arranging cargo pick-up and delivery. These chains involve the shipper, the consignee, their warehouses, the carriers, the terminals, the forwarders / NVOCC and customs brokers, and the truckers – all of them also coordinating their own schedules and resources. It would be far more efficient for all these parties to work together on one platform rather than use the current fragmentary systems of emails, phone calls, and web portals.

We can smooth this process out. Key industry figures, such as FMC Chairman Daniel Maffei, are correct in identifying better data flows as crucial to creating the efficiency needed to reduce existing backlogs and bottlenecks. Implementing better data flows will require a change in the overall business process: a shift from simply exchanging data to intelligently exchanging data, and implementing multi-party collaboration far more extensively than it is used today.

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