As the world continues to add increasingly stringent compliance regulations to global supply chain processes, the timely and accurate exchange of information among trading partners is more important than ever. There is little or no tolerance for errors or bottlenecks – and anything that is not immediately corrected can result in costly delays, fines or potential closures for transport companies and their trading partners.
Today, many supply chain players – from shippers and customs agencies to transport service providers and distributors – are struggling to manage the integration of growing volumes of data streams. It is no longer enough to record that a ship is arriving in a port and the number of containers on board; specific details on container contents, points of origin and more have become part of the day-to-day information delivery requirements.
A large amount of data in the global supply chain is in the form of EDI (electronic data interchange). However, organisations often have established their own EDI standards, making it difficult to translate vital information – such as product and container identification numbers – into standard terms. The challenge for the industry as a whole is finding an efficient and effective way to bridge the gap between what trading partners are telling each other and what terminal operator systems are expecting, while ensuring that all versions of the truth are consistent and correct.
Traditionally, these “mapping” efforts required dedicated in-house systems and programmers, who would go through various scripts and hard code changes to data. This is not only time- consuming and costly, it is also extremely complex, because it often means running one system to capture data and another to transform it.
Forward-thinking supply chain partners are embracing the idea of “transformation” technology that is specifically designed to receive EDI data and output it in the required language and format. In simple terms, this server-based technology provides a centralised repository for capturing data a trading partner sends in and transforming it for delivery to the appropriate back-end system. Conversely, the same technology can pull data from internal systems and transform it for delivery to various trading partners.
There are software solutions available that simplify the challenge of designing integrated business information architecture and process flows for both structured and unstructured data by streamlining data delivery and making information available where, when and how it is needed. They enable organisational control over all of the requisite resources for data and document transformation from a centralised location in the enterprise, as well as intelligently routeing, extracting, normalising, mapping and transforming that data based on an organisation’s defined set of business rules.
This ability to transform data on the fly is becoming especially important as customs authorities’ reporting demands increase. US Customs for example, now requires that trading partners must report container status every 15 minutes, among other detailed communications requirements.
With a centralised system, trading partners can meet those requirements more easily through a simple and easy-to-use graphical user interface. Rather than programmers having to change scripts, an EDI analyst can use the GUI to make any necessary changes to the business process. This is not only more efficient, it is an approach that is saving some data-intensive organisations, such as port authorities, tens of thousands of pounds per year in costs.
While transformation solutions have been showing a steady increase over the last three to four years in logistics, they are now attracting even more attention in today’s difficult economy. This is largely because organisations are looking to reduce costs by improving efficiencies to their back-end systems. Centralising data transformation is one way to achieve that, without adding complexity or excessive infrastructure investment costs.
Jeff Mills is responsible for implementing the strategic plan for Xenos throughout Europe, Middle East and Africa. He joined Xenos in 1998 as a technical consultant and held a variety of key positions before being appointed as EMEA managing director in 2004. He has more than 20 years of experience in the document and data industry, and a strong background in software application development.