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System integration the pros of pulling together by Matthew Marriott

System integration is used across industries of all shapes and sizes, but in the logistics industry, especially, it forms an integral part of the supply chain by making sure that the flow of goods is kept on schedule and to budget, explains Matthew Marriott.

By making sure that operations within an organisation function as one, we’re merely servicing the customers that rely on us to pick up their cargo, ship it and deliver it to its destination, to the best of our ability.

System integration is about streamlining and making the process from order management to quality management, throughout the distribution process, seamless. It can benefit both companies and customers. Which IT department would choose to run various computerised systems, when they could run one co-ordinated application? Some may say there’s less risk involved in running multiple systems; if one crashes, the others still run whereas if we flip the coin and the master system goes down, operations grind to a halt.

On the other side of the fence sits the argument for flexibility, visibility, convenience and, ultimately, better service levels.

It’s about giving the customer options. What if they want to change a delivery date or address? Isn’t it easier to give them a unique log in to a central area where they can access all information to do with their account? It’s a bit like online banking; you like to keep tabs on your money and be able to monitor it as and when you please, rather than having to pick up the phone every time you want to check your balance or make a transfer… don’t you?

Internally, process efficiencies are greatly improved too. You can banish the worry of updating something on one system but not on another so the risk of a consignment going astray or a delivery date getting mixed up is eliminated. If, for example, you have a customer who does prefer the ‘over the phone’ approach rather than logging onto their own portal, the benefits of an integrated system are still clear. The designated account manager can access all necessary information on the account rather than having to transfer the customer to different departments depending on their query. So, from either perspective, system integration works in favour of economy, speed and service.

For customers sending five or more consignments a day, some kind of system or application that gives them visibility (and allows them to print off PODs) is crucial. I’m not talking ground breaking state-of-the-art technology but something simple and easy to use that ultimately helps them as well as helping you.

Customers have now come to expect track and trace – no matter how sophisticated it is, the concept has been around the block a few times. But, if you can sync your track and trace offering with other in-house systems, to create an online hub for your customers that suits their individual needs, shipments and projects around the world, you will be the one with the competitive advantage.

The challenge for us is developing innovative thinking. While the industry launches reactive tracking systems perhaps we should be looking at proactive systems, systems that advise you of a potential problem and ones that aren’t reliant on the old technology of logging on to find a problem. With proactive systems we start to manage the exceptions rather than the majority. "System thinking" will only get stronger in the future and therefore we all have to adapt and think differently to innovate our supply chains.

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