How your products are delivered is a reflection upon you

Third-party logistics (3PL) companies have to deliver freight to their customers on time and undamaged. Finding a logistics company that is capable of consistently executing and safely warehousing products requires due diligence.

Warehousing is critical because customers are judging the companies from which they purchase goods based on the condition and timely delivery of those goods. Damages or delays reflect poorly on the manufacturer.

“A product manufacturer’s customers have no idea a third-party is involved with the storage and shipping of their order,” said George W. Reyes, executive vice president of AMWARE Companies.

Smart Business spoke with Reyes about how to find a 3PL that will uphold a company’s reputation for quality and attention to detail.

What troubles do companies tend to have with warehousing and logistics?
Product manufacturers, for example, rely on third-party warehousing and logistics partners to get the right product, the right lot number, and the right quantity — with the right labeling — to their customers on time.

It’s a very fast-paced business that requires a high degree of organization and accuracy to execute correctly and consistently. If the third-party provider makes mistakes, it reflects poorly on the customer because it’s their name on the product being shipped.

When executed correctly, 3PLs add value to the supply chain by labeling and prepping the products to be shipped. Regardless of those extras, it all needs to be done just-in-time and without error.

More and more, companies forego having their own asset-based warehouses because they’d rather invest that money in improved or additional manufacturing space. That’s why it has become increasingly popular to outsource warehousing and logistics to a third party. Outsourcing places the responsibility of product distribution to the third party, saving companies the huge costs associated with running a warehouse.

What should businesses consider as they look for outside warehousing help?
The condition of the warehouse (structure) is often overlooked by companies conducting due diligence to find the best 3PL provider. Businesses seeking to partner with a 3PL should look for a company that has a well-constructed, modern building.

The geographical location of the warehouse is another often overlooked component. Companies looking for a warehouse would be well-served to partner with one in a favorable geography to its client base. Cleveland is a fantastic market because products sent from the city can reach 70 percent of the U.S. population in one day or less.

Technology also plays a significant role in warehousing. For instance, does the warehouse use RF scanners for lot control, accountability and accuracy? There should be a sophisticated inventory management system that can handle the type of inventory needed for the product being warehoused.

Some manufacturers need a logistics provider that can accommodate a first-in-first-out process. That system needs to be fail-safe when it comes to picking the correct lot number and date of manufacturing. Sending the wrong batch can create a host of costly problems the manufacturer will be forced to reconcile.

Two other aspects to consider are quality control and inbound/outbound processes. Ask about inventory accuracy rate — some companies maintain rates as high as 99 percent. Also consider the hours of operation. Some warehouses keep standard business hours while other companies adjust to their customers’ hours of service.

How does price factor into the decision?
Price alone should not drive the decision to work with one logistics provider over another. It’s critical to conduct a background check on the warehouse provider.

Companies looking to partner with a 3PL or warehouse should make sure they have quality facilities and experienced and knowledgeable staff capable of handling the distribution of specific products.

It can be surprising to some companies when they compare potential providers against their current provider and find out how little they were getting for what they were paying. Find a good partner that has your and your clients’ needs in mind, because if it’s a one-way street, the relationship is doomed.

Insights Logistics is brought to you by Amware

Ready or not, here it comes

The global logistics industry has had a full year to adjust to industry-changing Importer Security Filing (ISF, or 10+2) regulations before they become fully enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Jan. 26, 2010.

Aimed at preventing acts of terrorism, the 10+2 ruling requires ocean cargo information to be transmitted to Customs at least 24 hours before being loaded onto a vessel in the foreign port.

“Because noncompliance in the form of data errors and late transmissions can result in severe financial penalties between $5,000 and $10,000 per shipment, timely receipt of information and documentation from overseas suppliers, shippers and cargo agents has never been more critical for the global supply chain community,” says Paul Codere, corporate Customs brokerage manager for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Codere about how the industry has adjusted to the ISF phase-in period and his advice for Customs brokers and importers once CBP begins full enforcement of the ruling.

Why did Customs give the industry a trial period with the ISF regulations?

Customs afforded the entire industry a yearlong delayed compliance period to acclimate to the new mandates. The intent behind this initiative was for the international trade community to take the full 12 months to work together in educating themselves on complying and cooperating with 10+2. Importers have been warned of infractions rather than being fined so that, ultimately, it will only mean business as usual when full enforcement begins.

First, importers had to decide whether or not they were going to complete their ISF compliance individually or with the security filing assistance of agents like Customs brokers, who have the internal processes, resources and capabilities necessary to file the sensitive data requirements.

Working together to streamline their security filing procedures, brokers, agents and importers have been held responsible for organizing data, implementing a software solution to facilitate the process, and transmitting timely and accurate 10+2 filings to U.S. Customs.

Collectively, the implementation of 10+2 has been quite a challenge for the industry. Customs has advised mitigating factors for when they begin enforcing bond guidelines and deadlines, and I am quite confident that the steep financial penalties will absolutely drive 10+2 compliance.

Customs has stated that without fines, the industry might not take ISF seriously.

Supply chain responsibility

By its very definition, a supply chain is a system of organizations, people, technology, activities, information and resources involved in the flow of global shipments from supplier to customer.

In many aspects, the supply chain is the engine that drives our economy — it is a vital service, fundamental to nearly every sector of the marketplace.

Therefore, it isn’t difficult to comprehend why many corporations within the supply chain community have a growing interest in developing a social obligation to the local and national communities they serve.

“Logistics activities that demonstrate a deep-rooted commitment to the community are highly effective corporate initiatives that enhance relationships among employees, customers, vendors, partners and carriers,” says Vaughn Moore, vice president of sales and marketing for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc. “The practice of corporate philanthropy has become an important factor in sustaining a successful and responsible logistics business.”

Smart Business spoke with Moore about how the logistics industry has become guided by a collective social conscience.

How has community involvement been embraced by the supply chain community in recent years?

The logical and most obvious form for logistics providers to give back has involved providing the resources, warehouses, transportation solutions and other assets necessary to implement disaster relief operations that, at their core, are all about supply chains. The industry has been a leader at the forefront of using what it has and does every day in order to distribute goods and materials where they are needed most.

Two events in recent years have served as a wakeup call for the industry — Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. In the wake of those dire circumstances and horrific tragedies, transportation providers were called on to coordinate relief operations to civil society.

In addition to providing aid, they were also challenged to move beyond the tangible business aspect of transporting goods. As you might imagine, these two historical events prompted the industry to rally together, recognize the power of humanity and embrace the altruistic side of the supply chain.

Logistics businesses were inspired to find additional ways to connect with local and global communities in order to contribute to the greater good.

Chill out

One day it might be coordinating the delivery of food products to trade shows at convention centers around the world. The next day it could be making sure a single truffle arrives looking perfect for an early morning TV show in New York, while a Fortune 50 customer rolls out a new product line at supermarkets across the country. No matter the size of the shipment or the distance it travels, when it comes to moving perishable commodities, timing is everything.

“The cold chain needs to be precisely timed and maintained from the point of pickup to the point of delivery, as any slight deviation in the process could cause serious losses in product, business and customer satisfaction,” says Steve Taylor, perishable station manager for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Taylor about how the regulatory demands of temperature-controlled product distribution have evolved in recent years.

What are some key trends within current industry practices?

The demand for expediting perishable shipments has declined in the past several years as shippers and food manufacturers have trended toward moving their goods using slower modes of transport and deferred delivery services.

Less than truckload (LTL) schedules can pose serious problems in terms of meeting stringent delivery deadlines. To serve and adapt to these evolving customer demands, logistics providers have developed business models that allow perishables to be shipped over longer periods without compromising product integrity.

Customers are also becoming more proactive in taking measures to monitor the condition of their cargo as it is being transported. For example, the use of temperature recording devices has become more prevalent. These monitors are activated, placed into one of the cases and reviewed upon delivery to see if the product experienced any temperature variances while in transit.

What risks are involved with perishables not transported properly, and what can be done to mitigate them?

The first and most obvious risk is product spoilage. The losses result not only in adverse financial impacts, they can also contribute to waste, contamination and illness.

Temperature abuse can also drastically diminish a product’s shelf life, quality and value. Logistics providers should possess extensive knowledge on the type and amount of refrigerant and packaging material required to safely transport each temperature-controlled product, as they degrade at different rates.

For example, ice cream should be continuously maintained at a temperature of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, food that is labeled as frozen must be maintained at a product temperature of minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

The final mile

In 2008, an estimated 192 million U.S. Internet users visited an average of 11.3 retail sites per month to make their online purchases. As online retail revenue continues to increase, its impact on the ways in which individuals shop has undoubtedly transformed many of the ways in which logistics providers distribute their goods and services.

“Business-to-consumer needs have become a growth engine for the transportation and logistics industry in recent years,” says Ray Fennelly, director of business development for AIT Worldwide Logistics. “This shift in buying patterns and business activities has presented tremendous opportunities for logistics providers, who have been challenged to develop a more robust and highly sophisticated B2C residential delivery service for their customers.”

Smart Business sat down with Fennelly to discuss how logistics providers have adapted to the in-home delivery expectations of convenience, speed and choice among their customers.

Explain how and why logistics providers have been trending toward developing in-home delivery services for their customers.

The proliferation of online technology to facilitate e-commerce, online shopping and the B2C sector has put the spotlight on in-home delivery services for logistics providers, who are trusted by retailers, vendors and consumers to coordinate and handle the ‘final mile’ of purchases from brand owners to consumers.

With the continuing need to drive down costs and deliver directly and efficiently to the consumer’s residence, the logistics market has been increasingly shifting away from B2B business models and moving toward B2C. Today, online distributors and Main Street retailers share the same concern in finding the most prompt, reliable way to market and deliver goods such as TVs, fitness equipment and furniture direct to the consumer’s door.

Consumers’ spending behaviors and buying patterns have drastically changed as a result of their growing confidence in the Internet. Before the dot-com boom approximately 10 years ago, moving large consolidated shipments from manufacturer to distributor to retailer was the industry norm. Now, logistics providers are commonly delivering merchandise directly to consumers in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

What are the risks or challenges presented with in-home delivery services?

Several indirect and direct complexities are involved with a home-delivery service solution. For starters, technology’s role in streamlining delivery details and enhancing every aspect of communication is crucial — today’s Web-savvy customers expect to schedule online delivery appointments and receive automated e-mail responses and real-time status updates.

Delivering to private individuals instead of companies requires tremendous flexibility on the part of logistics providers. Getting access to delivery at a time that’s convenient for the homeowner often means you must be available to both coordinate and conduct their deliveries during weekday evenings or on weekends. It also means that you must be proactive in rescheduling appointments in the event that no one is home to accept the delivery or correcting a data entry error that has led you to the wrong address.

Regardless of consumers’ various service specifications, protecting both the home and the goods you are delivering is critical to ensuring customer satisfaction. Damage to walls, paint and carpeting are equally as detrimental as any potential damages done to the customer’s LCD television or treadmill while in transit. You also have to be mindful of regulatory concerns. For instance, individuals under the age of 18 cannot sign for the goods.

Essentially, the real challenge lies in ensuring that you provide the consumer a professional and quality experience from point of purchase to final delivery.

Describe specific service demands of in-home delivery customers.

The logistical requirements of supply chains extending to each customer’s address tend to be highly detailed and involved, as they include features and value-added benefits such as ‘white glove’ services, room-specific deliveries, professional installation, packing and unpacking, and debris removal.

While those services begin for logistics providers at the point of dispatch, the customer’s main concern is rarely about the lifecycle of his or her shipment. Instead, customers need to know whether or not you can be held accountable for meeting the delivery promise you’ve made to them. Empathize with the fact that their time is valuable — they have likely rearranged their schedules in order to be home when their goods are scheduled to arrive.

Similarly, ensure that your work force is courteous, respectful, knowledgeable and polite upon entering each customer’s private home, and represents your company in a professional manner upon delivery. Remember that, in order to successfully develop a comprehensive expedited in-home delivery product, you must first acknowledge the fact that customer satisfaction goes far beyond the actual service and delivery requirements.

RAY FENNELLY is the director of corporate development for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc., headquartered in Itasca, Ill. Spanning numerous nationwide locations and an ever-increasing network of international partnerships, the global transportation and logistics provider delivers tailored solutions for a wide variety of vertical markets and industries. Reach him at [email protected] or (800) 669-4AIT.

Going global

As international trade continues to surge and transcend national boundaries, it’s become nearly impossible to manufacture, sell or consume a product that hasn’t resulted from a global logistics solution at some point in its creation.

Because globalization has given way to diverse customer demands, countless overseas opportunities and fierce global competition, today’s logistics companies can no longer specialize in just a few select areas within the international marketplace.

“Ten and 15 years ago, logistics suppliers could quite comfortably become niche players, with a focus on either importing or exporting,” says Franco Lasagni, managing director of international at AIT Worldwide Logistics. “Globalization has pioneered many breakthroughs in the ways in which logistics providers conduct their commerce activities with networks of suppliers, manufacturers, distribution centers, customers and partners across the global supply chain.”

Smart Business spoke with Lasagni about how globalization has transformed the roles, supply chain relationships and business models of today’s logistics providers.

What are the risks and challenges involved in doing business on a global scale?

There are several key economical concerns involved. Longer response times, cultural barriers, foreign documentation, different time zones and lack of critical infrastructures necessary for data exchange are critical factors that can impede on expanding your reach into the global logistics marketplace.

However, geopolitical barriers are the biggest challenge of all. With the exception of Europe, the rest of the world is still affected by a much higher level of bureaucracy. Protectionism, which can take the form of tariffs, subsidies, import and export regulations, and anti-dumping legislation, has the potential to restrain trade and is without a doubt the largest detriment to foreign trade practices.

These challenges can best be overcome by selecting solvent overseas agents who reflect your business ethics and core competencies while acting as an extension of your company in establishing a local presence. Together, these partnerships work to innovate, integrate and sell not just a service to customers, but a transportation solution.

How has the role of a global logistics provider changed in recent years?

Only a few years ago, steamship lines and air carriers were the high-end service providers of supply chain solutions, whereas logistics providers facilitated shipping transactions as brokers. Compared to today’s environment, the role of freight forwarders was relatively simple and straightforward.

Freight forwarders began evolving into more diverse and sophisticated roles when transportation deregulation hit the marketplace. Deregulation first affected air carriers, then steamship lines, which found the emergence of new companies and service options unfavorable.

To respond to the overwhelming new competition, many had to take drastic steps in tailoring their existing business plans. Airlines began cutting costs and services as they struggled to remain profitable. A similar scenario applied to most steamship lines. Thus, interactions with the entire supply chain community and its customers were transformed.

As the industry scrambled to fit the market and serve its new needs, logistics providers recognized, redefined and embraced their new roles in the global marketplace as consultants to customers. Because of the increasingly collaborative and consultative nature of our business, the trend ever since has been one of improved efficiency in which goods are manufactured and services are rendered, requiring more of a customer-driven marketing model on the part of global logistics service providers.

What other globalization trends have placed increasing importance on logistics providers?

Several developments have contributed to the exponential increase in world commerce that the industry has experienced. First and foremost, the concept of global logistics wouldn’t be a remote possibility without the affordable and user-friendly IT solutions that make integrated tracking and tracing systems and real-time global connectivity part of the valuable services provided to customers by logistics leaders.

The realities and effects of a post-Sept.11 world also placed a permanent emphasis on the industry’s role within the international arena. Enhanced security measures and compliance requirements exacerbated the costs and processes of doing business globally and created red tape across the world’s transportation systems, triggering an immediate need for services.

Logistics leaders stepped in to educate, inform and assist customers on complicated customs clearance documentation, duties, taxes and various other issues that once had very little to do with transportation but have since become imperative aspects in building a secure and cost-effective supply chain.

The growth in logistics has also been based on the proliferation of trade lanes and investments in key markets, such as Europe, the Pacific Rim and South America, and in emerging regions, such as the Middle East.

Additionally, the marketplace has trended toward an increasing presence of third-party providers, who integrate warehousing and inventory management activities to store and ship their customers’ goods.

Cargo and quality

As the logistics industry continues trending toward supply chain collaboration and electronic data interchange (EDI) integration, formal quality assurance processes and programs are being developed by an increasing number of transportation providers in order to compete in today’s dynamic global markets.

“Product quality in the context of logistics can best be defined by an agreed set of performance measurement metrics, standards and criteria between the transportation organization and its network of agents, vendors or partners,” says Aidan Oliver, director of field operations for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc. “Implementing a successful, comprehensive, quality solution begins with corporate commitment throughout the entire organization, extends to agent accountability, and ends with service excellence and customer satisfaction.”

Smart Business spoke with Oliver about how logistics organizations can develop effective quality assurance programs that provide value and long-term sustainability to their customers’ supply chains.

What steps must a company take to effectively establish quality-driven processes?

To successfully implement a strategic quality control process within your organization, you must first ensure that precise guidelines, standards and expectations have been clearly and comprehensively outlined. Determine and assess the demands of your customers and measure your network’s levels of performance specifically and scientifically according to those demands.

For example, consider qualitative factors, such as account management or vendor involvement, and quantitative measurements, including shipment-in-transit status updates, on-time delivery, claims ratio and invoicing accuracy.

Similarly, corporate resources and operational efficiencies should be properly allocated, particularly in terms of acquiring IT support in preparing internal and external reports and setting up an EDI infrastructure providing real-time information exchange between your organization and your network of agents. Because statuses including ‘recovered,’ ‘proof of delivery’ and ‘out for delivery’ are updated electronically as dispatchers and drivers change the status within the system, EDI allows logistics providers to provide customers and shippers the timely information they demand — and deserve.

Lastly, penalties, disciplinary action and/or probationary periods must be established and enforced in order to encourage and engage your line haul providers and preferred cartage vendors to remain in good standing with your program’s quality-driven standards. For instance, mandate that proof of deliveries (PODs) must be entered into the system within one hour of drop-off time, or that all pickups and deliveries must be invoiced within 24 hours from the time all transportation charges were approved.

Keep in mind that each agent is an extension of your company — poor performance on the agent’s part reflects poorly on your company in the eyes of your customers.

What are the challenges of measuring the performance of agents, and how can those be overcome?

Quality processes will fail unless you receive continuous corporate dedication and follow-through in maintaining the standards of your quality assurance program. Getting prompt, accurate and critical shipment data to customers has become the minimum expectation and reality of the business, but accomplishing this objective takes increasing and ongoing effort, time and accountability.

All employees must commit themselves to the daily challenge of continually monitoring and measuring agent performance, recognizing results, identifying where progress or improvements can be made and proactively making those changes to ensure compliance with your organization’s quality criteria.

In short, employees must believe in your company’s quality assurance program to the point where it quite simply becomes their way of doing business and they manage the exceptions instead of perpetually chasing down information.

Taking a proactive role in grading vendors on certain criteria means that you are frequently running reports and checking in with each vendor, regardless of the circumstances. Concentrating on what they are doing well in addition to their identified areas of improvement lessens their complacency or indifference with the program.

Whether it’s simply to give them a pat on the back for a job well done, investigate a particular POD, or report on their failure to meet 98 percent compliance criteria in entering a certain shipment charge, keeping them actively engaged in the quality assurance process keeps them dedicated to improving their scores.

How do quality assurance programs provide value to customers’ supply chains?

Because they involve so many hard-to-quantify benefits and aren’t built on a numbers-driven business foundation, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much quality assurance programs contribute to your company’s bottom line. However, streamlining operational efficiencies and synchronizing data connectivity dramatically reduces job redundancies while improving your organization’s on-time percentages and customer confidence.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Quality-driven programs serve as tangible management tools that make it easier to work with your supply chain counterparts in servicing your customers in the most seamless, optimal and efficient way possible.

AIDAN OLIVER is director of field operations for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc., headquartered in Itasca, Ill. Spanning numerous nationwide locations and an ever-increasing network of international partnerships, the global transportation and logistics provider delivers tailored solutions for a wide variety of vertical markets and industries. Reach him at [email protected] or (800) 669-4AIT (4248).

Information and inventory

Warehouse planning and inventory management processes in today’s global logistics business environment are critical success factors to effectively manage your organization’s corporate collaboration, peak performance, job efficiencies and bottom line.

“While every warehouse is undoubtedly unique — each with its own set of purchasing, inventory, order fulfillment, tracking systems and pick-and-pack procedures — the importance an integrated software system plays in streamlining the tailored data within each warehouse cannot be underestimated,” says Bill Reichman, vice president of information systems for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc. “Using IT solutions to automate your warehouse and inventory processes optimizes efficiencies and improves access to information across every aspect of a logistics enterprise.”

Smart Business spoke with Reichman about the relationship between information technology and inventory management and about how to maximize it in your organization.

What impact does IT have on warehousing and inventory management effectiveness?

Utilizing methods including automatic data capture and barcode scanning to track inventory levels allows your employees, customers and vendors to effectively sort, view and manage information flow, providing a real-time window into your warehouse operation.

Inventory is essentially like cash sitting on a shelf because you are paying for those items and that storage space. The longer it sits there, the more it depreciates in value. When you use technology to group tens of thousands of goods within any given warehouse, the software solutions will analyze data sequences and track the historical demand of each product to ensure the most optimal on-hand availability, order replenishment and efficient processes of your merchandise.

In addition to tracking the supply activity and shelf life of your inventory, IT solutions will also sequence the data in order to provide the most efficient layout and product placement plans within the warehouse. That way, the most high-demand products are closest to your organization’s pick- and-pack operation, supporting workflow agility, lowering staff requirements and limiting job redundancies.

It is quite literally a physical and mental impossibility for a human to perform these functions. Technology dramatically increases and enhances warehouse productivity, utilization and profitability.

Describe warehousing in a just-in-time (JIT) environment. What are the advantages and difficulties associated with that environment?

Implementing a just-in-time warehousing environment allows supply chain professionals to order and purchase inventory before it is needed, making your production operations more cost effective and streamlined. If properly implemented, it can enhance business value and warehouse efficiency while cutting down unnecessary steps in the movement of materials.

However, unpredictability is an important variable to consider when touting the benefits of a JIT environment. For example, delays along the supply chain, such as port strikes or inclement weather, are inevitable. When these emergencies occur, they dramatically disrupt the JIT operations of your business, sometimes with extremely costly consequences.

If you haven’t allocated alternate resources to compensate for those delays, you aren’t just running the risk of losing profits, you run the risk of losing crucial customers.

Similarly, while technology can report downward trends of inventories, it can’t predict unforeseen consumer demand fluctuations. In some instances, you can buy inventory in anticipation of forecasted demands, only to discover that by the time the product actually arrives, the demand for that product in the consumer marketplace has either regressed or no longer exists. Suddenly, because of the abrupt swings in buying patterns as dictated by the laws of supply and demand, you are left with obsolete, excessive or slow-moving stock and its associated inventory carrying costs.

The challenge then becomes maintaining adequate inventory levels without staging an overabundance of goods.

What system challenges are involved in inventory management?

One challenge involves conflicts or breakdowns in communication in getting two operating platforms to speak to one another. For example, our inventory is our customers’. Synchronizing our software systems with theirs, the customer accesses all product descriptions and quantities with a few clicks of the mouse.

Upon selecting a product ID, a purchase order is printed, the barcode is scanned, the system is updated, and the order is packed and sent directly from the warehouse. However, if the two systems aren’t integrated correctly, or there is an internal glitch in either system, the information exchange will be inaccurate.

Another primary challenge involves receiving companywide commitment and follow-through to the various resources involved, particularly from a cost of implementation, training and maintenance standpoint.

However, it’s imperative to point out the hard-to-quantify future gains and benefits of effective inventory handling. It maximizes the productivity of your staff, reduces transcription errors and ultimately improves customer service metrics. You can’t ignore the definitive advantage; it drastically improves your bottom line.

Breaking barriers

Recent market research findings suggest that women globally fill less than 20 percent of executive-level positions within the transportation and logistics industry.

However, as more and more women enter into logistics careers, they are increasingly challenging the prevailing gender imbalances historically seen in the industry.

“Every industry has its own individual idiosyncrasies, and I have found logistics to be an extremely male-dominated field,” said Sheri Wozniak, director of accounting services for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc. “While bridging the gender gap to challenge those existing attitudes is still a significant concern for women working in this industry, I also believe that it has served as one of the catalysts to their career success.”

Smart Business spoke with Wozniak about how women can become leaders in logistics.

What motivates you to overcome adversity in the logistics industry?

As a woman, you have to work extremely hard to earn respect and recognition in order to break down many of the barriers with which women contend in today’s logistics business environment. From the moment you walk through the door, your strength of character and convictions are put to the ultimate test. While these barriers could absolutely be considered a detriment, I consider them an advantage, particularly from a motivational standpoint.

In the face of the so-called boys’ club aspect of this business, women take many arrows and face countless roadblocks in their personal quest for success. It is a constant daily challenge to maintain the respect you’ve worked so hard to earn while continuing to ensure your ideas and opinions are heard, honored and valued.

Dodging those business hurdles and challenging the adversity quickly becomes the driving force behind your success — they ignite the fire within you to deliver results, prove the naysayers wrong and elevate your career to new heights.

What are some of the unique characteristics displayed by women who have gone into logistics?

It’s incredibly important for women in the logistics field to be forward-thinking, visionary, driven, tenacious, assertive and goal-oriented. They should have an insatiable appetite for challenges and focus on the big picture rather than getting caught up in the day-to-day minutia.

Above all else, women in logistics must be self-motivating. Rather than looking for outside validation, glowing accolades and the proverbial pat on the back from their peers, colleagues and male counterparts, they should focus on finding job fulfillment within themselves.

You learn very quickly in this business that in order to find true career contentment, you opt to be your own advocate — instead of basing your career accomplishments solely on external forces, identify what motivates you internally and then make it happen. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s entirely up to you to make every day count — this responsibility is yours and yours alone.

Unfortunately, the glass-ceiling concept has not vanished from our business. Women still struggle in trying to land leadership positions within the highest ranks of logistics organizations, where the disparity between men and women is most often seen. However, more and more women are employing and asserting these attributes, and recent years have definitely seen signs of progress in making the logistics field more gender equitable.

This industry offers a variety of careers that are tremendously rewarding for women — there is no reason why they should be discouraged from pursuing their ambitions in logistics professions.

Discuss striking a balance between maintaining a career and raising a family.

It is extremely important to keep life in perspective in trying to strike and maintain a balance between work mode and family mode. When you are wearing multiple hats and taking on various roles — working professional, wife and mother — you cannot forget to take a deep breath, relax and embrace each day as a new challenge.

Work can absolutely be an obsession and a passion, but when the doors close behind you at the end of the day and as you race to get dinner on the table or drive your daughter to gymnastics, it’s crucial to redirect your energy and enthusiasm to the needs of your family.

No matter what the challenge, at home or at work, it’s important to take things head-on while keeping the issues in proper perspective.

Let’s face it, none of us is superhuman — we can’t manage the dual responsibilities without a support system, both at home and in the workplace. Establishing a healthy balance between your home life and work life is a juggling act that indeed takes sacrifices — but not ones that mean giving up either life entirely.

As a woman, you sometimes feel as though you have to make a choice between the two. The reality is that the issue isn’t so black and white — women in the logistics industry can balance their work and home lives and still flourish in their jobs. It is successfully being done by millions of women each and every day.

Sheri Wozniak is director of accounting services for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc., headquartered in Itasca, Ill. Spanning numerous nationwide locations and an ever-increasing network of international partnerships, the global transportation and logistics provider delivers tailored solutions for a wide variety of vertical markets and industries. Reach her at [email protected] or (800) 669-4AIT (4248).

Delivering data

As customer demand for real-time information continues to heighten in the ever more dynamic world of logistics, the need for tailored data synchronization through EDI implementation has become more apparent than ever before.In its simplest terms, EDI, or electronic data interchange, is essentially defined as the structured transmission of electronic data from one trading partner to another. With its ability to automate and integrate processes including tracking and tracing, status messaging, reporting and invoicing, EDI gives logistics providers the flexibility to craft creative solutions for their customers.

“Contending with today’s industry challenges warrants sales professionals to extend the depth of their knowledge base well beyond advising customers on how to schedule a pickup or track a shipment,” says Ray Fennelly, director of business development for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc. “Customers now require a flexible technology infrastructure tailored to the data distribution of their supply chain, and sales representatives must be able to deliver more than just a canned IT solution to drive those demands.”

Smart Business sat down with Fennelly to discuss how EDI has transformed sales and supply chain relationships.

What are the major benefits of EDI?

Humanizing our business in the age of gadgets and gizmos cannot be underestimated — after all, we are not just moving boxes from point A to point B. In addition to being logistics consultants to our customers, we must also serve as communications and IT consultants.

While it’s imperative not to remove the personal aspect from the business, juggling various phone calls, faxes and e-mails can be extremely difficult to manage and lead to major miscommunications or disruptions in delivering information and product on time.

Furthermore, customer service representatives can’t be held accountable for remembering every last nuance of each customer relationship; Web-based solutions facilitate this process.

Unfortunately, the industry is not infallible — delays do occur and mistakes will be made. However, a comprehensive tech-driven solution can dramatically reduce those setbacks by automating data transmission, minimizing potential for human error, and providing increased work flow and communication efficiencies.

In essence, sharing data in an integrated environment allows customers to view their supply chain as a ‘glass pipeline’ of sorts: At any point along the life cycle of their shipments, they receive instant visibility to shipping activity, lane segments, trade profiles, on-time percentage and financial data.

Describe the potential pitfalls that can occur with EDI implementation.

Mutual commitment to resources required — particularly in terms of money, training, manpower and time — is, without a doubt, one of the largest concerns. Make no mistake; getting two IT platforms to speak to each other can be a time-consuming, costly, highly involved process. Can both organizations dedicate the proper internal resources until the information exchange environment has been successfully and accurately implemented?

EDI hinges on cooperation and collaboration. If set up properly, its short-term expense results in significant long-term savings for both parties. However, the value of EDI’s flexibility is lost if expectations between the two companies are not properly communicated, understood, mutually agreed upon or executed.

While it is important for you and your customer to engage in detailed discussions and plot project road maps and flow charts, it is ultimately your responsibility to generate results for your customer based on its prioritized business needs and efficiencies.

How do you determine whether or not it is a sound business strategy to apply EDI to a customer relationship?

Because of its perceived complexity, EDI can seem imposing and overwhelming to customers, especially those with whom you have been doing business for years or even decades. In encouraging them to move from paper to electronic processes, those concerns are certainly legitimate.From a cost-of-implementation and training standpoint, in today’s economy, especially, you can’t and most certainly shouldn’t expect a customer to implement EDI unless it makes sense for the data flow of its supply chain.

It should never be the goal on a sales representative’s first visit to set customers up with EDI; you can’t automatically presume they need it. After all, their definition of the term might radically differ from yours. You must first become attuned to the customer’s shipping trends and volumes to analyze the data flow of its supply chain.

Oftentimes, the need for EDI doesn’t present itself until long after the maturation of your customer relationship, when trust has been ascribed and the foundation of the partnership has been established.

At the end of the day, it is incumbent upon logistics providers to take a consultative approach in sitting down with their customers, mutually deciding on the most beneficial Web-based solution for their business and delivering value to their supply chain based on those demands.

RAY FENNELLY is the director of corporate development for AIT Worldwide Logistics, Inc., headquartered in Itasca, Ill. Spanning numerous nationwide locations and an ever-increasing network of international partnerships, the global transportation and logistics provider delivers tailored solutions for a wide variety of vertical markets and industries. Reach him at [email protected] or (800) 669-4AIT.