International Transportation: The Benefits of Taking a Holistic and Integrated Approach

Historically, many companies treated international transportation separately from domestic transportation, much like they treated inbound separate from outbound. The question is, are companies taking a more holistic and integrated perspective today? And if so, what’s driving the change?

I asked Doug Surrett, VP of International Solutions at MercuryGate, these and other questions in an effort to help shippers make more informed decisions around their own holistic, integrated approaches to transportation management. Before diving into the topic, Doug gave some of the highlights of his 27-year career in transportation and logistics – a nearly 3-decade span that started at UPS in 1988. “When I started there, I didn’t envision supply chain and logistics being my long-term career [choice],” said Doug, who has worked on the software and consulting side of the business since 1998. He joined MercuryGate (a Talking Logistics sponsor)  about four years ago and today manages the company’s global business division.

When asked whether companies are apt to treat their inbound and outbound logistics as separate entities – versus taking a holistic approach – Doug says more organizations are looking to increase their global footprints. As part of this mission, many of these firms are viewing transportation management from a more integrated standpoint. Driven by the growth opportunities presented by the international market, these firms tend to approach global expansion in different ways. “Fundamentally, certain aspects of transportation are the same in any country,” Doug explained, noting that U.S. firms tend to move into new markets with a sort of bias around “not only technology, but also the expertise and process with regard to how transportation and logistics and supply chain need to be managed.”

That bias can be a double-edged sword for domestic companies that want to expand overseas. “[Companies may think] they have great technology, great processes, and great domain expertise in the U.S.,” Doug pointed out, “but all of that doesn’t necessarily translate to other countries.” In fact, he said companies that are most successful “go into these new markets with more flexibility and open-mindedness.”

Watch this short clip as Doug shares an example of how nuances in certain countries create constraints that sometimes reduce efficiencies and productivity.

Technology as the Great Enabler

In assessing the technology that’s available to support global transportation, Doug pointed out that in the past a firm had to deploy multiple solutions to handle its domestic and international shipments (one for parcel, one for private fleet, and so forth). Today, Doug is seeing more technology surface to support some of the interesting shipping and logistics combinations that global companies are using. One firm, for example, is handling multi-leg shipments via parcel shipment for the first leg, where the shipments are delivered to a gateway facility at an airport and consolidated with other parcel shipments, and then sent overseas via air container for the second leg. “The world is changing,” Doug said. “It’s not just a traditional truckload, LTL, parcel [landscape] anymore. It’s multi-modal, omni-modal, and mixed modes – all within the same movement.”

Watch short clip below where Doug discusses the benefits of having an integrated transportation management platform.

To companies looking for a Transportation Management System (TMS) to support both domestic and international shipping, Doug said the first criteria should be a system that can handle all modes. It sounds simple, but a platform that can handle TL and LTL, but that can’t do air or parcel, is obviously going to be a limiting factor in your company’s ability to grow as either a shipper or a logistics provider,” Doug advised.

Next, consider the TMS’ ability to take data and act on it in a workflow-like fashion. “Any solution that you’re considering needs to have a very solid workflow process that can guide a user,” Doug said, “rather than expecting a user to know exactly what to do and which buttons to click on in the application to process something through successfully.”

The Future Looks Bright

As we head into the second quarter of 2015, Doug said shippers and logistics providers should approach new, global markets in a very targeted manner. “Don’t go in trying be all things to all people in all markets,” he said. Instead, he advised companies to look for a system that can help gather the data necessary to operate in that market, systematize that data, and then look for people who are strong in that market and who have the local or “tribal” knowledge and expertise.

In conclusion, Doug said companies should ask themselves these questions when evaluating whether their transportation planning and execution capabilities are best-in-class or if they are in need of improvement:  Can the platform operate across all modes? Will it be able to handle all global trade constraints and regulations (e.g., denied party screening)? Does the system collect data and present it in a user-friendly manner? And finally, is it a licensed deployment model or a multi-tenant, SaaS model? “The Saas model gives you the ability to have all of the different operational entities in one system and not have to have separate databases, separate installs, separate logins, and all that,” said Doug. “Those are just some of the very practical issues that you’ll want to think about when considering the management of disparate [transportation] systems around the world.”

I encourage you to watch the full episode to gain additional insights and advice on this topic, then post a question or comment and keep the conversation going!