Passing information from your warehouse management system (WMS) or your enterprise resource planning software (ERP) to your shipping software not only improves your shipping speed and accuracy, but it can be help with data analytics and reporting as well. Passing specific fields to the shipping program can facilitate the merging of various data to give you a greater ability to analyze and benchmark your outbound logistics flow.
However, normally this type of functionality is only available if your system has the ability to support custom data fields in your system interfaces. Here are some important factors to consider when looking to begin shipping with customized data.
1. What Custom Data Do You Want to Pass to Your Shipping Program?
The first thing to determine is, what data do you want to pass to your shipping program? The type of custom data passed to your shipping program can vary greatly depending on what the goal of the change is.
For example, if your goal is to combine your monthly electronic carrier invoices with your order data to perform a cost analysis by customer then the order number would be a key piece of custom data. By passing the order number to your shipping program into one of the pre-defined carrier reference fields the electronic carrier invoice would contain YOUR order number on each shipment. This would make it very easy to marry this carrier data with an extract from your WMS or ERP system to give you all the data needed for a cost analysis by customer, among other potential analytics.
So the first step is always to look at the goal of the change, then work backward to figure out which fields would be required to facilitate that goal.
2. Is Your Shipping Software Interfaced With Your WMS?
If your WMS is interfaced, then you are already on the right track. You may need to modify it to pass your custom data. This action could require work on your ERP side, your WMS side or your shipping program side, or all three. You want to look at which interfaces would need to be modified and how quickly and easily this can be done.
3. Is the Shipping Software Able to Accept New Fields?
Can it just take an address field? You can build certain interfaces even into carrier-provided systems. However, you're not necessarily going to be able to pass any custom data. For example, if the software is only able to accept the address fields, then you will not be able to pass it any custom fields.
Here are a few questions you want to consider:
- Can you change your interfaces?
- Can you pass more/new fields?
- How easily/quickly can you change interfaces and add fields?
- Does the shipping software allow you to bring custom shipping data in?
- Does the shipping program enable you to take custom data and do what you need with it, such as passing it into the carrier reference field so that it shows up on the carrier invoice?
4. Can You Print Specific Fields on the Shipping Label?
Sometimes custom data is required for other reasons besides reporting or analytics. For example many customers require their PO Number to be printed somewhere on the box. A very easy solution for this is to pass the PO Number into the shipping program and have it print the PO Number on the shipping label.
Another example of this is drop shipping for a customer. In this scenario the customer requires their name as the return company on the shipping label (possibly other data as well). One way to accomplish this would be to pass that customers name into a custom data field that your shipping program can then put into the return address company name field which would then print on the label.
Notice that in the examples above, in addition to being able to support the custom data as outlined previously, the shipping program would also need to be able to put that custom data on the carrier label. Once again, the importance of working backwards from the goal of the change is highlighted. The data does us no good if we cannot use it as we need to, in this case printing it on a label.
5. How Easy Is It to Use Custom Data?
This will depend on your current software systems and operational procedures in place. At the very least it will require some analysis to determine what fields are needed and where to pass them. It will most likely also involve IT resources if interfaces need to be tweaked, data fields created or labels edited.
Even if the changes will be fairly extensive, for many companies this type of custom data interchange will become mandatory in order to stay competitive in the very near future if it isn't already. I would suggest taking a look at your systems as soon as you can to see if this type of automation can be supported and to evaluate the level of effort it would take to allow this functionality in the future.
Also I would add this custom data functionality to any evaluation criteria for new software being considered in the outbound logistics area. You may not need it now but it is always wise to plan for the future.