Enterprise shipping is not some mysterious corporate function. In fact, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is the process of shipping performed at a level visible to any management person or employee who has been given the permission to perform the shipping task or see the shipping information at a corporate level.

    Enterprise shipping goes beyond the normal, "I have a package and now I need to ship it" type of processing. In an enterprise environment, shipping is not a just a function of the warehouse, it is a process driven by the enterprise. There must be planning in place for how to get the information required for shipping, how to use the information to create business rules to ship the order properly, and how to route correctly the results of what has shipped to the appropriate data storage locations in the enterprise.

    A new enterprise shipping system needs to be able to handle existing company requirements and processes as well as being scalable upward and across the enterprise. An enterprise shipping system purchase should be the last purchase required by any company. The ability to handle the workload to an infinite level is an important requirement of any enterprise shipping system.

    When adopting an enterprise shipping system, businesses need to incorporate new thought processes and automated work flows for processing their orders. Introducing an enterprise shipping system into a company requires a top down thought process for efficiently utilizing the enterprise shipping system. It does not make sense to automate a poor process or a manual process just to adapt to an enterprise shipping solution. Rethink existing processes to ensure they will work well in an automated environment. Validate those processes by asking the people who currently perform them manually to participate in the re-engineering of internal processes. Only when management and employee buy-in exists will any new system perform as it was designed.

    Businesses grow and change over time. An enterprise shipping solution must be able to manage that growth and must be able to adapt. Computer hardware will always get more powerful, and the operating system software used today will look nothing like the software that will be used in 10 years. Enterprise shipping systems are required to keep up with those changes. Purchase once, upgrade forever. Enterprise shipping systems must be intelligent. There are complex rules in play in the enterprise that are needed to keep the customers coming back and ordering more. Shipping on Friday? Customer “123” wants that order sent FedEx Saturday delivery, but only if the total order cost exceeds $750, and only in the fourth quarter of the year. Enterprise shipping can be that sophisticated or as simple as "Just send it UPS."

    Most importantly, an enterprise shipping solution must benefit other functions within the enterprise. Customer Service needs to know if the order shipped today. What was the tracking number? Accounting needs to know the cost of shipping. The warehouse needs to know the shipping volume trends for the last year. The VP of Distribution needs to have all of the shipping information for his 12 distribution centers for the last twelve months available to him for rate negation. Right now. 
    An organization can no longer live by the old adage, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." Many processes within a company can be improved upon, even if those processes are working fine today. What must be kept in perspective is the cost of improvement vs. the gain in productivity or information visibility. An enterprise shipping solution must be able to provide a justifiable ROI. If the cost of improvement is too great, most companies will try to find a more affordable solution before giving up on the project altogether.

    Enterprise shipping need not be pushed to the side in favor of other enterprise software projects. In past years, integrating an enterprise shipping solution into the organization used to be a major project. Now the degree of difficulty has been greatly reduced thanks to better software and hardware technology. Implementing an enterprise shipping system today is now significantly easier. Many companies are finding they are able to handle the project in house with a reduced level of support from the systems integrator or software manufacturer.

    Take the time to identify your objectives, select a reputable vendor, dedicate a project "owner" within your organization; and realize an enterprise shipping project is one that will be much easier to implement than a WMS or ERP project.

    Michael Everson is President and CEO of Data Trak Technologies located in St Paul Minnesota. For over 18 years Data Trak has been helping businesses of all sizes automate and improve the efficiency of their outbound distribution and shipping operations. You can reach Data Trak’s sales group at 651-639-0091 or e-mail sales@dtsna.com. Data Trak’s web address is www.dtsna.com