Electronic manifesting eliminates hours of manual data processing, keyboard entry errors and the bundles of paperwork associated therein (we all know that, right?), but what began this modern day exercise in efficiency? Let�s take a quick look at what was happening in the beginning.
Before Jim Casey began the American Messenger Company in Seattle in 1907 from an office under the sidewalk (later called United Parcel Service), parcels had to be delivered to their respective consignees by hand. The post office delivered the mail as no one else could, but not even they had begun delivering parcels yet. Jim saw this as an opportunity and started soliciting department stores that wanted to have customers� purchases delivered to their homes. As this enterprise grew, there was a problem. The drivers were delivering packages without regard to location; therefore, delivery vehicles would pass each other in the same neighborhoods. This process needed to become more efficient and thus began what would become the essence of the UPS philosophy � �consolidated delivery� service combined packages that were addressed to a certain neighborhood onto one delivery vehicle.
Within the next several decades, UPS was providing this service in all major West Coast cities as well as New York City. All UPS trucks were painted brown by now and UPS was on a roll. By the early 1950s, UPS acquired �common carrier� rights to deliver packages between all addresses for any customer, private or commercial. This placed UPS in direct competition with the U.S. Postal Service. Unlike the Postal Service though, UPS was restricted by the fact that each state had to give permission for a parcel to move in and out of its borders, so a package might need to be transferred between several carriers before reaching its final destination. It wasn�t until 1975 that UPS had an agreement with every state that brought national parcel delivery service to life.
By the Book
During this early era of the company�s history, most companies using the service were still referred to as �hand sheeters.� We hand wrote the consignee name, address and ZIP onto a UPS-provided booklet, then we consulted a paper �zone chart� to determine which zone to apply to the shipment and thus determine cost. This simple accounting exercise enabled the UPS driver to stop in, grab the packages, tear off his copy of the sheet and head to the next destination, leaving us with our tracking numbers in hand, which we had peeled off and affixed to our copy. Of course, we hoped the packages were delivered on time and we wouldn�t have to consult those numbers ever again. The sheet was then turned in by the driver at the end of the day and transported to a data processing center. This is where the fun would begin. A group of data entry clerks � moonlighting housewives perhaps � would furiously enter this data into the UPS computer at three o�clock in the morning (I�m not making this stuff up), thereby ensuring that the information was available for the drivers as well as the great UPS billing engine the next day. Was this really the most efficient method? Enter automation.
Why Should We Change?
As shipping system salespeople, one of our favorite lines when trying to convince a possible convert to an automated manifest system was �Who is going to take the UPS book home tonight?� When this statement was met with blank questioning looks we would continue, �You know, when all of those ladies are entering in your data at three in the morning and they can�t read your writing� more blank stares, �well, if they can�t read the data and can�t reach anyone to verify it, they will simply enter that shipment as zone 8, 30 pounds, which will cost you more money. We call this Las Vegas rules, UPS always wins.� I can�t say for certain if this actually happens because I�ve never been in that data center, but it�s what we were told. We believed it, and I like to think it helped sell a system or two.
To many shippers back then (and even now as some exasperated salespeople will attest to), the UPS manifest book was the pinnacle of parcel processing efficiency. I can attest to prospects who had dismissed our offering of a �fully electronic parcel manifesting system� with a simple �We�ve been using the book for the past 20 years � and we�ll use it for the next 20 years.� Ironically for UPS, (and other carriers) this unconditional loyalty paradigm would have to be unwound. The result of a well orchestrated, universally accepted and embraced set of procedures that locked in an entire generation of shippers was soon to be abandoned with promises of paperless shipping, automated consignee billing, integrated tracking and a myriad of other �benefits.� There needed to be a global standard set that would enable shippers to simply transmit the all-important package level detail (PLD) directly to the carrier, eliminating many errors, the need for manifest reports as well as the associated storage requirements for these paper dinosaurs.
There is some debate on who drove this, the customer desiring automation or the carrier wanting all of the advantages of centralized billing with its attendant efficiencies and cost reduction. There�s really no question about this with the high-profile customers. For example, our company specializes in high-level, multi-carrier compliant systems. Often, these systems are fully integrated to host accounting, MRP-WMS-OMS programs and may be connected to a virtual �store front� for customer visibility via a WAN or the Internet. Obviously, these shippers need fully automated access both to and from a carrier. But what about the Mom and Pop organizations that exist in virtually every city in the nation? Have the �hand sheeters� of America been slighted? UPS� Keith Froelich actually mandated back in 1997 that all shippers would use electronic manifests with a drop-dead date ofOctober 1, 1999. However, a subsequent Teamsters strike in August of that same year cost the company revenues of about $750 million, and shipping volume is still down four percent from its pre-strike level. This mandated date to either �play or quit� has come and gone and UPS has long since acquiesced. General wisdom dictates that everyone needs to be automated, but there is still an entire segment of the shipping populace that would be perfectly happy to keep things just the way they are.
Who�s First?
There is no solid evidence as to who gets the credit for actually creating the first electronic manifest report. Some in the know say that it was Jack Gibson from UPS back in the mid-60s who actually designed what was then called a computer summary manifest, but no one seems to know for sure. FedEx is credited with the introduction of the first carrier-supplied electronic manifest system in 1984, which was later renamed the PowerShip. Perhaps the biggest development to the shipping community was the introduction of the UPS MaxiShip in 1989. This was, according to UPS, in direct response to the FedEx PowerShip system. Other carriers have entered this arena, such as DHL with its EasyShip system and the Airborne Libra system, but none has had near the impact of the MaxiShip. UPS is credited with putting many third-party shipping system salespeople on unemployment with this turnkey offering. This system has had several evolutions over the past decade, and the most popular version is now referred to as the WorldShip.
For the Long Term
As the Internet economy evolves, customer order patterns will require businesses to rely even further on the instant data exchange facilitated by the electronic manifest. This shift means that small package delivery by carriers has become and will stay an increasingly prevalent mode of shipment for all businesses. Shippers must establish fulfillment processes that are fully integrated to small parcel manifesting solutions; customers expect real-time status updates on when their package was shipped, where it is and when it will arrive, and the data contained in the electronic manifest is the critical key.
The U.S. Postal Service has recently created Airborne@home, a unique alliance that enables businesses such as e-tailers and catalog companies to ship both quickly and economically to the residential marketplace. USPS is also exploring a program that will allow mailers to manifest over the Web. In time, you can certainly bet that all carriers will provide some sort of Web manifesting capabilities.
Fred Smith, who founded Federal Express in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1971, is credited with the statement, �the information about the package is more valuable than the package itself.� This certainly authenticates the beliefs of many shippers today who use the electronic manifest as proof that a package was sent and where it is, but it�s little comfort to the old lady whose package got lost somewhere between the Mail N� More in Phoenix and her home in Iowa. �If only they�d written it in the book.�
Kim Gregory Emond is the sales manager for Mailing and Shipping Technologies (MASTECH) headquartered in Irvine, California. For more information on electronic manifesting, you can visit www.mastechinc.com.