Beyond single-shipment visibility

Customer portals are giving small and medium-size companies access to the same customized, tiered, integrated and affordable tools that were once used only by large, IT-savvy enterprises.

Small and medium-size enterprises don’t have the shipping volumes or complex supply chains of Fortune 500 companies, but that doesn’t mean their logistics needs are simple.
An operations executive at a medium-size company might oversee tens or hundreds of shipments a month along with activities at multiple warehouses. He might have additional responsibilities beyond managing his supply chain. But many companies can’t afford the sophisticated supply chain platforms and dedicated IT staff that large enterprises often have

Once just for the big guys, now a must-have for SMEs

Single shipment track-and-trace tools offered by third party logistics providers have long been a mainstay for these companies. But as volumes and complexity have grown, supply chain managers need more powerful tools enabling them to see overall performance against targets and quickly spot operational problems. Some logistics providers such as Agility offer robust end-to-end visibility solutions that target this very need.

“Medium-size companies can benefit from integrated visibility platforms like Agility’s customer portal,” says Alex Greuter, Chief Technology Officer at Agility. “The portal lets customers see all shipment activity in one consolidated view. They have access to shipment documentation, and they can schedule shipments, track movement of inventory in warehouses, manage purchase orders, and more, all with a single log-in.”

Indeed seeing the details of a complex supply chain is useful, and the reason many SMEs are eager to use customer portals. Portals allow them to see all their shipments and drill down to check the detailed status of a particular shipment. In addition, customers can get email alerts about the status of critical shipments, so they know where their cargo is, without having to seek out the information.

Flexible reporting, regulatory compliance

While some customers like having all the details at their fingertips, others prefer seeing the big picture. Agility’s medium-sized customers use a range of summary reports from the portal, including shipping status and KPI performance, so they can spot problems at a glance. A flexible reporting engine allows them to create custom reports and have those reports emailed to them on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. That’s a big time saver for operations managers at medium-size enterprises who can’t devote themselves to monitoring shipments.

Regulatory compliance can also be a struggle for SMEs. Keeping track of key shipment documents sent as email attachments is time-consuming. With the customer portal, shipping documents are automatically scanned and stored, and accessible on demand. Customers know where the documents are and can upload them to store alongside standard shipping documents already in the system so all relevant documents are in a single, secure repository.

Online booking, warehouse insight

SMEs also are finding that they gain efficiency and reduce errors by using a portal to schedule shipments. Online job booking is quick and easy. It reduces delays and inefficiencies that occur when jobs are submitted via emails and spreadsheets. “Customers that try the online booking feature never go back to the old way,” Greuter says. “They realize the simplicity and efficiency of conducting business this way. The portal also offers a container view and container booking for customers who need precise time slot allocation for delivery bays.”

Customers can get email alerts about the status of critical shipments, so they know where their cargo is, without having to seek out the information.

Agility’s portal gives customers access to rich warehouse management functionality, in addition to the freight management tools. They can track inventory in and out of the warehouse and see how they are performing against KPIs.

Greuter says some customers gravitate to the portal for help with purchase order management. Others benefit from Agility’s US customs management module, which lets them manage their entries and view AES filings. Customers with their own IT systems can tap into the Agility portal through its extensive EDI-based integration framework, further streamlining processes like shipment booking and order management so they can improve data accuracy and get greater visibility across their whole supply chain.

“We’re trying to create a one-stop-shop for customers, even those with specialized needs,” Greuter says.

To get to Agility’s customer portal, click the “register” link on the website home page. An Agility representative will contact you to discuss your needs and give you a user ID. Most features are intuitive, but Agility offers training for customers requesting it.