Amateurs Study Shipping Rates, Professionals Study Logistics

Omar Bradley offered a truism, that amateurs study tactics, armchair generals study strategy, and professionals study logistics. This is just as true in the world of business as it is in the military. Logistics is the art of getting supplies where they’re needed so other functions can happen. In the modern business world, logistics means freight shipping – both internally and externally. In this field, freight rates and carrier rates are the price of doing business.

Freight shipping is one of those expenses that can be minimized, but never totally eliminated. It’s also a manpower time sink, and because of this, more and more companies are outsourcing their freight needs to third party logistics companies. These are outfits that have people who do nothing but look over the assorted rates and package deals offered by the major freight carriers and try to find the best deal possible for their client, with a nice commission on top for them.

All in all, third party logistics management makes sense for organizations that are above a certain size (too small, and they don’t generate enough volume to be worth the trouble of maintaining the account) and below a certain size (at which point the company can have an inside staff that does the same function for less).

Alternatives to third party logistics offers are in house logistics software. Much the same way that travel agencies quickly became redundant with online booking services, logistics software vendors are trying to render the third party logistics company obsolete. Building automatic data scrapers that can do the basic work of comparing logistics rates to different parts of the country or world is fairly straightforward, as is a price search algorithm.

While these systems primarily offer a way to avoid third party logistics fees, they also offer a bit more direct control over your company’s shipping needs, and some managers and executives like that hands on feel. They can also be used to significantly automate a lot of routine functions in the shipping department and the mail room. They can also be used to identify process problems – there’s a saying that every time something was sent out overnight, someone higher up in the chain didn’t do their job correctly, and when you’re looking directly at the costs of expedited shipping, it becomes easier to focus on the process issues that lead to it, than when you’re looking at a third party statement of account.

Ultimately, which one works best is a function of your business’ needs and internal culture; some businesses simply don’t want to bring that job in house. Others need to. Both are viable strategies depending on what your operation’s needs truly are.

Does Achieving the Best Shipping Solutions Require Hiring a Logistic Expert?

Shipping products without the aid of logistics is like journeying to an unfamiliar destination without the aid of a map; eventually, you get there, but it usually takes more time and money than you anticipated. Just as an uninformed driver makes more stops and takes more roads than necessary to arrive at his destination, an uninformed shipping process results in freight making more stops and taking longer routes than necessary, increasing the cost of the shipping process. Realizing this, shipping companies that don’t have an “in house” logistics department will seek the advice of a logistic expert. But the type of logistic expertise that they retain can also have a significant impact on the cost of the shipping process.

When a company doesn’t have its own logistic expert, it has two options for implementing shipping logistics: hiring a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, or implementing logistics software. Traditionally, shipping companies have opted for 3PL. But today, shippers are increasingly choosing logistics software over 3PL for two reasons: the software offers more shipping options and it costs significantly less than hiring a 3PL provider that offers the same level of service. For companies that are considering hiring a 3PL provider, it’s important to realize that not all 3PL providers are the same. Currently, there are three types of 3PL providers: standard 3PL providers, service developers, customer adapters and customer developers.

Stand 3PL providers offer transportation logistics, but not as one of their core competencies, which ends up making them attractive due to the low cost of their services. Service developers perform transportation logistics as their core competency, but typically emphasize in “value-added” services, such as cross-docking and specific packaging. Customer adapters oversee a company’s logistics process, but don’t specialize in innovative shipping solutions. Customer developers oversee the logistics process and do specialize in innovation solutions. But the price of hiring a customer developer is can be similar to hiring your own logistics experts.

Moreover, 3PL often places small and midsize companies in the position of hiring logistics services that don’t offer comprehensive, innovative solutions or attempting to hire unaffordable logistics services that do; a situation that makes companies realize the value of logistics software, which allows them to realize comprehensive, innovative shipping solutions that increase the timeliness of the shipping process while reducing its price by eliminating the following costs: TMS software costs, 3PL costs, gain shares, freight margins, common rate base licensing costs and annual software maintenance costs.

Logistics software is available on either a software as a service (SaaS) model or as an onsite software solution, with the former offering the advantage of remote system access. But in either case, the software allows its customers to make expert logistics decisions through an easy to use interface. Research shows that companies who implement logistics software can reduce their annual shipping costs by 10 percent after the first year.

Logistics Planning Software and Freight Shipping

Since the deregulation of the trucking industry in the 1980’s, trucking companies have offered an increasing range of shipping solutions that helps the manufacturer minimize shipping costs; one of which is less than truckload (LTL) shipping. In LTL shipping, companies that ship less than full truckloads of goods can save money by paying a fraction of full load shipping fees. For trucking companies, shipping earnings remain the same. They create a full truckload out of partial load shipments and receive payment from each company. For manufacturers, arriving at the optimal LTL solution usually requires the implementation of logistics planning software, which analyzes the cost of shipping and transportation needs in relation to product destination.

The obvious advantage of LTL shipping is that it allows companies to decrease shipping costs. But the downside is that products often take longer to reach their destination due to the multiple destinations implied by the shared load. In such cases, using logistics planning software to analyze a shipping situation instead of opting for standard LTL is the best way to integrate a solution that brings lower shipping costs while ensuring timely delivery. Whereas as LTL companies specialize in LTL, logistics software specializes in developing solutions that combine each element of the shipping process into a streamlined, cost effective delivery system. A company that requires freight tracking services in addition to simple pick up and delivery would benefit more from using logistics software than relying on the advice of an LTL shipping company.

Most companies that utilize logistics software consistently run a large number of products that are assembled at multiple locations before they arrive at retailers. At first glance, incurring the start up cost and service fees of logistics software might seem contrary to the goal of decreasing operating costs. However, studies show that companies who implement logistics software regularly reduce their shipping costs by ten percent in the first year alone. Exactly how is this savings created? In part, it results form the fact that logistics software eliminates costs associated with other logistical solutions, such as annual software maintenance costs, TMS software costs, 3PL costs, freight margins, gain shares and common rate base licensing costs.

While logistics software is popular among companies whose yearly shipping costs can amount to more than a small company’s annual earnings, it can also offer solutions for smaller companies. For example, a company that simply wants to improve delivery time can use the software to analyze road construction trends and highways traffic patterns. In either case, the software never fails to improve a manufacturer’s finances by making its system of delivery markedly more efficient.

Shipping Management Software Vs Freight Brokerage: Which Is Better?

Many shippers spend nearly as much on shipping as they do on payroll. Consequently, they look for ways to improve freight management with the goal of reducing freight costs. When creating a logistics department would be too expensive, most shippers implement logistics software or hire a freight broker. Also known as shipping management software, logistics software allows shippers to become their own logistics provider by supplying them a comprehensive logistics function. Also known as Third Party Logistics (3PL), freight brokers make carrier arrangements on shippers’ behalf.

Both options can yield solutions that combine quick delivery time, excellent freight care, and affordable rates. But logistics software offers certain advantages that freight brokers often don’t, beginning with low service cost.

Low Service Cost

Not all brokerage options require a significant investment. But the ones that don’t are oriented toward specific logistics services (e.g. cross docking, and tracking and tracing), not comprehensive solutions. For complete management of the shipping process via 3PL, a shipper must use a customer adapter or customer developer, which could cost as much as maintaining a logistics department.

Excellent Customer Service

The number one complaint among 3PL customers is a feeling of distance from the shipping process. In many instances, this is the result of what 3PL is supposed to do: take the logistics function out of a shipper’s hands. But many shippers discover they want more control over shipping than they first believed. Logistics software eliminates distance between the shipper and the shipping process by allowing the former to become its own logistics provider.

Broader Shipping Options

A freight broker will provide more options than you could realize on your own, without the aid of logistics software. But those options could be limited compared to the options offered by logistics software. Some freight brokers use electronic posting systems, where available carriers are matched with available loads, to arrange shipments. While using these systems is a valid strategy, it should not be the only strategy, as it often is. Logistics software empowers shippers to form relationships with carriers who don’t use posting systems.

Control of Shipping

Almost every shipper wants control of the shipping process. But when creating a logistics department would be too expensive, many shippers relinquish the process – and control – to a 3PL provider. Logistics software gives you the same control over shipping as a logistics department would, but a fraction of the cost. If problems arise with the software, or if you need new logistics options, the software provider can resolve the problem or make the necessary changes.

Conclusion

The shipping process involves significant costs, which can be mitigated by implementing a strategic logistical solution for transportation management systems. Although freight brokerage is a valid option, it often lacks basic benefits that shipping management software always provides: low service cost, broad shipping options, and control of the shipping process. Logistics software is often advertised as a solution for small to midsize shippers, but it can also benefit large shippers who wish to save money by not hiring a team of in-house logistics experts.