Thru-Service for U.S.-Mexico Border Provides New Level of Visibility for Shippers

Companies can now instantly find out when a shipment is held up and act to alleviate the problem, which beats the old method of sending a shipment over the border and crossing your fingers.

Improving visibility into the supply chain through using automation is on e of the top priorities by 45% of the respondents to a recent survey by E2open, a supply chain management software company. Attempting to gain such increased visibility has been especially frustrating when shipping goods across international borders.

In an unsettled global business environment, every company that operates outside the boundaries of its own facility seeks the same elusive objective: certainty.

Certainty of quality, certainty of markets, certainty of customer satisfaction all are difficult to maintain in an economy where the rules keep changing; but at the foundation of all these pursuits is certainty of delivery. If customers constantly are surprised by delays in shipments, the company's quality reputation suffers, the market turns elsewhere and satisfaction plummets.

To gain a greater measure of certainty, businesses realize that they need more visibility into both their internal processes and the status of their products after they leave the plant or warehouse, all the way to the customer's doorstep.

For U.S. businesses, cross-border shipments with Mexico have been particularly difficult because of a variety of potential delays that can arise, holding up shipments from a few hours to a few days. These issues may result from something as simple as traffic backups or situations centering on customs screening, incorrect paperwork, lack of paperwork, carriers approaching the incorrect border location or the wrong bridge, the red-lighting of freight, drivers not having the proper clearance to move the freight, or other procedural problems.

When these kinds of delays occur, often shippers and their customers have not been made aware of the ensuing delay, and the result can be frustration and lost profitability for the customer. New technology is helping resolve these problems, tracking shipments between the U.S. and Mexico all the way through the border-crossing process. With this thru-service technology, shippers are alerted rapidly when delays occur, receiving critical information they need to update their customer and increase the level of certainty surrounding the actual arrival date for the shipment. This service is especially beneficial for shipments that require special handling, such as pharmaceuticals, health care equipment, aerospace material, etc., since they may be subject to more scrutiny.

This type of thru-service can be offered as part of a larger logistics management technology suite utilized by third-party logistics providers, such as Detroit-based National Logistics Management. This type of technology offers Web-based bidding, scheduling, shipping, tracking and receipt of payments for critical and dynamic shipments. With the Mexico thru-service, carriers provide alerts regarding any delays being experienced at the U.S.-Mexico border. Customers can log on to a logistics provider's web site and view updates relating to the progress of their shipments, including progress reports at the border, as well. If the issue is determined to be a critical one --such as a missed delivery time or unavailable paperwork --the customer is contacted by phone to offer an advisory and to work with the customer to resolve the issue.

Heightened visibility at the border has heightened satisfaction for customers because of the added benefits brought to play. For example, if a shipment is called in with a delivery time that simply is unmakeable, logistics specialists work with the customer to establish a better schedule based on the parameters of the shipment, the hours of operation at the border, vehicle size and the time the customer needs the goods.

With Mexico thru-service technology, if the carrier's estimated time of arrival for a shipment is beyond the timeframe originally promised, an electronic system will catch the discrepancy and automatically advise immediate customer contact. In the instance of a shipment being held up at the Mexico border, the logistics manager and its partner in Mexico speak to the carrier or broker to determine what freight is being held by Customs and why. Issues with paperwork, carrier problems or the inability to determine the broker can then be solved and the shipment can pass through the border.

The system also provides alerts regarding the time by which a shipment must leave the shipper's location or a stop so that it will arrive at the customer's destination in time to meet expectations. The system quickly identifies situations where a shipment has not yet arrived at an expected stop or has been delayed along the route.

This new visibility not only provides more certainty for specific shipments but also added intelligence on the factors causing delays, thereby increasing certainty for subsequent cross-border transport between the U.S. and Mexico. By analyzing the data reported from drivers involved in cross-border delays, shipping and overall supply-chain-management best practices can be compiled to increase the likelihood that future shipments will cross the border expeditiously. Shippers can then be proactively alerted to potential conflicts that could arise and help develop solutions to avoid those issues at the border.

Visibility is the key to certainty and is a vital benefit that Web-based logistics management provides. Opening the lens even wider on shipping between the U.S. and Mexico builds more certainty into customers' deliveries to gather more light on avoiding future delays. Customers, logistics managers and supply chain executives can now instantly find out when a shipment is held up and act to alleviate the problem, which beats the old method of sending a shipment over the border and crossing your fingers.

Greg Humes is president of Artisan and National Logistics Management (NLM), Detroit-based third-party logistics providers specializing in critical and dynamic freight shipments using a proven network of more than 600 ground, ocean, barge, truckload, air freight and air charter carriers. Artisan and NLM are ISO-9001: 2000 certified businesses, tailoring solutions for the manufacturing, automotive, health care, pharmaceutical, construction and retail industries. http://www.artisan-associates.com/, http://www.nlmi.com.

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