One advantage of being a salesperson is seeing how lots of companies in different industries operate and what they are doing to stay ahead of the curve and on the cutting edge. This bird's eye view helps me report back to my customers about technologies and business processes that might help them. My latest project is utilizing Extensible Markup Language (XML) links to our Web service to seamlessly link freight rates to different existing desktop and Web applications. The use of XML technology is helping companies be more cost-effective in providing accurate freight estimates and more efficient in doing checks and balances of freight invoices. This avoids profit erosion on inbound, outbound and drop shipments they pay freight charges on.
A Web service is best described as an Internet-based program that can be used by an existing application that centralizes certain data for internal or Internet use. In the case I will describe to you, I will show you how companies are using a Web service to tie freight rates into their existing program.
Since most freight-rating engines are Web-based, companies can use a Web service to instantly touch these engines, usually via XML, to send the data needed to rate a shipment. The Web service basically transfers the data to rate a shipment (which is usually by ZIP codes, class and weight) from any program the shipper wishes to use, hits the rating engine and sends back the data (freight cost, transit time, quote number, accessorials, etc.).
Different shippers use the Web service for different applications. Most commonly, shippers tie this into their order entry program, accounting software, bill of lading application or e-commerce shopping carts to provide automatic and accurate “shipping and handling” costs to each order or Web- based quote.
Customer service staff can save huge amounts of time by using the order entry program. In this case, the customer service person keys the customer's order into the order entry program. The data electronically pings the rating engines through the Web service and sends back that rating data, having calculated the freight rate.
The Web service is also very helpful when tied to accounting programs. Having the ability to automatically upload freight rate data to invoices for freight prepaid and add-order invoices is a huge advantage. Many companies still wait for the carrier invoice to arrive or at least wait until the carrier sends an e-mail the day after shipping to send an invoice to a customer. Having the rates tied to the accounting program allows for immediate invoicing, which speeds up cash flow.
If a shipper does not have the data, such as shipping weight or freight class, at the time of order entry or in the accounting program, then many shippers use the Web service to integrate freight rates into their bill of lading program. As employees in shipping fill out the bill of lading, the freight rates are automatically synched into the program. This is very helpful for matching freight invoices as they come in to ensure the carrier is billing properly.
The last item that is most popular for tying freight rates to is e-commerce sites. Having the Web service tied into this program makes it very easy and seamless for online shoppers to decide to buy with the power of knowing what the freight rates are up front. Customers rely on e-commerce sites to have as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision about a purchase.
The use of a Web service is extremely powerful. The amount of time it saves and the accountability it provides are worth their weight in gold. However, with the exception of a little programming, it's FREE if you choose the right partner. Don't hesitate to call or e-mail me if you have any questions or are interested in pursuing an XML interface solution.
George Muha is regional sales manager for HARDI member Logistics Management Inc. Contact George at 908/879-2978 or [email protected].